Derek Tillotson

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race

I recently shared this post on LinkedIn as a bit of a farewell to the job I knew and looking forward to whatever is next.

I’ve been mentally composing this post in some capacity over the past few years. I honestly expected to have written it by now. I wrote a first draft of this way back in January, when we first heard the news. And now, the night before my store’s final day, I’m adding to it. Those close to me will certainly know what the store is (well, “what it was,” by the time you’re reading this)—a specialty store that was part store, part retail research lab for a major retail company. I find it kind of funny that between all the people involved over the past almost-seven years, the sole person there on opening day and closing day was me. There’s an inside joke with some former coworkers who will appreciate that point.

Since starting there in June 2015, I knew two things were inevitable, but their order was not set in stone:

1) I would leave the company (even if decades down the road, via retirement or death).

2) The store would close (for any reason).

I long expected to outlast the store, but that doesn’t take away the sting of it actually happening.

By the spring of 2015, I had been with my employer for about 2 and a half years. I was originally hired to work in the back room of a new store, the company’s first in San Francisco. I loved the people I worked with, as well as the ins-and-outs of the role. But I was hungry for growth and after repeatedly being told to “keep doing what [I’m] doing”, I started to lose hope of something happening. Other than an offer to potentially be a lead on the overnight team (a schedule change I was uncomfortable with for a few reasons), I got nowhere and started to look for an exit.

I’m grateful I didn’t find one. My supervisor at the time heard rumblings about some corporate-lead project happening in our recently-emptied downstairs area. Corporate was looking for a few hourly team members to work in the space. That supervisor helped get me an interview, and after a very fun and productive meeting with the head of the project, I was in.

I began the great journey in June of 2015. I and another team member met at the company’s San Francisco office at the beginning and we proceeded to spend the next month learning about smart home tech, visiting the store space, chatting with product reps, and building a ground-level vision for the store. At that time, it felt like the two of us, along with leadership, were taking part of something completely unique within the company. Turns out, that was indeed the case.

We opened to the public, saw many new team members hired, made sales, and started executing. I was able to train the new hires (one of my favorite parts of the job), tell stories to guests, and answer a variety of questions (ranging from “Where is the bathroom?” to “Would this product work in the Philippines?”). Over time, products changed, people changed, and even large chunks of the store changed.

I was there through three store transitions. First was a major improvement on the store’s original smart home theme. Next was a video game experience (sadly, the full vision was impacted by COVID restrictions). Finally, we saw a far-too-short-lived sustainability theme. Each of those shifts was exciting–seeing new themes, new ideas, and a new vision come into place. Those of us around during each of those transitions were forced to do some literal heavy lifting, but also had to quickly learn about dozens of new products. It kept things exciting and I always looked forward to what was next.

It has been an experience unlike anything I could have predicted when I started in retail nearly a decade ago. I’ve had family and friends ask why I’m still working in a non-managerial role (or retail in general) after so long. It’s not because I haven’t had offers–I’ve had some. But all of those offers either lacked the right compensation or there was some sort of hang-up that couldn’t convince me to break me away from the store I had fallen in love with and had a hand in building.

Between the break room, online message boards, and general chit-chat with peers, I’ve heard my fair share of people complaining about their jobs. But when I look back on my experience over the years, it has been time very well spent. I’ve had a lot of major life moments coincide with my time at this store. I have met people who have become important friends and confidants. I have had work experience that blows away anything I would have in a typical retail role. I’ve been hospitalized. I’ve grown in my faith. I’ve overcome financial uncertainties. I mostly quit social media (definitely stopped reading timelines). I don’t know how much of all that I can credit directly to this experience, but at least a few of those are certainly related.

I have no idea what my long-term future will look like. I know what things will look like in the short term, and I’ve been around long enough to know roughly what to expect a little farther down the road. But of course there are questions still floating around my mind:

  • Will this cause a financial hit?
  • How healthy or unhealthy will the new change of scenery be?
  • Will I find similar fulfillment in my next role?
  • What kind of people will I work around next?

I can’t pretend to be able to answer any of those right now–I have no idea what to expect on that front. Yet, one way or another, the Lord will point me down the path He wants me to take. Even so, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about it.

I’ve written about a thousand words at this point, but I can’t shake the feeling that I have so much more to say. This feels like one of those moments where there’s a lot that could be said, but there’s nothing will feel right. I think the best way to describe how I feel right now is to use the words of John Wayne, when he won his sole Oscar:

“I feel very grateful. Very humble. And all thanks to many, many people.”