My first official job (in THIS life) was working as a bagger at Publix. By the time I was hired on, my dad had already been with the company for 20+ years and was working there as a bakery manager.
“It’s a wonderful company, Rose. You can work your way up the ranks. Just make sure that YOU ALWAYS ARRIVE TO WORK ON TIME. I can’t STAND it when my people show up late.”
Accordingly, I viewed my employment with Publix as a great honor and took my job as a bagger there very seriously, placing items in plastic yellow bags thoughtfully and strategically — double bagging this, keeping that solo, grouping the cold things so that they all huddled closely together, and protecting the softer and more delicate items by pairing them only with each other.
I worked up within the company rather quickly, rising from bagger to cashier and then to stocker all within a year’s time. My first raise was a seventy-five-center, my manager and co-workers all raved about how “oddly positive” I always was, and I was very proud of the quality work that I performed there.
The only thing I really hated about the place was Kendall.
Kendall was a cashier when I was still at the infancy of my career — serving the company as a lowly bagger. She had long, dark, wavy hair, gorgeous green eyes, a button nose, the cuuuuuuuuutest smile, and a downright enviable and PERFECT petite form. I couldn’t STAND the girl.
While she and other co-workers would take lunch together in the break room, I’d exit the store solo and walk a quarter mile north of Publix, ending my short trek at the door of a gas station. Inside, I’d always purchase the same thing: a vanilla-flavored Slim Fast, and the Indian man who rung me up (and who had quickly identified my pattern) would wag his finger at me. “This NO GOOD for you,” he’d exclaim, waving to my body, indicating my emaciated form. I often worried that, one of those days, he would just outright refuse to sell the item to me.
“Oh… I just like the way it tastes!” I’d assure him, laughing lightheartedly. A slim fast? You think THIS thing is my only meal during the working portion of my day? As if!
How Kendall could eat normal food — actual meals — and still maintain her fantastic weight had me absolutely stumped.
And while her effortless and innate beauty versus my pleasant and ever-present companion BDD was a LARGE contributing factor to my supreme dislike of Kendall, there was something even worse about her.
She was confident. Charmingly brave, smoothly self-assured, and totally fearless. I was, of course, the opposite of all of these things.
After years of religious seclusion and lonely homeschooling, I felt socially inept, intellectually STUPID, and personality-less. I placed NO confidence in myself and possessed ZERO belief that I embodied any special interestingness or held any unique value as a person.
Meanwhile, it felt and looked like nothing and no one in the world could bring Kendall down and, equally, that nothing and no one in the world was good enough for her. She was like royalty. She was unreachable, high up on that velvety throne of hers where she administered her noble, queenly reign.
And then one day, all of the frustration and jealousy and insecurity in my mind all climaxed.
I was bagging away that Sunday afternoon, cheerfully slipping items into bags and politely offering my assistance in carrying bags or pushing carts to people’s cars. I’d already had to deny tips from two very generous customers. “If you insist on tipping me, I will HAVE to forward your tips to the customer service desk, where they will benefit a chosen charity of ours,” I warned them. These customers – like most – were frustrated with me for not cooperating with them.
“Well… what if I just… drop a five on the ground?” one of them asked innocently, tossing the bill onto the concrete and then waiting for me to pick it up.
“Then it will also — still — go to charity,” I assured them, smiling. My integrity could not be compromised.
Back in the store, I continued packing groceries for different cashiers, as the need arose; I’d jump from Suzanne to Carson to Peter to Erica… whoever appeared to be busiest… but then, on one dreadful occasion, the demand for a bagger developed at Kendall’s register.
Taking a deep breath, I steeled myself for the encounter and approached her register, assuming my position by the bag stand.
She turned to look at me. “Oh — hi, Rose!” she smiled. She looked so freaking nice today.
Ha, you mean EVERY day, another voice chuckled.
“Hi, Kendall,” I greeted her.
I helped bag a few of her customers’ items, and then a remarkably tall and handsome guy started shuffling through the line.
