Yep, working a register and a sales floor might have more in common with wielding a pen and paper than you might think.
By Kimberly Lew (Playwright/Blogger)
I've been working in retail now for over 7 years. Which is a lot of years, I think, though there are many people who make successful careers doing it. Still, as someone who picked it up as a side job in college and never really shook it, sometimes retail seems far away from what I want to do as a career. Yes, it is true that working retail provides you with a whole slew of handy abilities, particularly in the customer service and general humility categories of workplace skills. Still, outside of the more general benefits of working retail, I've found that it's also provided me with a few other concrete realizations, all which have come in handy in my playwriting:
If only every job could be Empire Records...
- Sometimes there is nothing in the back room. In customers' eyes, within every store is a mystical back room that contains everything that one could want that is not on the floor (sizes, colors, old models, etc.). But the truth is that sometimes, as a salesperson, even when you really want to help someone find what they want, it's not in the back room. In fact, some places don't even have a back room. And at some point, there just comes a realization that you can't make something materialize that just isn't there. The same is true with ideas. Sometimes the just aren't there. And it's okay to accept this and to not try to force it. After all, in retail, new shipments come along all the time, as will new ideas and new possibilities.
- Never write someone off just because you don't think they're "important" enough. Nothing drives me crazier than when people obviously size me up as we're chatting and seem to "turn off" when they deem me too low on the totem pole because I work in retail or don't have a recognizable company in my day job title. Though they're not in the most glamorous positions, sometimes the people in the trenches are a) the most knowledgeable, b) the most connected, and c) throw the best parties. You never know who might be a good connection or potential work partner. In fact, to give a direct example relating to retail, the director/producer of the last reading of my play, The Memory Queen, was a fellow co-worker at my current retail job with amazing theatre credentials who assembled a dream team cast for my play.
- Know what your deal breakers are; there are other jobs out there, if you want. In retail, the game is customer service, though sometimes it feels like customer servitude. In an age of seemingly increasing entitlement, sometimes it's hard to know the difference. What's important is to know yourself well enough to establish what you will put up with and what you won't. Deciding to walk away can be hard, but it's never the end of the world. I think the same goes for playwriting. You will find opportunities that will put you in numerous positions, good and bad, that you probably have never even considered. What is important is to know what you need and to hold yourself to that standard when things get rough.
*Bonus thing I learned about being a playwright from retail: When you get a chance, always drink with your compatriots.
KIMBERLY LEW is a playwright with two published one-act plays for high schools, as well as full-length Searching for Candi (co-written with Gabriella Miyares), which debuted at Mt. Holyoke college. Her play, Other People's Children, was featured as a part of The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective's new works reading series and was a semi-finalist for the 2012 O'Neill Playwrights Conference and Ashland New Play Festival. Her latest play, The Memory Queen, received a reading at The New Ohio in January 2013. She also created/manages the Emerging Musical Theatre blog. www.kimberlylew.com
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