Why it’s important to have a boring summer job

Oct. 20, 2016, 11:00 a.m.

Grab a pair of jeans from the middle of the pile. Shake them out. Fold the back pockets together. Slap them down on the table. Smooth out the legs. Flip up the bottom half. Grab another. Shake. Fold together. Slap down. Smooth out. Flip up. Grab. Shake. Fold. Slap. Smooth. Flip.

I’ve been straightening up this table for nearly an hour, but denim still pours off in every direction. The pant legs tangle together, keeping abandoned hangers and accessories permanently in the trap, and the term “straightening up” suddenly seems criminally inappropriate.

Grab. Shake. Fold. Slap. Smooth. Flip. Grab. Shake. Fold. Slap. Smooth. Flip. Grab. Shake. Fold.

“Hi, do you work here?”

No, I just fold jeggings for fun! “Yes. How can I help you?”

The customer tells me she wants a pin-checked shirt that she saw online and if it’s not on sale then she probably isn’t going to buy it but if it is on sale then she’ll try it in four different sizes and if one of them fits, can we put three of them on hold just in case she changes her mind and what kind of jeans would go well with that?

I have no idea what pin-checked even means, but at the first mention of jeans, my eyes dart to the denim-clad table of doom. Desperately looking for a distraction, I try to ask her what color the shirt should be, but it’s too late. She dives right into those beautifully folded jeans and any attempts to slow her down are futile, as fifty shades of blue start flying at my head.

In the big picture, who cares? This isn’t my table, these aren’t my jeans, and I get to clock out and go home at the end of my shift, but somehow knowing that I’m about to spend yet another hour of robotic cleaning makes my head want to explode.

Working in retail wasn’t exactly my dream position for the summer, but life never works out the way you were expecting, or even the way that your résumé wanted. I spent the first few weeks in the store feeling like this was a punishment for not looking hard enough or putting enough time into applications for other opportunities, and I even began to dread returning to Stanford, wondering what I would tell my friends, who had all spent their respective “vacations” interning at various companies or doing research for prominent professors.

But about a month into the job, I realized how badly I needed to put things into perspective. In between folding down those pant legs and flipping up their bottom halves, it hit me that if this was the worst job I ever worked, I would still be pretty darn lucky. Yes, I was bored. Yes, my feet hurt. And yes, I still didn’t know what a pin-checked shirt was, but I had a job and I was going back to a great university in the fall.

From that point forward, I decided to treat my retail position like my selective internship, my research opportunity, and my paid fellowship. I learned how to fold jeans like a pro. I watched how my manager interacted with troublesome customers. I worked on imitating the experienced sale shoppers who knew exactly how to get what they wanted from other people.

I’m a strong believer in learning from every single experience, regardless of the name or pay rate attached to it.

Babysitting for the rascals next door? Learn child psychology for free!

Working as a Yogurtland cashier? Figure out how to approximate the weight of all the toppings just by looking at them!

Starbucks barista? Be inspired by how early your customers are waking up to achieve their goals and dreams.

Any job, whether it’s part-time, full-time, or just for the summer, can still be a learning opportunity.

If you have any stories from your boring summer job, let Georgina Grant know at gagrant ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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