For those of you who knew that you wanted to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a CPA since the time you started kindergarten, I envy you. Even now, well into my mid-twenties, I still don’t think I can pinpoint what exactly I want to do when I grow up; it is for this reason that I am simply terrified when I am asked the question “what do you do?”

You can do and be anything you set your mind to; growing up my mom was sure to always instill confidence in me and urged to pursue my interests and always set goals for myself. No matter what your interests might be, having faith in your abilities is one way to encourage your ambition, self-confidence, and your drive. With this knowledge instilled in me, I developed some major chutzpah and a deeply rooted competitive spirit. Having a collection of titles and accolades was one way that I tried to prove I was not only good enough, but honestly, also a little bit better than someone else. Yes, it is silly, I am now aware. However, these achievements served as a way of covering up my insecurities and doubts. I have always known that I wanted to be a writer, but not being able to pinpoint in what capacity I wanted to write made me feel like others were judging me for it.

Eventually my ambition — and my tendency to be a squeaky wheel — landed me an internship at a magazine, which seemed like a dream come true for a writer without much direction. Rung by rung I planned on climbing the social ladder to bigger paychecks, better titles, and what I perceived to be more success.

Now, I work in retail. A turn of events lead me from feeling on top of the world and in control of my life, to doing something I felt completely beneath me: working at the mall. However, like any true go-getter, I made the best of my situation and aimed my sights at getting a management position (but only until I found a “real” job, I told myself). Once again, that social ladder enticed me to seek promotion after promotion and title after title, until I finally reached the management position I coveted. Despite this success, I still found it hard to be happy because I didn’t feel that I should be working in retail at all. It didn’t matter to me that I was making more money at the mall than I had previously, or that I had been entrusted with responsibilities, or even that I was working along side some of the hardest working women I’d ever met. I still felt inadequate.

Only now do I realize that this “hierarchy” — with its accompanying stereotypes — is incredibly off-base.

I have never met a child who would say that they want to work in retail when they grow up, yet, so many post-grads find themselves in exactly that position. At least for me, I figured that putting in four years at a university would enable me to bypass such work and spit me out somewhere slightly higher on the job hierarchy. Only now do I realize that this “hierarchy” — with its accompanying stereotypes — is incredibly off-base.

So many, including myself, have assumed that there is a fundamental difference between workers and career types when in actuality, both categories are comprised of smart, hard-working and driven people. Ultimately it was my own stereotype against the work I had been doing at the mall that kept me from being happy. I didn’t think that anyone valued what I did, therefore, I didn’t value myself. I didn’t think I could be happy until I “improved.”

My perceived position on the job totem-poll and how that made me feel blinded me from the things that should bring me happiness: my loyal friendships, the privilege I had to go to school, my health, and even having a job at the mall. Working in retail has opened my eyes in many ways, including helping me personally look past stereotypes that I had created. I now know, first hand, that they are not true. I work with educated, strong, creative women. They share the ambition that I have and working together helps us all to become better problem solvers.

Every day I remind myself that I am the only person who can make myself feel inadequate or not ambitious for working in retail. To breakdown stereotypes, I no longer ask people “what they do,” because it doesn’t really matter in the long run. Competing with the people around me hasn’t made me any better and it surely hasn’t made me any happier, either. Instead, I now ask “what is your passion?” or “who do you want to become?” None of my circumstances have changed, but my perspective has. When I started asking the people around me the right questions, the answers I received became more inspiring and complex. These answers have helped me realize that there are more important things than your bank account, your job, and what preconceived ideas accompany your title.

I’m not ashamed to say that I work in retail. I wake up each day knowing a little more about myself than I did the day before, and little by little I’m learning to redefine myself based on personality and character rather than resume.

Have you had a job that taught you more than you were expecting? What was it?

