I’m taking Career Counseling this semester as a necessary requirement for graduation and also as a pre-requisite for the two major exams I need to take for certification and licensure (the NCE and CPCE) . On the first day of class, my professor went around the room asking us details about our first job. At the end of the discussion, he pointed out that it was not a coincidence that our favorite jobs were also our first jobs and that there are studies and statistics to back up his claim. He told us that no matter what career path we chose after our first job, nothing will compare to that first experience. Even as a 30-something Ph.D holding professor and counseling professional, he still looks back on his first job at a grocery store fondly, making note that that was his favorite place of employment. Because of what I learned during that discussion, what I’m going to say today [as cheesy as it will sound] makes that much more sense.
* * *
They say that in life, change is the only constant. That seasons change, people change, circumstances change, life changes. So, in a lifetime full of change, very few things remain. In my lifetime, I’ve experienced changes from all different angles – from devastating loss, to heartbreak, to shifts in friendships, to ups and downs in familial relationships, to the goals and dreams I had for myself. And while I experienced all of these highs and lows of life, only one thing remained a constant. While the world around me never ceased to stop changing, the one thing that stayed the same, my one constant, has been my job. I never knew then that what was supposed to start out as a summer job when I was a teenager would turn into something that holds so many memories, so much meaning and so much of me for so long. I never knew all those years ago, the impact that it would have on my life and how bittersweet it would be to say goodbye – nine years later.
To many, Auntie Anne’s was just a pretzel place and a way to demean and degrade not only myself, but my coworkers as well. It was often a way for outsiders to make us feel like less than human for where we worked. I’ve never understood how having a long-term job, working for great people and working with incredible friends could ever be a negative enough thing to make fun of us for. But, of course, that is another rant to be saved for another day. To outsiders, it was a place they often frequented for a snack. It was the store that you could smell from a mile away. It was a childhood favorite that manifested itself into adulthood. But for me, Auntie Anne’s was my job – my first job.
It was where I learned customer service and people skills – where I learned how to talk to people, where I learned how to listen to rules, where I learned leadership and where I gained a strong sense of self and a great work ethic. But it was so much more than that. Auntie Anne’s was a place that harbors so many memories and was, essentially, where I grew up. It was here that I learned what friendship is – and I mean real, raw, true friendship. Here I learned how to pick and choose which people I wanted in my life and how to read a person from a mile away. It was here I learned to build a back-bone and let some of the nasty things customers said to me roll off my shoulder. It was here I learned to work hard – to put in the hours, the work, and the time and see that hard work, no matter where you work, gets you places. It was here I learned to balance a job, extra-curricular activities and school and still make good grades. It was here that I gained a life-long, incredible and supportive best friend, who I genuinely do not know where I would be without – no matter how cliche it sounds. It was here that I had the chance to work with my brother and to work with a girl who I have known since before she was born. It was here that I forged close friendships with, now college-bound girls, who remind me of myself at their age. I was, and still am, so emotionally invested in their lives, their well-being and their success. They are more than just our employees, they’ve become both my friends and like little sisters to me. I’ve watched these kids blossom into young adults and learned that I could be proud of them, even if I have only known them for two or three years.
Proud of S, for going into the city, despite the challenges that it took her to get there – for following her heart and making her big dreams a reality. But also, for being level-headed and humble, even when she recently was inches away from George Clooney, John Goodman and Bill Murray. Proud of G, for leaving high-school where she hated it – to going off to college, loving it and growing into this mature young lady. You are far better than I was at your age and as I have always told you, college is really where you will shine. No matter what, I will always be your ‘mentor’ :). Proud of S & D, for going off to the schools of their dreams and making these dreams an eventual reality. For coming from a small high school to jumping into these giant universities, but finding your niche and group of friends and for really having the time of your lives. I am so excited for both of your futures and we all know that we will see your names in lights. For A, who is already changing lives, in only your second semester of college. I don’t need to tell you how proud I am of you for going after these crazy dreams of yours, because you and I both know that your dedication to becoming a doctor is what will get you there, no matter how difficult that road may be. And for C, who will forever remind me of myself. For really being a friend and for going after those journalism dreams – even after you had a minor setback with schools. Being proud of every single one of you girls doesn’t even cover it.
It was within those four walls that we all felt every emotion – we laughed, cried, joked and even fought. No one has seen me in the same way that my coworkers have. Good, bad, ugly – they saw it all. Our job was our safe haven – no matter how many negative things were going on in our personal lives outside of work, we always had a place to go. Even on the most stressful days, there was always some element of fun. We laughed every single day and most importantly, it was here that I gained an extended family with whom I was able to share the bulk of my fondest memories, both inside and outside of work, for the last nine years.
Tuesday night was my last shift – the end of such an epic saga. Never again will I work with my best friend or my brother. Never again will I work with teenagers – unless, of course, they are my clients. Never again will I work for those same incredible people. Never again will I look at an Auntie Anne’s, or even a mall, the same. I said goodbye to the biggest part of me this week. The biggest part of my life, the only constant. And while I closed this chapter of my book and said goodbye to a job that I never knew would mean so much to me, I am also opening the door to the future and to endless possibilities. The unknown future should terrify me, but at the same time, it’s the not knowing that excites me. I have the utmost confidence in myself and in my coworkers and know that no matter what direction we take and where we are headed, we are all going to do something great.
So sure, it was just a pretzel place. It was my first job. It was food retail. But, it was the biggest part of my life thus far. I am a better person today because of it and I have the best stories and relationships that will genuinely last far beyond those four walls.
To every single one of my coworkers and anyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with, whether it be now or at any point in the last 9 years, thank you for being the biggest part of my life, thank you for being my backbone and being part of the place that kept me together when things outside of work fell apart, thank you for being my family – near or far, you’ll always hold a piece of my heart.
“May these memories break our fall.”
“I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason, bringing something we must learn and we are led to those to help us most to grow if we let them, and we help them in return. Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true, but I know I’m who I am today, because I knew you.” ‘For Good,’ Wicked
“Celebrate endings – for they precede new beginnings.” -Jonathan Lockwood Huie
The title of this post is from the song, “Long Live” by Taylor Swift
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