“We might have a position opening soon. But it’s only part-time, and it’s the graveyard shift.”
A little after 4PM, I stood at the end of an aisle in King Soopers. I’d just driven most of the way home after a workshift, and stopped by the grocery store just a block from my condo.
It turned out, a career switch to bagging groceries wasn’t the panacea I was hoping for. The best opportunity I could find was restocking the aisles at night. It paid $10 per hour, but was only a 30-hour-per-week gig, max. Not enough to cover my food and rent.
I even checked out a sign-holding job for a cell phone store. Again, only part-time, for $7 per hour.
Every spare minute I had after work, was spent either looking for jobs within my neighborhood, or on Craigslist. Then I stuffed my face with food for dinner, and crawled into bed while sunlight still glowed through my window blinds. All too soon, my alarm blared at 4AM. And I trudged through the daily routine again.
Until… one day… I finally got a reply
It was another position unloading trucks.
Taking the job meant an additional pay-cut. But at least I knew I could do the work.
Even better, the man on the phone sounded kind. The vibe felt right. But I still had to apply in-person… and make sure it was right for me. There was no way in hell I was going to make the same mistake again, of diving into something out of desperation.
So that Saturday, I drove to the massive warehouse in Aurora. As I filled out some paperwork in the lobby, I overheard someone say, “Hey, can I get another stack of applications printed?”
A cold wave of doubt washed through me
A stack? How many people were applying? Would I make it?
While my potential boss interviewed me in her office, I jumped up and mimed how we used to hurl mats into trucks three at a time. She cracked a smile, and showed me the warehouse floor so I could get a taste of the work.
As complicated as my previous truck-loading job was, this one was brain-dead simple.
Giant 53’ trailers lumbered to the edge of the warehouse. The workers unloaded all the boxes inside, and arranged them into stacks. Then, local transporters showed up, collected the stacks, and delivered them to local retail chains.
No memorizing endless racks of clothes…
No ducking and dodging through cavernous aisles of fabric…
No intricate sorting…
… just brutally hard work
And that’s exactly what my cortisol-soaked, half-mad brain craved. Something it could grasp. Pain was perfectly acceptable, if it was knowable pain.
I accepted the job. Then I was down to $10.50 an hour. Almost the same amount I made almost three years before, when I first began sign-spinning.
As soon as I gave notice at the laundry company, they got me off order-pulling. Supervising me was actually slower for the trainer than simply doing the whole job herself, without any help.
They stuck me with a more menial task: “Cleaning.” That was the company’s term for going through all the clothing racks in the entire warehouse, and making sure everything was properly ordered based on tags.
The good part was… I could do it
Even better, I could work alone and wear headphones again. I was back to days full of audiobooks, podcasts, and teleseminar recordings.
Best of all, my former trainer’s treatment of me completely transformed (to be clear, I’m referring to my order-pulling trainer… not the vindictive beast from the Cancels section).
Before, she became more and more frustrated when I fumbled and bumbled through trying to learn order-pulling. And, even though I could tell she was a respectful person, I observed her behavior change. She began avoiding eye contact, and rarely used my name. She switched from friendly in my presence to seething, even when I did something right.
But when I was relegated to “cleaning” clothes – and displayed a modicum of competence – her behavior reverted itself
Almost overnight. She became friendly again, looked me in the eye, and used my name. I took the lesson to heart, of the powerful connection between competence and social status. And even attraction.
One day, while I sorted, I noticed the order-pulling trainer taking a new hire through the ropes. But the next day, the newbie was gone. I asked where she was.
“She didn’t come back.”
Noticing my surprise, the trainer added, “Happens all the time.”
Huh. In all the misery I’d experienced over the past few years, the idea of simply walking out on a job, without a word, never occurred to me.
All too soon, the week was over
Friday was my last day, and I started the new job Saturday. No rest for the weary.
When Friday’s shift ended, I said goodbye only to the manager – the one I had alerted three times in one day about the mistreatment I had been receiving. Everyone else on that side of the warehouse, I was happy to never interact with again.
Before leaving, an idea came to me. I decided to do something special for my former co-workers on the load team, who I already missed. I smiled when I thought how much it would shock them, in a great way…