How Working at a Grocery Store Prepared Me for College

By  |  0 Comments

Internships, academic clubs and college preparation programs. I bet that’s what normal people imagine when they think about the best way to get ready for college. I agree, all those things do seem to work. Nonetheless, “normal” didn’t work for me.

I worked at my local Stop & Shop for three years before college. During my third class ever as a college student, I swear that dingy store on the corner saved my life. Kind of.

Alright, maybe Stop & Shop wasn’t actually my savior, but it definitely helped more often than I thought. I worked in the Customer Service Center which enriched me with skills to combat college stressors.

College forced me to quickly problem solve, interact with people of all different backgrounds and how to handle myself under pressure. Just. like. Stop & Shop.

I worked at the service center for years. It sat down the street from my house in the city I grew up in, right outside of Boston. And though it sounds large, everyone seemed familiar. I found myself yawning at the monotony of my daily life. I woke up, rushed to school, stumbled to work and finally landed home. Little did I know, techniques and skills I would need in college slowly ingrained in me at that part time, after school job.

The school day always ended at 2:30 p.m. and then the work day began. Once I sluggishly walked through those heavy sliding doors of Stop & Shop, and I feel the rush of cool air hitting my face. Slowly, I would turn the corner and gaze across the many rows of registers to determine the pace of the day ahead. Long lines, booming beeps and the roaring rustle of plastic bags— another busy day, as it always. But by walking through those doors, I accepted the challenge. Also, my manager probably already saw me. There was no turning back.

“Everything’s gone smoothly so far,” I made myself believe sitting in that lecture hall on my fifth day as a college student. I scanned the room and established the pace. It was completely the opposite of Stop & Shop: silent and slow. I could only hear the sound of paper nearly ripping and my professor’s nasally voice.

Nonetheless, I thought I had it all together. Move in was great. Food tasted iffy. Made a friend or two. I still felt stressed, but based on my teeth-y smile and the forced pep in my step, I dazzled through the first few days of college. Awesome.

The half broken, wooden chair squeaked as I leaned in to read a page of a slideshow written in Swahili (not really, but you know what I mean). “Well, f–k,” I thought to myself. My hands suddenly became heavy as they nearly slammed on the top of my MacBook in distress. I buckled in my chair.

Up to this point, I convinced myself that my college transition would go smoother than smooth. I was wrong. Reality hit me. It clobbered me right there in that 80s looking, paneled and poorly lit lecture hall. I suddenly regurgitated the helpless feelings of fear that I’d been swallowing down. This couldn’t be happening.

I could feel my cheeks go up in flames. I’m very pale, it happens shamefully fast. My throat even tingled and gave me that little warning you get when you’re about to break down and cry. Every time I looked up from the blank stare at my laptop screen, I locked eyes with the professor.

“How obvious was it that I was a wreck?” I silently pondered. Yeah, about 50 other students barely filled the room, but my professor’s furrowed eyebrow in my direction put me in the spotlight. My discomfort was a strong odor, swelling through the room. It wreaked and my professor evidently knew.

My very first insecurity about going to Boston College resurfaced for a few seconds. “There is no way I’m meant to be here,” I dramatically thought to myself. My biggest fear came true. In that moment, it was all over.

Just kidding, it wasn’t.

Before I got a chance to start tearing up or hurdle over the five rows in front of me and zoom out the door, I paused. I didn’t realize my shoulders could’ve touched my ears as they fell back into place. I even loosened my death grip on my pen. I couldn’t hear my heartbeat in my ears anymore, but I could hear my professor speaking a new language, one I could finally comprehend.

Apparently, in those moments, my subconscious demanded: “Treat yourself like one of those frantic customers who threatening to throw a fit at the Customer Service Center of Stop & Shop.”

Maybe I almost lost my mind due to the lack of oxygen in that lecture hall, but I guess I needed to roll with it. I was desperate and these thoughts all transpired unexpectedly.

If only I knew the monotonous trips in and out of those sliding doors meant more than some extra cash in my pocket. Apparently, Stop & Shop gave me a knack for timely problem solving and time management. And it unknowingly became second nature to me.

I whipped out those skills before I mustered up the brainpower to think rationally during my first college crisis. If you asked me before this class, I would tell you Stoop & Shop was just some quick money in my pocket.

Anyways, sitting in my chair, rolling with the punches, I couldn’t tell you then, but these were apparently my unconscious thought processes:

When a customer approached the Customer Service Center frantic about their coupons, a damaged item, a pricing error, etc., I needed to remain grounded.

In that classroom, I remained grounded. First thought, “Can’t leave this class.”

Next, when a customer expressed their frustrations, I needed to listen.

In that classroom, I allowed myself to get nervous for the first time in three days. I validated my own feelings.

When I didn’t understand why a customer acted so upset, I couldn’t be afraid to ask questions.

In that classroom, I looked around and realized it was day one. I could get some extra help if I needed it, and I knew I wasn’t afraid to get it.

When I a customer stood in front of me, I made sure I focused on one issue at a time.

In that classroom, I recognized that I could put my time and energy into this class if it truly became problematic.

I truly rode an emotional roller coaster because I nearly covered my face in distress, and my mind, somehow, decided to turn to Stop & Shop. I may have let out a slight chuckle when I realized how I handled this situation. I wondered why I resorted to such a silly way to relax. As much as I hate to admit it, I guess that store left a lasting effect on me. “Wow,” I think as I look back, “What a defense mechanism.

“I overreacted,” I told the girl I walked out of class with about my dilemma after the first slide of the lecture. “But, after a few minutes, I suppose I found a weird way to relax.”

“Well, whatever you did, at least it worked,” she smirked as she walked off down the hall.

It happened. My part time job at Stop & Shop during high school saved me from one of the first “my life is over” moments in college. Who would’ve thought? Not me, and definitely not you.

But now, let’s get real. Stop & Shop did not save my entire life my first year of college. Also, no, I did not think “What would the customer service representative in me do?” every time I came across a problem either. Nonetheless, the skills still came in handy from time to time, so maybe I should.

Hey, I mean, it worked, right?

Sophomore at Boston College studying English and Education. Passionate about writing, journalism, teaching and community engagement. Lover of all things dogs and coffee.

    Enter our Monthly Giveaway

    Win $100 for YOU & $100 for your student org. Sign up to enter our monthly giveaway.