Derek Tillotson

Thoughts from nearly a decade in retail

Assuming I don’t have a change of scenery by then, this fall I will hit 10 years at the same company. That fact started to hit me earlier this year when we got some bad news at work. As I said in that post, I have no idea what the longer-term future will look like for me. I could be a lifer, I could be out before I hit that anniversary. I’ve greatly wanted both at different times during my career, but right now, I’m more in a holding pattern of “wait, pray, and see what happens.” That’s not to say that I’m not going to put my whole effort into my work—I don’t feel I’m capable of doing much less. That also doesn’t mean I’m not looking elsewhere, however. From where I sit, I don’t see any real downside in searching for other work, provided you’re not letting it impact your current work (that’s also why I’ll never call off just to take an interview).

Still, as I chug along toward the decade mark, I’ve been trying to think back on some of the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned. I’m fortunate that a lot of my experience has been very different from the typical big-box retail experience. Of course, that also worries me as it makes me feel a lot of the past seven years “doesn’t count” with regard to the rest of the company. Time will tell if those fears are unfounded—they probably are—but for the sake of being honest with myself, I need to admit they exist.

Even if I were to find out that most of my recent experience doesn’t translate well to “normal” retail, that doesn’t mean I haven’t learned anything.

1) After a certain point, it’s hard to not be emotionally attached to the job. This is a bit of a double-edged sword. The successes feel great, but the mistakes and failures have a tendency to eat away at me for a long period of time. I’ve had more than a few times where things have gone poorly, and I get stuck thinking about it for a week. It’s been one of the biggest things I’ve had to work on over the years. It gets easier, but it’s still a practice.

2) A lot of people just want to show up, work, get paid, and leave. In some ways, I envy them. Workforces need those folks. They won’t be fooled by the “carrot dangling from a stick” gimmick, because they don’t care about the carrot. A good team needs someone to lead this type of worker, but if most of a team fits this description, you could do worse. An added lesson: Points 1 and 2 are mutually exclusive.

3) Passion is only a bonus; it is not a trait that defines fit. For a lot of people who feel as if they’re underachieving (I know that feeling too well), it can be easy to think “I’m passionate about my job and love this company, why can’t I get an opportunity?” I’ve caught myself thinking that exact line a few times over the years. The way I’ve come to understand the answer is: Passion can be like a tie-breaker of sorts, but a passionate worker who is terrible at his job is still going to be a terrible fit.

4) If loyalty is not reciprocated, it won’t last. I’ve seen and felt this one many times before. I think it’s something everyone sees at some point. You get a worker who excels at his job only to be stuck in the same role for years. After a certain point, he’ll no longer reach out for opportunity and eventually he’ll move on altogether. I’ve never been fortunate enough to be in a position with hiring/firing/promoting power, but I’ve learned that if the same worker keeps knocking, he’s not going to knock forever.

5-6) Two types of negative chatter need to be stopped immediately: Gossip and negativity. Gossip brings nothing positive. When a work culture starts getting infected by gossip, the only place for quality of work to go is down. And even those of us who try to avoid gossip will often fail in that endeavor. As for negativity, it’s one thing to bring up problems and complaints when it involves legitimate work concerns. But if an employee starts frequently complaining about things like dress codes or the break room layout, that may be cause for concern. Frequent complaints about little things often snowballs into bigger things.

7) Retail is a revolving door. I’ve forgotten more coworkers than I remember at this point. And while I still regularly see others I’ve known for years, it’s not uncommon for someone to just not be around anymore or for a bunch of new people starting. In some ways, this makes it hard to get close to new coworkers. But it also makes it much easier to appreciate the folks who have been around for ages.