Retail manager monkey wants out but needs money.
December 27, 2014 10:34 PM   Subscribe

I am a high-level store manager for a retail chain which, in general, does good for the world. Up until now, that's been enough to satisfy my need to do something meaningful with my life while also making decent money. It's just not cutting it anymore. Help me figure out something that will.

This may be the Christmas that broke me. I'm a mother of a young child, the sole breadwinner of my household, and all I really wanted was a week off to spend with my family for Christmas. But, I work retail, so that was never in the cards.

I've been telling myself that in my job the thing that I'm doing that is most meaningful is creating a workplace that doesn't suck for almost 200 people. But no matter how hard I try, they are all still going to be subject to a retail schedule and wage band, and the longer I go on the less comfortable with that I am.

I know people who have worked part time while pursuing education in other fields who have been graduated, quit, and gone on to talk about how much less work they do to make more money than they did working at my store. I have some employees who cannot make ends meet adequately despite working to the best of their abilities. I have Eugene Debs as a personal hero yet a fear of unions in general. I have a lot of self-loathing and conflicted feelings about what I am doing as a profit-making corporate monkey whore.

I have an undergraduate degree in an artistic field. I care passionately about revamping our (USA) criminal justice system, making healthcare universally accessible and affordable, breaking down the race barrier, transgender rights, queer rights, art as a meaningful and necessary part of society, eating good food as a human right and biological necessity, and a ton of other progressive values. I have a decade of experience in retail in increasing responsibility and authority. I am now in direct control of nearly 200 people, with hiring and firing power, operational budgeting and management duties. I am extremely good at my job in many ways, including things that demand emotional intelligence, analytical prowess, and logistical know-how. I was the artistic black sheep in an academic scientific family. I am an XNFP. I value my atheism and humanism. I was very, very, very good at parliamentary debate in college. I am not good at drudgery. I am not good at dull routine.

How the fuck can I translate this into a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job that pays the fucking rent (and ideally does something to further my left wing, progressive, making the world a better place for future generations agenda)?

I make about $68,000 a year right now, and cannot really afford to take any salary cuts without seriously fucking shit up budget wise. I have pretty decent benefits. The company I work for is nearly universally well-regarded and tends to align with my personal ideals, so I think to be satisfied I will have to be engaged in a nonretail endeavor.

Is there anything that fits this bill?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you have a good enough gig right now. Can you volunteer somewhere on the weekends?
posted by oceanjesse at 10:57 PM on December 27, 2014

You sound like an amazing boss and the difference you can and are making in these 200 people's lives is not to be underestimated. Imagine how much worse life would be for the employees who are barely making it if they had an asshole boss? And there are plenty of those out there. Don't underestimate the difference you can make just by being kind and fair to so many people.

That said, I think you have a lot of transferable skills if you do want to make a change. The first thing that springs to mind is project management, as that requires a lot of emotional intelligence, influencing, and organisational skills. And since you're employed and not in a rush, you can take your time finding the right opportunity for you. Maybe in marketing, maybe at the corporate headquarters of your retail employer? But have a trawl through the job ads and see if anything jumps out.

You may want to pay someone to help you rewrite your CV with a specific focus once you figure out what you want to do. Make sure if you go this route you find someone with experience in your new field to help you. Your best bet would be to find and impress a recruiter in your new chosen field who wants to help you. He or she can then tailor your CV before sending it out to potential employers.

It sounds like what you really need right now is a vacation. After the busy season, can you take a week or two off, preferably go somewhere relaxing and warm, and have a good rest? Then you'll be in a better position mentally and emotionally to plot your next move.
posted by hazyjane at 1:59 AM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]

Look for managerial roles at advice helplines or walk-in centres that serve the less fortunate. Your skills should transfer easily.

You may have to rethink your expectations regarding salary, though. Jobs that offer a high level of personal satisfaction generally do not offer high pay, because employers don't need to pay high salaries to attract good candidates to such positions. (There are exceptions, but these are usually jobs that require very advanced or specialised qualifications.) For what it's worth, I know single parents holding it together on a lot less money than you, in a city (London) that is almost certainly more expensive.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 4:27 AM on December 28, 2014

My solution in a similar situation was not to quit, because I didn't have other options at the same salary, but to cut my expenses and cut my hours. This gave me time outside of work for life fulfillment; my job is a way to pay my bills. I live on $30K as a single mom of two kids. I recognize that this is certainly not an option for everyone, but I have seen a lot of people (especially people with kids) switch careers and not being happier than before, when really what they want is to have more time they can spend as they choose.

Assuming you can't reduce your hours in your current position, are there others in your company you could negotiate into doing part time? Can you share your job with someone else?
posted by metasarah at 4:42 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

maybe at the corporate headquarters of your retail employer?

