Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Left Turn

June 12 - Reverb Broads
What was the best decision you ever made? 
Suggested by Niki 

Turn Left*

I don't spend a lot of time muddling over my decisions once I make them. Anyone in my family (and especially my brother) is likely to tell you, I tend to think too much before making a decision. More than once I have been afflicted with analysis paralysis.

But once the decision is made, I don't spend too much time evaluated the decision. What’s done is done. But there is one decision that has directly led to where I am today; one that represents two paths that would have led to very different outcomes. I’m not going to say it’s a “Donna Noble, Turn Left” sort of decision, but for me, it was world changing and I ended up temping more than once as a result. Since I'm content with the current state of my life, I'm content with that decision. Admittedly, though, there have been times I wondered if I should have chosen the other path.
Once upon a long time ago I worked for a college bookstore chain. I started working for the bookstore part-time when I was an under-grad. Following graduation I found myself working there full-time and rapidly became the textbook manager. I was able to spend time in the back room solving problems regarding getting books on the shelf. I like to think I was pretty good at it, too. Along the way I settled into a nice, if small Chicago life.  I had friends, I had favorite restaurants, I was settled.

In 1999, with two years of department management experience, I was given the opportunity to move to Minnesota to manage a college bookstore of my own. I took that opportunity, excited for the possibility of a new place to make my own way. Feeling successful from my department experience, I felt assured of success in my new venture.
I was a spectacular failure.
  • Among other things, I am not a people person. I am an introvert who gets satisfaction and energy from solving problems with words and spreadsheets. I don’t like being disturbed; I don’t want to meet tons of new people every day. A textbook manager can have that sort of existence. A store manager cannot. A store manager must be able to solve people-problems, not thing-problems.  
  • Furthermore, I had plenty of experience with textbooks, but really had no idea how to manage the rest of the store. I could manage books, but not staff, customers, or non-book merchandise.  
  • Not to mention that I had no awareness or acceptance of how different the two stores were. I foolishly believed that the way things worked in one store would work in another.  
  • I was 24. Too close in age to the part-time college student employees and so didn’t know how to earn their respect and too far in age from my peers at the college to feel comfortable with them.  
  • I had no idea how to ask for help or how to accept what help came my way. . I felt like I was on a little island of solid ground and all around me was darkness. I told my manager that I knew there are things that I’m supposed to be doing, these things in the darkness that needed light, but I didn’t know what they are. The tasks, duties, and responsibilities that were self-evident to him were beyond me. Because I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, I didn’t even know what I was doing wrong. 
In my paltry defense, the company I worked for was not all that good at supporting their new managers. They seemed to let us sink or swim. They made the mistake (and not just with me) that a department manager would make a good store manager. I suspect that the assistant manager at that store, upset that she wasn’t promoted, may have (with or without intent) made things more difficult for me.
Approximately six months after my arrival, my manager gave me a choice: Move back to Chicago and run the textbook department at a different store or leave the company.

It was a hard decision. I missed Chicago. I missed the friends and the world I had there. But I was already aware that retail was a poisonous environment for me. I chose to leave the company and that meant staying in Minnesota.

Thirteen years later, I’m still here. Since that time I’ve had supportive managers and some great jobs. I’ve learned how to ask questions and evaluate my environment. I still have the tendency to assume that what worked before with work again, but know I know I need to allow for tweaks and variations. I’ve learned to ask for help before I get so lost that I can’t be found. I earned a Master’s degree. I’ve learned to make choices that support me and my mental health. I met and married my husband and we’re building a home together. Now I get to buy books and don't have to worry about selling them.

 Seems like it was a pretty good decision to me.
*Also, my mother is way more supportive than Donna's.

1 comment:

  1. I love that you referenced the Turn Left episode! And it certainly seems to me that you made the best choice. :)