Untying Myself

First jobs help build confidence, shed introversion

My mom made one thing very clear to me when I reached high school: the moment I turned 16 I would go and get a job. It was the same plan she had used and perfected for my two older sisters before me and it ended up working out well in the end. They were able to become more independent in terms of money and learned a lot of responsibility, traits many of their friends who did not have jobs in high school learned much later.

Despite these aspects, I was understandably not overjoyed about the situation. I’m an honors student who was taking my first AP class ever, is heavily involved in theatre and choir, and had other social obligations among other things. Not to mention, I’m also naturally a very introverted person who likes to keep to myself, so I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fit in with coworkers or be able to put myself out there enough to actually do my job. Despite this, on the night of my 16th birthday, I found myself staring at a computer screen typing in information on a job application for a certain chain footwear store with the help of my mom and one of my older sisters.

To speed things up a bit, I did end up getting hired. I was extremely nervous for my interview, but it honestly wasn’t that bad. My first shift, however, I was kind of a wreck. The main components of my job are greeting people at the door, making connections, and checking people out and as I said before, I’m an introvert to the extreme. The manager I was working with helped me greet people a few times, but then after that she wanted to see how I would do on my own. I have a very specific memory of a customer walking in and immediately making myself go into a corner that was out-of-sight so I could take a moment to mentally prepare myself to go up and ask what they were looking for. I did that a few more times too.

As days and weeks passed and I continued to work and improve, subtle changes in my behavior began to reveal themselves, even without me realizing it. For years, I had made my mom talk to cashiers and sales associates for me when we were out shopping as I was too “socially awkward” to talk to them on my own. I no longer needed her to, I was suddenly going up to workers on my own with ease and making conversation just fine. I also used to have a problem with creating and maintaining eye contact with people during conversation. I no longer had problems locking eyes with strangers, it became natural to me. There are several positive interactions I can think of where customers complimented my work skills and thanked me for helping them out the way I did. For someone who only a few months prior wouldn’t have even been able to talk to them, those interactions meant a lot and made me realize just how much my social skills were improving. Finally, I was able to go out in public and not be scared to converse with others or make a mistake and get corrected. I was finally able to start living my life without fear.

Finally, I was able to go out in public and not be scared to converse with others or make a mistake and get corrected. I was finally able to start living my life without fear.”

I continued to progress socially in so many ways, until that suddenly stopped. A few weeks into the nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all employees besides store managers, myself included, were essentially fired from our jobs. Maybe it was being on lockdown and not seeing anyone besides my family for two months or maybe it was just anxieties in general being heightened due to the stakes of the pandemic, but suddenly all the progress I had made was reversed. I became the quiet, shy girl I had been the start of my sophomore year. It was really embarrassing. I had been so happy that I was able to be as social as I had wanted to be for years and really show people who I actually was, but now I was too scared to even order food at a restaurant.

Months passed and eventually the stores for the chain I work for began to reopen. At first only a few people were rehired, but that soon grew into more people. At the end of July I was rehired at a different store than I was originally at (but had worked at a few times during the previous holiday season) after about five months of being laid off. My first shift back was just like my original first day: I was a wreck. Though I remembered what to do routinely with only a few pointers, socially was another story. First of all, I now had to learn to project my voice through my mask even while having normal conversation. Additionally, just greeting people and going up to customers in general took a lot of retraining my brain to not be scared of their reactions and remarks.

But here I am now, four months later. At this point in time, I feel confident enough to say I’m back to where I was socially prior to the pandemic, maybe I’ve even progressed a little more.  If you were to ask me right now if I’d recommend my job, I’d say yes because by working this job I have not only met so many amazing people but I’ve also learned so many important life skills. There have been many times where I’ve had to learn to push myself into situations that may have been uncomfortable, but that’s how I slowly taught myself how to communicate properly. Getting this job helped me push out of the shell that once held me back and limited my life, now I’m finally starting to break free.