When Your Bread Is on the Water

I am sandwiched between two successful brothers. They are smart, talented, diligent, witty, and charming. They have been successful, and I have not.

This was before I understood that life is not linear for most people. This was before I learned I was also smart, talented, diligent, witty, and charming. This was before I appreciated things like back roads and tickets for the long way ’round. This was before I realized I didn’t actually want to crowd out my own personality with either of my brothers’ personalities, even if doing so meant I could have their success. This was before I knew success was about authenticity – living honestly inside of those things God gives you.

I learned about success at Kohl’s, of all places. When I’d been applying for jobs of all shapes and sizes for nine months, I could not understand why the door God opened at the end of 2013 was at Kohl’s. After all, it was minimum wage, seasonal, part-time, and at my younger sister’s reference. Considering I promised myself never to work retail ever again after college, considering that I had a pretty specific idea of the kind of work I wanted to do and how much I wanted to make for it, and considering I like to get things like jobs on my own merit, it was humbling. Painfully so.

When they hired me, they said they would let me know mid-January whether or not my temporary position would become permanent. They never actually let me know it was permanent, but they kept putting me on the schedule, and I kept showing up. At the end of January, one of the managers (who had been on maternity leave) came up to introduce herself, saying she was excited to meet me because I was already in the top ten percent of credit producers at our store. (Hey, no one was more shocked than me.)

In March, one of the supervisors left and another came. It didn’t matter how many credit apps I produced, it was never enough for this new supervisor. She would hover around my register, and when I accept a customer’s no about the credit card, she would take over and ask at least two more times. (She believed that if a customer was asked three times they were more likely to say yes. I believe if you badger a customer and don’t talk to them about anything besides a product, they’re more likely to shut you out.) She would threaten to take me off the register and put me on the floor, threaten to cut my hours if I didn’t produce more. I was miserable.

Then, out of nowhere, my dream job showed up on LinkedIn: it was a producer’s assistant job at a Christian film studio. I applied. I got a call for an interview. I went in and gave the best interview of my life. I was certain that job was going to be mine. It was my ticket out of Kohl’s, and I couldn’t have asked for a better destination.

If you followed this blog back then you already know: I didn’t get that job. I had to keep showing up at Kohl’s and deal with the immense pressure this supervisor was putting on me. Every day, I wrote hypomeno on my left wrist – that reminder from my dad to remain under. I tried to keep applying for other jobs, but between Kohl’s and my other job, there wasn’t much time or energy left over. Besides, I had a feeling that God wanted me at Kohl’s. Honestly, that thought pissed me off more than anything else: why was God holding me back?

One day, I witnessed this supervisor doing something dishonest. I was scared to report it, because I was pretty sure if I did, this supervisor would lose her job. And as much as I disliked her, I didn’t want to be the reason she got fired. Still, we had ethics training that same week, and they gave us three questions to ask when we were trying to ascertain whether a behavior was ethical or not: Is it legal? Is it defensible? I don’t remember the third question, but I remember my answer to all three questions was “no” regarding this supervisor’s actions. I knew I had to report, but thankfully, they gave us a resource at which we could direct anonymous concerns. And as I wrapped up the raw details of my anonymous report, I expressed concern about the company’s push to produce credit apps and editorialized the pressure this supervisor was clearly under and the pressure she was putting others under was probably the reason she engaged in this dishonest behavior.

After they dismissed this supervisor, there was a lot of communication from management to the point-of-sale employees at our store with tips as to how best to solicit credit, and going forward, producing credit became more about incentives and less about penalty. I still didn’t like that I had been put in a situation where I had to report – by God, by the company, by the supervisor – but I felt heard. Mildly concerned that I was going to walk out of work one day to my car keyed or tires slashed, but heard.

And I kept showing up.

In my August review, my manager said she was pleased with my performance, but she had a sense I was wasting my talents at the register, and she wanted to see more from me. She asked me if I would be willing to learn customer service. I said yes.

This is how you learn new responsibilities at Kohl’s: they toss you into it, and you ask questions and figure it out as you go. And since that’s pretty much how I live my life anyway, it worked out pretty well for me. First, I figured out customer service, then, I figured out the floor, and then, I figured out price changes and merchandising, and basically my schedule and work days consisted of supporting whatever department needed help. After that, they wanted me to figure out jewelry, and even though I knew nothing about jewelry, I thought, “Eh, I’ll give it a shot.” I thought I’d gel to it like I had with everything else, you know?

Except, no, I didn’t. I knew nothing about our jewelry products – my mom told me just to talk up the most expensive stuff, but I could never figure out exactly what that was. The displays were a pain – the keys never worked to get into them, and I’m clumsy, so everything would get knocked over when I would reach in. (Also, the frustration of not knowing exactly which product the customer was pointing to…) The only thing in jewelry I was good at was unpacking and stocking the costume jewelry, but management kept scheduling me back there anyway because no one else was able and/or wanted to do it.  Anytime I had a shift in jewelry or had to cover a break there, my stomach would knot up, because I knew – inevitably – someone was going to ask me something I didn’t have an answer for. It was so bad, one day, I walked in and saw they had put me in jewelry even though my schedule had said I’d be somewhere else (not uncommon in retail). I actually told the manager on duty that I was leaving if that didn’t change. I’m not proud of that moment (like, at all), however, and I think because I had not prone to such outbursts of willfulness, she let me work customer service that day and had someone else cover jewelry. I don’t think I was scheduled for jewelry after that until my last two shifts at my home store. (Someone’s idea of a joke, I guess. LOL.)

