They say that working a service job is like a rite of passage, a badge of honor for many in the workforce. It is often a thankless job, involving dealing with difficult personalities, doing physically demanding work, working weird hours and shifts, and having intimate knowledge of the business — all while keeping a smile on your face. Naturally, this kind of job can easily wear you down, but unless you’re management, chances are that you’re not making the kind of paycheck that will allow for rest and relaxation in the form of a spa day or retail therapy.
Having worked in retail for over eight years, both in suburban malls and a bookstore in New York City, often while also holding down a full-time office job or being a full-time student, I often found myself strapped for cash but needing some kind of release at the end of a long shift. Here are some inexpensive forms of self-care for treating yourself right while hustling that service job:
1. Take care of your feet
Service jobs often entail long shifts standing and running around, so your puppies are probably barking by the end of the day. My first day ever working in retail at a women’s clothing store in the mall, I even fainted halfway into my shift, because I was not used to long hours on my feet. Aside from just remembering not to lock your legs and try to move around, it’s also important to treat your feet right. Take time to soak your feet at home — throw some bath salts in there and/or do a little foot scrub. Give yourself an at-home pedicure, if you have the time. And most of all, make sure to either find comfy shoes to wear during work or buy inserts to turn more casual shoes into something you wouldn’t mind standing in all day.
2. Make a point to spend time outside of your workplace
When you spend 8+ hours a day, several days a week, in a place, you can start mistaking it for home — but you don’t want to get too comfortable at your place of work. It’s too easy to spend breaks hanging around or linger after a shift ends. Working in retail, breaks were often spent in the store, either shopping or sitting in the break room. I would go hours without seeing sunlight or breathing fresh air. Remind yourself that there is life outside of work by making it a point to leave the building. Go for a quick walk on your break or force yourself to leave on time at least a few times a week. You’ll be able to come back refreshed.
3. Commiserate/spend time with your coworkers
No one knows the grind of a service job better than the people in the trenches alongside you. Feel free to get to know your colleagues — grab a drink or coffee and have a venting session. While you want to make sure that you don’t create too much of a negative vibe with coworkers, it can be therapeutic to let off some steam with the people who get the day-to-day frustrations of the job. Some of the best friends I have made were from service jobs — almost everyone I have met has been hardworking, interesting, and fun. Service jobs attract all walks of life, and you can gain a lot by getting to know your peers. You, like me, might even make some lifelong connections out of it.
4. Take a weekend off
Service jobs often entail working at least one weekend day, and not getting to enjoy the schedule of someone with a regular 9-5, Monday-Friday gig can wear you down. Especially when you’re serving people who are enjoying a traditional weekend, it’s easy for resentment to build. For years, I worked seven days a week, and it was hard for me sometimes to see people waltzing into the bookstore where I worked in the summer with their tans and cute summer dresses, clearly having just soaked up some sun in the park across the street or on their way to a social event. Even cutting my way through the crowded farmer’s market on my way into the store would fill me with dread, especially dodging other people enjoying leisurely strolls as I was rushing to clock in on time.
Either use your paid time off or see if you can trade shifts to give yourself a weekend — a real weekend! — off once in a while and see how the other half lives. Make plans with your office job friends. Enjoy weekend-specific events like brunch or parties. Live it up!
5. Enjoy some alone time on a regular basis
When you work a service job, you often find yourself talking a lot to people, whether it’s taking orders or providing customer service. While it can be nice to be a social butterfly, you can also take time to enjoy being alone and silent. When I was living alone near the tail end of my time in retail, I would often just plop down on the bed when I got home and just lie there in silence. As an introvert, I found a lot of solace in recharging my batteries with some quality time by myself.
Find a good book to get lost in for an hour or two every night. Draw or journal as a winding-down exercise after a long shift. Zone out watching a Jersey Shore marathon and take comfort that you are not obligated to talk to anyone at all. After all, this is you time.
Kimberly Lew is a published playwright and writer whose articles have appeared on websites like Real Simple, The Washington Post, HelloGiggles, and The Billfold. Find her website here.
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