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How Working in Retail Has Affected My Mental Health

My job can only be defined as retail after being simplified to its very basic sense. I work for a small, beach-side amusement park that sells some products, but primarily provides customers with services and experiences. Nonetheless, categorizing it as retail is the best way I can convey the degree to which my job involves direct contact and interactions with customers; it makes up about ninety percent of my fifty hour work week.

Coastal towns and their business rely heavily on tourism and seasonal visitors every summer as their main customer demographic. In fact, I will only have this job for the summer, until the park closes in early September. The locals have coined the term “touron,” or, a moron of a tourist, to refer to the frequent visitors and their entitled sense of importance despite blatant ignorance and lack of respect. These tourons have the mindset that their happiness is of utmost priority, not just to themselves, but to all. So, the fact that other people’s needs are also important to me is quite a pain.

The purpose of my existence is solely to please these customers, and I must please everyone, or else I’m under performing.

When I do displease customers, often by simply following through on the rules I’m trained to enforce, they make it known quite fiercely. They’ll yell and curse at me in front of their children, as if that’s not more unpleasant to them than me not allowing them on a ride for their own safety. No matter what they’re mad at me for, no matter how vocal they are about their anger, all I can do is stand there, maintain my composure, and keep going doing what just got me yelled at by a complete stranger.

Customers say what they wish to me, make me feel as they wish, and I must accept it. Not only that, I’m expected to continue to respect them.

Myself and every one of my female coworkers, to my knowledge, have their share of stories about customers going out of their way to harass them, and their reactions are all the same; they stand and continue their jobs until they relent, for lack of any other choice.

People will always assume my job is easy because I’m a teenager, working for minimum wage.

It’s easy for middle-aged mothers to roll their eyes at me as if I’m completely clueless, because I’m below them. If I ask of them something that they do not immediately understand, then I’m inflicting on them an unbearable inconvenience. There’s a clear sense of superiority that they like to make very clear about themselves. As a retail worker, the customers don’t feel the need to question whether or not I’m worth their respect – they know I’m not. Working the food cart, I’m a less convenient vending machine. Working on rides, I’m an operator to give them five minutes of fun, nothing more. When I’m working games, I’m a cheat that they feel obligated to give their money to until they can win their child a prize. There’s a fixed image of me in the eyes of my customers, no matter how pure my intentions are.

But, at the end of the day, I still love my job.

At the end of the day, I leave thinking of my most pleasant customers, never the most difficult. I can’t even remember the faces of the people who stood and yelled at me through my morning shift, but my memory of joyous little kids that I helped to have a good time is ever so clear. I walk in the next day full of excitement, looking forward to all of the fun I direct. I love my job, despite every negative effect I can think of. And, I think, that is the most significant impact on my mental health. The past summer has ensured in me that I am fully able to take the negativity people throw at me, and roll it right off my back. I know I couldn’t have done the same thing just two years ago. The ability to make a child smile every day, and the warmth that it fills my heart with, are a feeling like no other. Always respect retail workers, their jobs aren’t easy, and your kindness and respect has the power to console an entire days worth of rotten customers.

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Mary Richardson
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Mary is 16 years old and lives in Baltimore, MD, in the US. She is extremely passionate about foreign policy, intersectional feminism, and the well-being of bees. She's also a slight coffee addict, a lover of poetry, and possibly Audrey Hepburn in a former life.

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