I learned how much pride I take in supporting a team as I worked point-of-sale, customer service, MJM (misses, juniors, mens), price-changes, merchandising, and yes, even jewelry. I learned the value of being service-oriented – to be able to walk into a job and be depended upon to do whatever needed done so my store – and company – could succeed. There were companies I enjoyed working for before Kohl’s, but I started taking pride in my own work, my own skills, my own style at Kohl’s.

Eventually, they gave me the keys. If the on-duty managers had things that needed their attention elsewhere in the store, they would give me the keys and let me handle front-end calls for managers. Other times, I was responsible for walking through the back of house at night, making sure departments and fitting rooms were clean before we went home.

And so when a supervisory position became available at my new store, I went after it with confidence. It was in my department and required skills I’d spent nearly the last two years developing. Skills I hadn’t even realized I’d been developing. At the same time, I was pursuing other opportunities at other companies, and I ended up choosing a new company instead of remaining with Kohl’s. It was a hard decision, because I realized how much Kohl’s contributed to my professional growth, and I knew they would continue to do so.

Everything this past year has been new – much of it by my own choice. This past year has been a shaking season, a planting and dying season. I had so much faith going into it, you know? I knew that I knew that I knew God was going to take care of all of it. I knew it when my dad called to tell me that my mom had ALS. I knew it when the managing director of Vox Dei stepped down. I knew it when my family was mad at me for saying I didn’t want to spend a whole week under one roof with them when they couldn’t even be particularly kind to me online. I knew it when my mom was in the hospital and we found out she had congestive heart failure, too. I knew it when I spent my birthday on my own for the first time. I knew it when I found out I had been dating yet another man bound by addiction.

I was a little less certain when my publisher went out of business and my book went out of print. I was a little less certain in the middle of squabbles about things I really couldn’t care less about. I was a little less certain when one of my nieces had a mysterious lump on her arm and the doctors took what seemed like forever figuring it out. I was a little less certain when my mom had her defrib implant surgery. I was a little less certain when my nephew went to the hospital with low oxygen levels.

I don’t know what to think at all when another niece is diagnosed with retinoblastoma, or when we find out she was going to have to go through chemo. I don’t know what to do about all of the anxiety dreams that make me nostalgic for my childhood and fill me with primal dread. I don’t know how to rebuke the issues that are causing the human race to turn in on and devour itself and the justifications for them, or how to cope with how ugly and angry things are becoming and that we’re crumbling under this weight without ever crying out for our need for a Deliverer. I don’t know what to think or what to do when I’m being squeezed out of a position I earned. I don’t know what to do when my body isn’t working the way it should, or when my heart starts quaking in my chest, and the doctor tells me I’m digging an early grave for myself. I don’t know how to stop any of it or make any of it better.

Monday morning. A thing that’s been eating at me all weekend. God, what am I even doing here? It’s not that I’ve forgotten; I just can’t believe I agreed to it. I think I’ll just be done. Inner grumbling as I get ready for work, inner grumbling driving to work. Ready to send the done message, but I send out a call for prayer instead. My pastor tells me later in the day that I’ve been casting my bread on the water for a long time, and that I just have to believe it’s coming back to me.

Tuesday morning. A different thing. Going to resign from this particular duty. Nobody can deny I’ve given it my best shot. Ready to chew someone out, but instead I say, “Okay, this needs to be fixed and here are my thoughts on how to do that,” with only a little bit of bite.

Wednesday morning. Show up. Yesterday’s situation rectified. Get through.

Thursday morning. Show up. Get through.

Friday morning. Talk to one of the successful brothers who has recently made a big move that hasn’t turned out the way he hoped it would. And I have a sad smile, because I’m the queen of making big moves that don’t turn out the way I expect. Start writing this post for him early this morning not sure exactly how to tell him. How to tell him that just because a move doesn’t turn out the way you expect doesn’t make it a bad move, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s a bad move. How to tell him not to despise the day of small things, or back roads, or tickets for the long way ’round, because they always lead to the best things and places. How to tell him to just keep going in who God has created him to be and he’ll always have what he needs for that. How to tell him none of the rest of it matters.

It’s Friday afternoon now. Late Friday afternoon.

The past five weeks have been the scariest, hardest, most unsettling weeks of my life. I have no idea when they’ll turn around, or if they’ll turn around, or if I’ll just be given the grace to carry these days – like I was given grace to carry Kohl’s and eventually a deep appreciation for everything Kohl’s gave me. Even though it wasn’t what I wanted. Even though it wasn’t what I pictured. Even though it was hard and there were days I thought I wouldn’t make it.

I just have to keep showing up. The times when I just show up have been the times when meaningful success has been born and grows in my life. I may not ever leverage job offers against each other or have people courting me for my presence in their organization, but I am the girl who shows up, willing to do whatever it takes to help people and teams and companies succeed. And I’m proud of that.










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