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Why I Took a Retail Job in My Forties

I had my eighth shift at the art supply store today. It's going well.

God bless the staff for teaching this old cat new tricks. I'm 44 and I haven't worked in retail since 2012.

It's been a bit challenging getting my middle-aged mind and middle-aged body up to speed. I have to stand all day and go for hours without eating. I don't get to decide when my breaks are anymore.

But I don't care. Stupidly, I'm happy. I'll take the sore feet and physical exhaustion over sitting at a computer all day, editing documents for the government.

I get to spend my days working with fellow artists. That's huge. I haven't been surrounded by artists since I went to OCAD.

Yes, my income has dropped to just above minimum wage. Yes, I have two university degrees and a lot of corporate experience. Yes, I'm in my forties. Maybe this is an odd time to start a retail job.

But this job is an important step back into the working world for me. My mental health has been rocky the past year, and I haven't been able to work much. I'm working more than six hours a week for the first time since December. That's an accomplishment. And I've found a job that doesn't make me wake up into anxiety attacks. Also an accomplishment.

I'm grateful for the corporate jobs I had. I made decent money and learned a lot. I was using a bankable skill: editing. But I'm much happier taking a job without considering the money at all and just doing what feels right.

I do need more than I'm making now, and I'm working on getting additional sources of income. I already have one: the paid blogging position for HealthyPlace. I still can't believe I got that gig.

I don't know where it's all going, but I know things are finally going in the right direction. Ultimately, I don't get to choose what the right direction is for me; I only get to choose whether or not to follow it. Every morning that I show up at the store, coffee in hand and excited to talk about art, I know I've chosen wisely.

I don't see a dead end on the horizon. It's an unfamiliar feeling, and a most welcome one. I was battling suicidal thoughts for months. The suicidal thoughts are behind me. The Universe is telling me to keep going.

Ultimately, I don't get to choose what the right direction is for me; I only get to choose whether or not to follow it.

In my experience, a huge trigger for suicidal thoughts is the belief that the gap between how I feel and how others perceive me can never be closed. Many of the jobs I had in the past felt disconnected from who I really am and what I really care about. The positive impact of marrying what I do with who I am is priceless. It yields the most precious commodity of all: peace of mind.

I'm being reminded that life isn't just about professional progress; it's about personal progress, too. And progress in the wrong direction only sets you back. It's hard to make much progress when you're not being yourself, and the only way I know how to be in corporate environments is "not myself."

By returning to my retail roots, I'm also returning to my creative roots. I'm remembering where I've wanted to be all along: at home in myself. It feels good to be home.

- M.B.

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