When you’re nearly four years into a retail job that is offering no further progression, there’s something so soul-crushing about answering the question: ‘So what have you been up to?’
I started my job at a certain nationwide bakery (that will henceforth go unnamed) when I was fresh out of school. My parents said it would be a good idea to get something on my CV and I wasn’t opposed to having the extra cash. They’d both spotted that the shop was looking for assistants and they’d even done me the service of printing off the application form. I dutifully filled it in, gave it back to them and went back to my video games, simultaneously forgetting all about it.
Two weeks later my phone vibrated and told me to meet my new manager at a High Street location of a nationwide bakery, apparently I’d got the job off the back of my sterling GCSEs and I was just the kind of person that they were looking for. Other than playing video games and hanging out with my friends, I didn’t really have any plans for the Summer, what’s the worse that could happen?
Wearing the iconic uniform and hairnet didn’t feel half as embarrassing as I’d initially expected. In fact, after 5 long years in school the prospect of actually doing something was exciting, not to mention earning some money in the process. OK, so I was on minimum wage, but that was still more of a wage than most of my other friends and this also meant that I had some much-coveted ‘work experience’ on my CV, something that I was told would serve me well in later life.
A month later and I’d spent close to 100 hours serving sausage rolls and steak bakes to the general public. School friends had come in to have a gawp at their mate who was working behind the counter, but were surprised with how confidently I took their order and how cheerfully I handed them their baked goods.
I was more surprised than anyone else, that this casual summer job had turned into an almost daily vocation that was fulfilling a need in my brain that I had been previously unaware of. I celebrated my first pay check by taking my parents out to dinner, they told me that it was them who should be paying but I wanted to show them my appreciation for my new found happiness. This happiness, unfortunately, was to be short-lived.
The first pangs of jealousy came when I saw my friends heading out for their travels. They were headed out to South East Asia: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia – all places that were a world away from my humble day job. Day by day, as the photos on social media started to filter through and more of my friends stopped calling, my life behind the counter began to grate on me. Small details about my routine began to get to me; the stale smell of the bus on the way in, the regular monotonous beep of the ovens demanding to be emptied of goods, the one cash register which would get stuck.
I began to detest every aspect of my life, but I did nothing about it. What they don’t tell you about these jobs is that there’s a strange kind of comfort in the monotony. Once you’ve learnt the job, you’re rarely asked to do anything out of the ordinary, and you’re not expected to do anything either. You’re unhappy, but you’re also comfortable. You’re not cash rich, but you’re not skint. It took me four years to realise that the much coveted work experience on my resume was now more of a black mark than a commendation.