That was my first thought -- can you move up (or laterally) to a corporate job rather than a store management job? That should get you a more traditional schedule and quite possibly better money, which may be sufficient to keep you satisfied or may just give you the breathing room to take a few breaths and figure things out.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:31 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, the world needs more smart, fair, effective managers in many fields that might give you a week off at Christmas. I agree that the easiest thing to do might be to stay in your current organization but move out of direct retail. You could also consider going back to school for an MBA or MPA (would your current org pay for that at least partially?) and refocusing on nonprofit management or healthcare administration. Or the more departments of existing large corporations--I have some friends who are variously in jobs that focus on the happiness/retention of employees or in the "keep us out of sweatshops" department of large retailers.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:25 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anonymous, I wholeheartedly recommend checking out the Career Wisdom Institute, here.
I have known one of the founders for 20 years and have received excellent guidance from her. They are rooted in the belief that you can do work that is both lucrative and satisfying. You can send me memail if you would like to know more.
posted by Altomentis at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

retail can really burn a person out. I've been there. If you can't move out of the retail side into corporate what about becoming a rep for one of the products or services your employer sells. That happens all the time. Unfortunately it's not always easy to find work that pays and is perfectly aligned with your personal values, especially for someone like you with very specific and strong ones.
posted by Che boludo! at 10:44 AM on December 28, 2014

At the end of the day, retail at scale will always be about squeezing employee costs until they bleed in the search for slightly better margins. And that is going to include you. What you may want to look into is transitioning towards something like project management in a more profitable industry whose success is determined by the success of the project rather than from more efficiently minimizing expenses on commodities.

Your first step should be to move to your company's corporate office and then from there make a jump to a non-retail corporation.

Any retail outside of high end retail will cause too much cognitive dissonance to your value system, because you are pulled by two competing impulses: the first is the corporate imperative to minimize costs by cutting employee salaries and hours. The second is the fact that you depend on a wide swath of the populace to be decently paid so that they have enough money to spend at your stores and ultimately provide you with a job (those Union members who make good money are the people who are well off enough to keep you in business). Ultimately those competing impulses are unresolveable, so one part of your value system will have to be sacrificed to serve the other unless you get out of retail.
posted by deanc at 11:04 AM on December 28, 2014

You actually can do a lot of these things in corporate retail, in the right position (esp Store Operations, HR, or even Customer Service with the right organization), with a company that either shares your values or is small enough where you can make an impact. I recommend corporate retail specifically because - as I'm sure you've encountered - it is hard to find people outside of the retail world who appropriately value just how smart, skilled, well-rounded, and driven you have to be to successfully run a store, especially a large one.

It's still hard to get people to take you seriously enough to give you a shot, even if you stick with retail, but it's totally worth it. I did it! It was a long road and a little scary (I am also a primary breadwinner), but where I am now is awesome! I get to do a lot of the things you're talking about - champion causes and rights for all, help others see the other side of situations (and learn/grow as a result), and influence an entire organization vs just my store. Yes, it's still the corporate world, and I have moments of frustration caused by the cognitive dissonance mentioned above, but I get a lot out of what I do and it ultimately fulfills those "make the world a better place" aspirations I have.

All that said, strict M-F 8-5 may not be possible if you aim for corporate retail. Here's the thing: everyone I know who works those hours pretty strictly lives in drudgery those 40 hours. They do repetitive office work that, frankly, I'd find boring. I technically work "office hours" but the actual hours I spend in the office rarely conform to 8-5 exactly (sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes later), and I'm usually at least marginally connected on the weekends. However, I could totally take a week off at Christmas if I wanted to (or if I stopped being that person who wants my team to take the time off ahead of me!).

Last thought: if you consider additional training or schooling, I would urge you to seek something skills-based and practical - ie the project management certification suggested above - that you can then supplement with experience (maybe through a stretch opportunity in partnership with your DM?). I would recommend this over an MBA or other degree. The key here is finding ways to demonstrate the specific skills that will be relevant to world you're trying to break into.

I am happy to share more about my experience and what I've learned if it helps - feel free to MeMail me!
posted by marmago at 11:16 AM on December 28, 2014

Caring a great deal an wear you out, so make sure you delegate, structure you time and your time off to get rest, and try really hard not to bring the job home with you.

Do your very best to make sure you have as little debt as possible and start saving towards your career change.

Start talking to people at non-profits, government agencies, anyplace you think does good. get an understanding of what their field has to offer. You may end up choosing law school, nursing, medical school, programming or some other specialty, but it helps to have some financial flexibility for transitioning.
posted by theora55 at 11:29 AM on December 29, 2014

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