Have you ever felt like you’re failing at adulting? Scrolling through your feed, whimpering, convinced everyone you went to high school with is already married, lives in a cool city, has a real fancy job and owns adult things like vacuum cleaners and dishwashers? And you’re just sitting pantless in your bed, single as a dollar bill, struggling to afford your take-out habit and Netflix membership, convinced you’re destined to be a failure who becomes a crazy pet-person? Well, let me say this: I feel you. I have felt you hard. But let’s back up a minute, and get through this together.
After 4 blissful years of pursuing a psych degree/pre-med thing at NYU, and living that young and fabulous 20-something life in NYC, I graduated in 2014, feeling on top of the world. After all, you know what they say about NYC, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, right? Ahh, what a high time that was.
Flash forward a few months, and I’m sitting on my mom’s couch in suburban Wisconsin, sobbing my hot-mess of a self into my sweatpants once again because despite sending out like 10 million applications, I couldn’t get a job.
“What the hell is wrong with me?” I kept thinking. I worked my ass off in undergrad. I even had a reputation for being at the library 24/7 (#bobst). I graduated with honors from NYU, triple minored, did research and extracurriculars and yet… #fail.
I started to get really down on myself. Discouraged, I wondered if I was even cut out for the “real world,” and spent an unhealthy amount of time nostalgically fantasizing about somehow returning to undergrad.
Eventually (about 4 months later) I did find a job as a behavioral therapist. And while it’s a great job and something I still respect and admire, it simply wasn’t for me. I was miserable – tired, stressed, and emotional all the time. I wondered if I’d ever be happy or successful at the adulting thing.
One day, after a particularly stressful Saturday morning at work, I was crying and sad and having a pity party in my car when I decided I needed to go to Trader Joe’s. Grocery shopping had always been an awkwardly relaxing hobby of mine and TJ’s was always a happy place for me. So off I went, to #treatmyself to a glorious shopping trip in the land of free samples and hibiscus flowers.
Upon checkout, my cashier (and future manager) asked me how my day was. I told her I had a bad morning at work and that I was sick of my job. I then said, “I should work here, this place seems so fun!”
Shortly after that, I actually did apply. And before I knew it, I had quit my therapist job and was gearing up for my first day at Trader Joe’s.
But then, looming self-doubt crept up again in the back of my mind, and I thought, “Oh my gosh. I’m a 24-year-old college graduate and I’m working at a grocery store, while all my friends have jobs in finance and engineering or are in med school? I seriously suck at life.”
I’d be lying if I said I almost didn’t go to my first day of work. Thankfully, I put my hesitations aside and started training. And slowly, but surely, I began to love my job. I won’t go into details about the pleasures of stacking bananas or the satisfaction that comes along with fitting all of someone’s groceries into one bag (like an epic Tetris win), but before I knew it, I was happy as shit.
“Wait, Katherine, do you like your job?” my sister asked one night when I joined her for dinner after I was off work. I paused for a minute, thought carefully and responded, “I think I do!”
This was huge. I had never, in my whole life, had a paying job I enjoyed. It suddenly dawned on me that for years I had worked my fair share of odd jobs and fancier-sounding ones but I had never actually had one I liked.
For the first time in my whole life, I didn’t mind going to work. In fact, I was usually in a better mood at work than not at work. I was happy never being stressed out, and it had totally changed my perspective on life.
Being stress-free looked good on me! I had aspirations again! I believed in myself again! I was working a job that made me happy, enjoying the company of my coworkers and getting to know customers on a personal level, and felt mega-satisfied when I could make their day better with small gestures like giving them a bunch of flowers or simply lending an ear to listen about a rough day.
No, I wasn’t curing cancer or winning at Wall Street. I wore a hoodie and jeans to work and punched into a time clock while most of my friends had fancy business clothes and salaries, but suddenly, I wasn’t jealous of anyone’s life anymore. I was working for a company with values I believed in with awesome people, and I was able to enjoy my life on and off the clock. I was so into it.
A big break-through point came about 2 months into my Trader Joe’s career when I was offered a full-time, salaried gig at a doctor’s office as an office assistant. I had applied and interviewed months before, and here it was: a fancy sounding job that would look so chic on a med school application, and when I heard the voicemail job offer, I momentarily felt conflicted.
And then it hit me — why on earth would I trade something that made me happy for something I didn’t actually want to do? I proceeded to turn it down, stating “I found a different job I’m quite happy with.”
But this lesson wasn’t Trader Joe’s specific — it was something bigger. I realized I need to chase things that matter to me, things I’m passionate about. I ended up finally coming to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to go to med school, and that I wanted to pursue nutrition and food science (which I’m working on now), and I like to think that working at Trader Joe’s helped me see the light and value in doing things that you enjoy.
Because after all, no one likes their job all the time, but with all the pressure in the world to have a mega-successful career or 4 graduate degrees and 3 cute kids before the age of 30, it’s super easy to lose track of yourself, your passions, and what makes you happy.
I guess what I’m saying is that I found myself while mopping floors, preparing hummus samples, and putting jars of cookie butter on the shelf. I remembered who I was, got in touch with what wanted in life, and learned how effing important it is to follow your dreams — or at the very least, find the things in life that make you happy and unapologetically pursue them.
Moreover, I learned there’s absolutely no shame in working in a grocery store or anywhere for that matter — as long as it makes you feel good. You just gotta do you, you feel me?
So if you’re ever feeling down on yourself, or like you’re an adulting fail, I encourage you to do something that brings you joy – whether it’s a walk with your dog or baking some cookies or applying for your dream job if you hate your day job. Follow your ambitions, get in touch with things that ignite your passions, and seek them out. I believe in you. And hey, if all else fails, instant happiness is just a spoonful of cookie butter away. And if you want to know even more reasons why I love Trader Joe’s, check out this article.