I Worked a Retail Job for 2 Months — Here’s What I Learned

I worked my first retail job in 4 years and I barely lasted a month

Justin Bennett-Cohen
8 min readNov 28, 2021
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The last retail job I worked was from 2014 to 2017 at the Stop & Shop deli. The deli was actually really great because we were kind of a little family, and we were in charge of our own corner of the store. I made some great friends that I’m still friends with to this day, I learned a lot about how a deli is run, and I ate a lot of deli meat.

I left that job because management was pissing me off and my career seemingly wasn’t moving an inch, and it was the right choice.

For the last year and a half, I’ve been mainly self-employed making money through Doordash and writing online. My income was steadily going down, and I wanted to see if a “real job” would help me get some income stability and hopefully health insurance, as I just fell off of my parent’s plan.

The job market in Massachusetts right now isn’t great if you don’t have a degree (which I’m currently working towards), so I settled with a job at my local Target. I thought, “it’s 2021. How bad could retail be?” Well, as I said to my team lead during my second day when they asked me “how is it so far?”, I responded:

“Welp. It sure is retail.”

I learned pretty quickly that I hated being a cashier, so I was put on the fulfillment team instead that shopped for drive-up orders. In my opinion, it’s the best part of Target you could possibly work in, as the customers you interact with are kept at a minimum; however, there were a few things I’ve learned throughout these months that I need to get onto Medium.

What I learned after 2 months of working for Target

Photo by Nathália Rosa on Unsplash

My body can no longer handle the amount of physical labor a minimum wage worker endures.

In my position, you stand on your feet for 8 hours per day pushing a large metal cart in circles around the store shopping for items, some of which are light, some of which are 50+ pounds. I’ve always had a bad back, partly because of my curved spine due to bad posture over my childhood, and maybe partly due to me not working out as much as I should with my busy schedule. I don’t know, but my gosh: my back and feet cannot do it.

I’m 26 years old, so I’m still pretty young and in pretty okay shape, but my body was not ready for the amount of stress it would endure. After 6 hours on the first day, my feet and back were hurting so badly that I had to find a corner of the store to sit down on the floor to make my lower back stop screaming in pain. I told myself, “Okay, Justin. It’s the first day, your body is just surprised and needs to get used to this. It’ll get better over time.”

Though I got used to the pain, that doesn’t change the amount of pain my body has been in every single day. When I was 18–22 working at the deli, I was fine working for 10 hours per day on my feet. Now, did it suck? Yes. But could I do it? Also yes. I just powered through. Although I power through my days working at Target, I mentally and physically feel like I’m crawling to the finish line while my 18–21 year old coworkers are still sprinting.

If you’re in school, your work-life balance will be nonexistent.

I don’t mean to be negative here, I mean to be realistic. I only take three classes per semester, and there were times I couldn’t pass in an essay on time because I’d be working until 10PM right after school, then in some cases, working at 7AM the very next morning. Despite being able to work through some late papers with my professors, it still wasn’t a great situation.

I also live with my girlfriend. Let me repeat that sentence: I live with my girlfriend. Despite this fact, I’d wake up before her around 5:30 in the morning to get ready for work, then after Doordashing (because Target doesn’t pay well enough for me to afford rent) I’d get home at 9PM from working all day and just pass out. I wouldn’t even get to spend time with her.

Yes I’d have a single day off with her each week, but it just isn’t enough. This isn’t how the human body was designed to be used. We’re stone-aged hardware running modern day software.

There are times you won’t be treated like a human. And it hurts.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

You’ll also be given attitude by your HR manager for trying to get out an hour or two early because you had a scheduling conflict with your therapist. I tried changing my schedule around so I could go to my therapy appointment, something extremely important to my mental health, and I was disrespected by HR because it was an inconvenience for them. I understand they need someone to work a certain shift, but that’s not okay.

While we’re talking about what’s not okay: According to the handbook and several managers, you aren’t allowed to drink water while on shift because it could create spills. So you’d have to go 6 hours without water at times until you’re allowed to take your lunch break.

I tried to get a doctor’s note, but my doctor said, “as cruel and weird as that is, we need a medical reason from a medication or medical condition that requires you water. Not just that you’re human and need fluids throughout the day.”

So I just drank water on my shift anyways. If a manager stopped me while I’m working and said “Hey! No drinking water on shift!”, I would slowly unscrew the cap, chug some water while staring them in the face, screw the cap slowly back on, and say as slow as a sloth, “………no.” Then continue on working.

You’ll meet really great people with really cool dreams.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

One of the only great things about working a retail job is that you get to meet all sorts of different people. I met this really funny girl who makes my shifts so much more tolerable and now we’ve become friends and it’s really nice.

You’ll also meet people at all ages that want to do more with their lives. This one guy I met makes music with his friends, puts them on SoundCloud, and gets a pretty decent number of listens per month. He told me that he really wants to help new musicians with recording their music and helping them make it sound good, but in a defeated voice said, “but it doesn’t pay, sadly…” and started to unpack another box on his u-boat.

How I Feel About the Job Now That I Left

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My last day working for Target was the day before Thanksgiving and over the break, I’ve had some time for everything to sink in.

I partly feel like a failure for not being able to work a simple retail job that even high schoolers can work. In one sense it’s mindless work that “anyone can do”, but in another, it’s some of the hardest work you can possibly do. You’re responsible for helping multiple customers at a time, responding to employees calling for you on your walkie-talkie, spills, dealing with customers giving you attitude and going beyond “employees only” signs, and working on your feet all day long. In a retail setting like Target, it feels like you walk multiple miles per day.

I also feel like maybe I’ve been spoiled by being self-employed for so long. There’s a lot of freedom in the fact that you can make your own schedule and can make as much money as you want, but at the same time, it can be stressful that you are solely responsible for making the same amount of money every month; although, even that gets easier after you do it for a while.

Photo by Lesly Juarez on Unsplash

Instead of feeling like I’ve been spoiled or that I’m a failure, I can turn my thinking around and tell myself that my standards have simply been raised. I’ve learned that I’m a mortal human being that prioritizes spending time with my friends and girlfriend over working a job that makes me feel like shit all day where nothing matters.

I’ve learned that I prioritize my mental health over my job and money, which I’ve been working towards for a long time.

I’ve also learned that when I do get my next “real job”, I want to work a job that matters. Teachers go to work to teach their students every weekday even though they don’t get paid enough; they never have to wake up in the morning wondering if it matters.

I also used to work at an opthalmologist as a diagnostic technician, where I’d take high quality photos of patients’ eyes. I’d get to work with doctors and learn about the anatomy of the eye, and I’d get to help the doctors learn more about their patients and their diseases. I knew those machines like the back of my hand, but there were times that the doctors didn’t. They had the expertise to diagnose a patient and evaluate data taken by the machines, but I had the expertise in taking a perfect image. It was a really great symbiotic relationship and it made me feel great. (Note that that job had several other issues, but that’s for another article).

To conclude, I’m sure that retail jobs are a perfect fit for some people, and to them, it matters. I also hope that in the future, there will be large companies that define themselves as “retail” but treat their employees with as much respect as their fellow CEOs. I look forward to my next job in the science field that makes me feel incredibly fulfilled and that my life is coming together. For now, I’ll just keep living my life the happiest I can one day at a time.



Justin Bennett-Cohen

I’m a Writer, Photographer, and lover of food and bad puns.