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the ladder: shop-girl overture

I’m uncertain. How to introduce myself? One usually extends a hand or smiles shyly, measuring tone and temper, testing the deep end before taking a running dive. A keyboard sequesters my hands, lyrics roll from my lips (Adelaide – Old 97’s) and I prefer the pool steps to avoid upper-wardrobe malfunction. I’m settling, instead, for my name is Jessica and I’m drowning.

I am your gurgling, gasping manual to applying, scoring and traversing the swing into pencil skirts, powerpoint presentations and last-minute projects.

Caution: Ethics may be compartmentalised. Loss of limbs guaranteed.

You will feel strange outside sandstone and lectures, direction and dates; University a fleeting few years jammed in the spines of text books, collages, old assignments and all-night wine parties, suddenly irrelevant and irreverent. I’ll be honest, I still indulge in the very latter.

My advice is not gospel, I am fallible. I am you, just in a few years, or some rotations ago. After all, it’s not every day a twenty-something picks up a sought after tag in a renowned print studio. Dreams do come true, I apologise for the blatant cliché but I feel the sentiment unfinished. Dreams do come true, if you’re willing to pay the price.

20/20

I don’t feel comfortable here. Days pass and I bounce around on my fit-ball, listening to the latest in Top 50 fluff to keep my brain bursting with ideas – harmless, empty music, doused with tension and assured to turn my cranium into a perpetual country-show gravitron.  The pressure fuses my back to the wall; I’m circles and disorientation, folding my arms over my chest to hang upside down, not understanding the domain at all. Abnormal.

I come from twelve years of retail/hospitality; thus far, it has dragged me into trouble or miscomprehension. Sales orientated backgrounds aren’t always conducive to corporate communication, as we will see.

It could be argued, and rather competently, face to face service typifies mental Fight Club. Volley wit, jagged and calculated, depending on the assailant. Give in regularly, forget nothing, return jab with a smile. Respect is transactional, granted only by precedence. Be polite and boil your stomach. Say yes, think no. Feel humanity stripped back and flayed aside with every phone sold, contract signed and commission cheque collected. Reduce yourself to making sales bets to entertain everyone else.

Month one, love your job.

Month three, like your job.

Month six, hate your customers.

Month seven, hate yourself.

Between seven and fifteen, become immersed in interaction politics, a professional at walls and return. Dare to hope momentarily, lose it almost immediately. Compare, as you sit and trawl Whirlpool, the first few months of sincerity and curiosity with today, as your colleague holds your knee and eyes, afraid of what you might say, aware of the barrage of angry words and threats befalling you. Look up, say nothing, there is nothing left to say.

Protip: Avoid telecommunications. If you have a choice between bubonic plague and working in a telco store, opt for high-fevered malaise and swollen, weeping glands.

This experience, combined with a myriad of service roles, formulates an acerbic sarcasm when snapped to it. A form of one-up, tit for tat banter that may devolve depending on familiarity. Again, service should equip one with diplomacy and nominally did so; I would never see the spittle launching pot-stirrers again. Surrounded by family – colleagues to share in the frustration, pitfalls and abuse – our fate was tolerable.

Leaving Telco was easy, saying goodbye to my team was not. My days of waking up at 6:30am and finishing work at 6:30pm were over. Not to mention the three hour daily commute. The uniform in the bottom of my drawer, faded and pockets still full of notes.

Prepare yourself when you depart; you are improving your life, starting a career, removing yourself from a volatile environment, but to quote Randal of Clerks fame:

“This job would be great if it wasn’t for the f$$king customers.”

Leaving a world of defined rules, well-trodden guidelines and in-jokes for real opportunity is wrenching. You will possibly make an absolute arse of yourself in the first couple of months, at least a dozen times a week. You will misconstrue things, they will misconstrue you. It’s natural, especially if the lucky company (lucky because they twigged onto your potential – you’re the future, don’t forget) hasn’t hired for a while and you’re the youngest person in the office. They have a specific way of conducting business, banter, round-table discussions coupled with nuances unknown to you.

An example?

My first meeting in the corporate space, from my perspective, didn’t go very well. I regard interruption and side-tracking as open disparagement. In my head, due to repetitious socialisation, I was being disrespected, nobody was taking me seriously and I felt disempowered as a result.

So while your lego block dreams are materialising, remember the price you pay may not be on the tracks ahead. Slipping from one industry to another may be your dearest ambition, but there will be teething periods and a battle to curb instinct.

The first rule of success: Own who you are, where you’ve been and recognise what you offer. Never let anyone devalue it. Curb your tongue, but know your rights. Don’t become a yes-woman. Tell people how you feel, lest it ends up in a down-stairs meeting and further internalisation.

So again ,allow me to introduce myself properly. My name is Jessica Hannah and I am a Social Media Specialist for ArmstrongQ. I’m an ex-shopgirl, an ex-girlfriend, an ex-smoker and an ex-dumpling addict…Nope, still guilty of that one. Welcome to The Ladder, hope you brought your climbing boots.

(Image credit: 1.)

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