I’d reached 18! I had officially survived childhood. Now I could go out into the world and be an adult … except, of course, it’s not as easy as that. I thought I was more mature than I really was, like most teenagers do, but I was not ready for everything the adult world had to offer.
I’d finished my A-Levels and got better grades than I was expecting. I also had two years work experience under my belt, working Saturdays and occasional Sundays at a supermarket. Those two experiences together told me that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my career, except that retail was not going to feature in that career.
I loved writing – a lot – but I never realised that being an author was a viable career option; I thought it was something that happened to other people. To be fair, it requires a lot of income to make it viable, but still – I didn’t know know that I could try. I wish I had known differently back then, but there you have it.
I don’t recall thinking about my career path very hard; at the time, I had no life experience and certainly no work experience outside retail. So whilst it was time for me to branch out on my own, I only had so much on my CV. I didn’t know what to apply for.
Retail was something I knew; it was familiar, even if it didn’t form part of my career ambitions. I wanted a new job, and ASDA were just about to open a new store in my area. I decided to try out for a job and perhaps make some more money if I succeeded.
ASDA had a lot of vacancies; they were starting from the ground up, and so I suspect the bar for entry was pretty low – at least in my case. I applied for a shop floor assistant role, filling shelves and helping customers (not the tills – please, not again), and I got through the interview (in a soulless office block) easily enough. Given that this was the first job interview I’d ever been to where it wasn’t on the basis that they knew my mum, I coped manfully.
They clearly liked me enough to hire me, and I was to work 24 hours per week. That was quite a nice amount; given that I had now left school, I had more free time and, given that my wages had gone up, I would do well financially (I had very limited overheads, given that I was still living with my mum and dad). I reported to the store a week before it opened to the public, intrigued to see what I would encounter.
The first week was nice enough; there weren’t any customers, and I was mostly responsible for stocking up the frozen foods aisles. Not much intellectual strain there. My manager was annoying, almost to the point of pure idiocy. He was a 20-something cocksure moron, I’m sad to report, who was clearly determined to make his mark on the store and rise up through the ranks. His team was there to make him look good.
I went along with the flow at first; I wasn’t interested in socialising with the ambitious high flyers, and I never felt part of a social circle – cliques were already forming, and I wasn’t a part of any of them. Fine by me.
The shop opened, and was immediately a hit. The job wasn’t interesting, but I was being paid reasonably well for my age and the late 90s, so I was willing to put up with a lot. On one particular day, three weeks into my job, I was approached by my manager. This was unusual in itself; he was a distant figure who only talked to people like me when he wanted something. He did; he wanted to know if I would do some overtime.
I wasn’t averse to that – it would mean some extra money – and so asked for the details. I was to finish work at 6pm that evening, he explained, then come back at 10pm and work through to 6am. After that, I could have a couple of hours rest, then work a day shift from 8am to 4pm.
I burst out laughing; it was a good joke, or so I thought. His deadpan expression told me that it wasn’t a joke. He repeated himself, and I said no without any further hesitation. The manager looked rather taken aback; I don’t think he was used to people saying no to him. I explained that I wasn’t overly keen on working so many hours all in one go, and he challenged me to just do it. I said no. He said yes. I laughed and said that I would be going home at six and coming in the following day as usual. The manager got rather shirty with me and walked away.
So I quit. I went home that night, wrote my letter of resignation, and left it on my manager’s desk the following day. It was strangely pleasant; after only three weeks, I’d quit the second job I’d had that year. The manager concerned was furious; furious to the point that he wouldn’t speak to me any more. I worked for one more week and then walked out, happily ensconsed in the knowledge that I was free of a rather barren, boring job and from a manager concerned only with his own status. I might not have had a job to go to, but that didn’t matter to me at that stage.
I learnt an important lesson that day, something that I’d never forget – that no job would be more important than my mental health. I wanted to enjoy the work I did, and I would never tolerate any nonsense whenever I encountered it. Idiots or stupid procedures would be something I come across a lot in the intervening years, and I have always tried to speak up. I might not have always succeeded – in fact, I know I didn’t on every occasion – but I have always been determined to improve the situation. It’s ironic that I was inspired to do that by a part-time job I held only for four weeks.,