Like most cashiers, Kendall always made small talk with her customers by inquiring about their days, complimenting their clothing, or posing a neutral question about one of their food purchases — and with this gentleman, she scanned his half gallon of chocolate milk, held it up in the air curiously, and asked: “Is this chocolate milk good?”
Duh, I thought to myself. He’s buying it, isn’t he?
“Oh… it’s the BEST,” he raved. Looking at her (and likely noticing just how lovely she was), he asked: “Where can I find a cup?”
Kendall cocked an eyebrow at him. “Excuse me?”
He smiled confidently. “I know — hang on a second!”
And then, with another customer standing there in line and waiting behind him (“Jerk,” I thought to myself), Kendall and I watched as he jogged toward the customer service desk, obtained a single plastic cup, returned to the register, OPENED THE HALF GALLON OF CHOCOLATE MILK RIGHT THERE ON THE GLEAMING METAL LANDING in a heroic display of chivalry, and poured Kendall a tall glass.
Laughing her signature, glittery, endearing laugh, she raised the glass elegantly to her lips, took a dainty sip, and widened her eyes dramatically. “It is DELICIOUS!”
“NO SHIT,” I wanted to scream (but, at that point in my life, I would have done so using more christian-like verbiage, such as: “UH, OBVIOUSLY!”). “It’s CHOCOLATE MILK,” I continued to myself, silently. “Have you EVER encountered non-delicious chocolate milk in your whole entire LIFE? No, you haven’t, because unless it’s out of date, it’s ALWAYS great. Every brand, every time. You’re so silly and ridiculous to be putting on this surprised front.”
And I remember standing there, watching him watch her, and watching her drink the chocolate milk, and thinking: “Why can’t I be pretty enough for chocolate milk?”
This story came to mind last night as I was relaying some humorous work news to Charlie while we prepared dinner together (a member had sent a love-note-bearing fruit basket to a co-worker of mine who’s been in a committed relationship with someone for years). As we laughed over the incident, Kendall’s beauty queen face floated into my vision, and I sighed at the memory (which was impeccably preserved in a heavy outer coating of anxiety and a decadently depressing center).
When I finished telling my story, Charlie dropped his spoon (up until this moment, he’d been enjoying some organic chocolate ice cream). Without a word, he pushed himself away from the table, grabbed a silver mixing bowl, hooked up the electronic mixer, and began pouring and folding heavy whipping cream into the mass of chocolate ice cream.
He finished this spontaneous activity within about three minutes and then he returned to the table, finally speaking.
“You are MORE than pretty enough for a glass of chocolate milk, but since we don’t have it, here’s a weird, chocolate whipped cream dessert instead.”
At work, I’ve been researching leadership qualities, leadership essentials, leadership characteristics, and etc. for a project I’ll be working on during the latter half of this year. One leadership quality that has continued to resurface, in article after article, is humility.
Humility: the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people (Merriam-Webster); having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance, rank, etc. (Dictionary.com); remaining teachable; knowing that you do not have all the answers (Urban Dictionary).
At the age of 16, I wanted to be prettier and more confident than Kendall; I wanted to be a better skateboarder than Jeremy; I wanted to be a more popular musician than the christian rock band Leeland was; and I wanted to be at least AS smart as my atheist friend on the school bus (Sam) was.
But I was not, and never became, any of those things. My whole life, I’ve been entirely plain-looking; my greatest feat EVER on the skateboard was successfully staying ON the board while it was in motion and landing a 180 pop-shove it on the grass in the front yard; the only real fans of my original music have been my grandmother and a few significant others; and I was a kid who scored As on her report cards and graduated community college with a 3.95, but who still feels like the biggest liar and masquerading cheater in the world, thanks to inescapable and hard-coded self-esteem issues.
There are things I either can’t do or don’t yet know how to do (like fly a plane, code a website, build a house from the ground up and dance really well); there are things I can somewhat successfully do (like operate a motorcycle, pull up a website, paint a house someone else made from scratch, and dance really poorly); and then there are things that I feel I do quite well (like write and eat burritos).