Image via Melissa Barrett


  1. Wow this article hits so close to home for me, and, I can imagine, many other young people out there these days. I too grew up knowing that I loved to write, having my teachers and parents tell me that I was a talented writer and that I should pursue it as a career. But I never knew how exactly I could turn writing into a career that I would love and that would grant me financial stability. So I followed a different path and interestingly enough ended up majoring in retailing/ fashion merchandising. Since graduating college, I spent some time cocktail serving at a popular golf resort, and have now found myself working as a flight attendant for a major airline. And yet I always come back to writing. I recently started up another blog ( because if nothing else, it is an outlet for me to express myself and articulate my written voice. I truly do believe, though, that if we are passionate enough and driven enough, we will find a way to curate a life that combines business & pleasure, where our hobbies translate into a viable career. Keep writing, and know that we are not defined by what we do, but rather what we LOVE to do. Thanks for this lovely article!

  2. YES! Beautifully worded, woman! I too find myself in retail, and yes, I graduated from a four year university a year ago, and after feeling paralyzed about following God’s will, I decided to maybe pursue this dream of opening my own boutique one day. So to do that I wanted to get some experience downtown, and landed a part time job at two beautifully successful little stores, owned by the greatest mentors.

    I’m poor as hell, but I ENJOY the work. And I know one day I might have to work elsewhere to help with payments, etc, but what kills me is how literally last night, a man was talking to me, asked what I majored in, and I replied “English & History.” A double major in three years. A pretty decent achievement. His response? “Oh, so that’s why your here, huh?”


    I think we all need to find dignity in what we do, and do even the smallest of tasks to completion joyfully. And I think it’s important to note that what you fear others are whispering (she’s wasting her education/she could be doing better), may just be in your head. In fact, it IS in your head, and you can’t prove it’s in other’s unless they say it to you. There’s a stereotype, for sure, but I love retail. I love interacting with so many people. I love having moments of quiet in the last hour of the day, and that’s when I pen a letter to a friend. I love learning about international companies. I love the sound of the cash register and knowing that the owners have done something great to be proud of, and I hope that one day I’ll get there too.

    Whew. I had no idea this article would resonate so much with me! 🙂

  3. Two years ago I graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Nursing and realized that I did not enjoy being at the hospital. I was so set on being a nurse my entire life and helping people. I’m back in school to be a nurse practitioner with my Doctorate of Nursing Practice so that I can manage my own clinic and treat patients in an out-patient setting. It was a sad realization when I found out that nursing wasn’t my thing. But we just learn to move on and keep reaching for that thing that makes us buzz inside 🙂

  4. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    This pieces speaks volumes to me and absolutely hits the nail on the head when describing this insane pressure we put on ourselves (or perhaps inherit from society?), to follow one particular pathway.

    Everything you say about feeling somewhat less or about comparing ourselves to our peers, why on earth do we do that to ourselves? It is great to have ambition and goals and to continue to challenge and push ourselves, but at the end of the day, who wants to be just a job? Surely living your life in as many ways as possible, appreciating what we have and learning as much as we can along the way, is much more satisfying and rewarding?

    Then again, it’s perspective, as you say. Taking a moment to step back and really look at the situation. With a fresh approach and a more honest real vision, not adhering to what we THINK we should be doing.

    Good luck with all you do and I hope your journey is filled with adventure and opportunities, what ever it is you do ; )


  5. Kindergarten teacher. After spending some time in the preschool, I found out something about myself — I can’t work with kids. Right now, I’m working as a freelance writer. It’s been almost 3 years and I still have doubts about my career. On another note, this is a really enlightening piece, Hannah!

  6. This piece is exactly what I needed to read. I love this article because it’s inspiring and puts your mind in the right perspective. I am definitely sharing this. Thanks Hannah!

  7. Hannah —

    I thought this piece was fantastic — it absolutely captures the feeling that so many members of Gen Y feel trapped in, day in and day out. I would to speak to you further with regard to a piece I’m working on about freelance writers. Feel free to tweet me @LizFurl or email at!

    And once again — fantastic read. One helluva piece 😉

  8. Thank you for this. I am in a career that is unexpected based on what I studied in college and constantly feel judged for it. But in reality, I know that I am the only one judging myself. When I speak to others, they are usually very proud of what I am doing and I know that I work with some of the most dedicated and talented humans on the planet! How silly of us to think that one career is inherently “better” than another. I am struggling every day to separate my identity from my job. It is a difficult, but worthwhile exercise; thank you for this inspiration.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Veronica! I am so glad that you felt inspired and encouraged by the article!

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