But someone else — more accurately, LOTS of someone elses — is/are ALWAYS going to be, or do, better.
When I first started playing guitar, for instance, I can remember graduating from practicing scales out of a book to pulling up YouTube videos on the web and seeing, in the “Recommended” column, vids that linked to 4-year-old prodigies who just picked up or sat down at an instrument (like a guitar or a piano) and shredded the rest of us to bits.
“WHY EVEN BOTHER TRYING?” I mourned, realizing, in that second, that I could never achieve, in my whole entire LIFE of playing, even 1/8th the greatness of young Beethoven here, putting all of us inferiors to shame right there on the screen.
But then, my second thought was: Well, I enjoy doing this, so I’m going to keep playing anyways.
And that concept rings true for everything else I’ve chosen to persist at; I’m not the best guitarist, writer, cook or dancer, but I still derive joy from doing the things that I love, and I always have the option of competing against myself. I can challenge my vocal range, tweak my old and rusty rhythmic patterns, improve upon my favorite recipes and venture a new move or two on the dance floor. I can find confidence in the fact that I’m not the best out there, but I’m being the best at it that I can possibly be, and I’m having fun with what I’m doing.
We’re all climbing mountains here. Some of us start out at the bottom, the luckiest of us begin at or near the top, and the vast majority of us materialize somewhere in the middle; climb as high as you can, and enjoy your own view. Quit wondering what someone else’s view looks like, ’cause pretty soon, all of the lights are going to turn off, and your sole recollection will either be remembering the top of someone else’s head, the bottom of their worn boots, or the gorgeous landscape, mountains, and sky that were (or could have been) yours.
Dear Pizza Slices,
I’d like to share a pretty moving quote that I heard earlier this week:
“You are a prisoner. Do you know what your cage is, darling? Other people’s eyes. Why do you care what they think? They’re keeping you in this cage!”
Granted — immediately following the delivery of these soul-stirring lines, Edina (the speaker) tricked her daughter, Saffy, into flashing the city of Paris (AND had her hidden PR person snap a cruel shot of the event), BUT STILL; when drunk and drugged Edina spoke these words, I felt like crying because of how deeply they resonated with me. I liked what she said SO MUCH, in fact, that I created a meme this morning using the quote itself and an old pic of me from 2010. I’ve always disliked pictures of myself which is why, in this shot, I’m not facing the camera.
SO, in conclusion:
- WHO the fuck CARES whether or not other people think you’re pretty, competent, confident or capable? You already know the truth of all of this, so go on, then; be your own damn self and try to become a better version of yourself daily. If you feel like something’s missing, something’s weak, or there’s just something about you that you don’t like, DO something. Do something about it, and then get back to enjoying your life. You’ll only be hanging around this planet for so long! There’s no good reason to be despondent and miserable when YOU possess the power to change yourself, your outlook, and your circumstances.
- The strength, proficiency, or excellence of somebody else — friend, foe, or stranger — in no way detracts from your own unique talents, skills, and virtue. Imagine it like this: You’re a star among a million zillion other stars; shine your very brightest, celebrate your magical, inexplicable existence, and – instead of envying them of their shine – appreciate and enjoy the radically different and radiant glows emanating from your fellow stars!
- Regardless of how your friends, foes, and family may compliment or criticize you, you alone know if you’re really growing, actually backtracking, or simply sitting or standing there, stagnant. Inquire within; be honest, gentle, and forgiving with yourself, and then lovingly challenge yourself to stretch and grow. Make a deliberate effort to compete with yourself only, for no reasons other than to improve your own happiness, boost your self-confidence, and increase your opportunities in and enjoyment of this life. As for me, me and my four other personalities are having a BLAST challenging one another to become better, and some of us are even placing bets to spice things up a little.
Still here (and proud of both her genuine plainness AND her marvelous mediocrity),