Happy holiday, friends. Sending (from Vermont) light, joy, and warmth to you all during this holiday season.
As the new year approaches, I always like to do a little bit — although some may argue that I like to do a lot — of reflection. This time around, I thought I’d dedicate some of my current energy to reflect upon and write about what has been occupying a lot of my physical, mental, and emotional capacities over the last few weeks: the side hustle.
I’ve gone back and forth in my head with this topic. Do I tell others about it? Do I write about it and put it into more formalized words? I think my hesitancy for telling people about this side hustle of mine stemmed from a sense of cultural shame and embarrassment. A lot of folks in my immediate circle of family and friends only had one job. Some were working towards being aspiring doctors or pharmacists, others were nurses and successful writers. And then there was me … the educator with radical ideas and radical love for the world, the one in Vermont (of all places), the one with two jobs.
I would often have heated internal dialogues with myself: Am I enough? What am I doing with my life? Would people look down upon or me look at me different (in a negative way)? Was my Master’s degree even worth the time and energy? Is anyone else experiencing this kind of shame, this kind of embarrassment, this kind of confusion?
And so with the new year coming about, I decided to listen to my gut and simply write it out: the feelings, the thoughts, the lessons learned, and money gained from this side hustle of mine.
Sometime in late September or early October, I made the decision to not go home to California for the holidays (i.e., Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s), mainly due to financial reasons and the copious amounts of traveling I had already been doing and would be doing in 2018. Traveling to the West Coast around this time of year is no financial joke; it is actually a luxury. Flight tickets (at least from Vermont) can range anywhere between $500-700 roundtrip, on a good day. Despite being really nervous and saddened by the fact that I wouldn’t be around family and some of my favorite people for one of my favorite holidays, I knew it would be the right choice in the long run (and still remains the right choice today).
Fast-forward a month or so later, and I came to the decision that I was going to pick up a second job for the holiday season, in part to bring in some extra income and to help me stay busy in what can be a really lonely time for many. Amongst my circle of influencers and developers (particularly within the field of student affairs), this second-job-type-of-life soon became known as “the side hustle”. For many living in the Burlington area, holding down two or more jobs seemed like the norm. Those with advanced degrees still had loans to pay. Those with years of experience still had bills to take care of. Working a side hustle, unfortunately, seemed sort of common practice amongst my immediate Vermont community, especially for young people & (entry-level) professionals of color like myself. I still question the affordability and sustainability of being in Vermont on a day-to-day basis, both due to the high cost of living AND the high taxes that come with being a person of Color in a predominantly and historically white state/institution — perhaps we will save this for another blog post at a later time.
In thinking about a second job, I knew I needed something that was flexible, manageable, and open after “regular” work hours. My full-time responsibilities, my program area staff, and my students at the University of Vermont still needed to be my main priority and focus — and don’t worry, they still are. In my conversations with friends, I talked about different routes I was thinking of heading when it came to this new “side hustle”. From bartending to taking pictures to driving around Burlington to working in food services, I was ready and willing to do anything. After a lot (seriously, it was a lot) of individualized thinking, I finally settled on wanting to work in the retail industry and put in an application as a seasonal sales associate for Banana Republic. And well, luckily for me, that was the beginning of my side hustle and the inspiration for today’s blogpost: Making Cents of the Holidays.
I have been there a little over a month, put in nearly 300 hours, met so many new and wonderful people, and have been challenged both personally and professionally. Mind you, I have never worked in retail before. Since high school, I’ve always found myself in positions that were education and teaching based. I knew about customer service from working with students and families, but retail-oriented customer service is a different kind of service altogether. And so I offer you, my reader(s), a few nuggets of wisdom and reflections from my time so far at Banana Republic (BR).
- Deposits & Withdrawals (Transactional Customer Service & Self-Care). As I mentioned before, customer service in the retail business is a different kind of beast. I find that 30% of my job is working behind-the-scenes to upkeep the store, and the other 70% is all about engaging with our customers and providing them with quality service and care to hopefully get them to purchase our goods and keep them coming back in the future. At the end of the day, we are a business. We want to make money. We want to sell our clothes. But we also want to make our customers happy while also ensuring our own happiness and wellbeing. Each exchange with a customer is both a deposit and a withdrawal, a give and take kind of interaction. Let me explain some more.
When I was at the NODA 2017 Annual Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the featured speakers was Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. Her words were fiercely beautiful and compelling, and a reminder of what it means to truly engage in racial justice work on our campuses:
“We’re using up a lot of our energy NOT engaging in conversations of race and racism when we need to talk more”
“If you’re making a lot of withdrawals, you gotta make a lot of deposits.” – on self-care and job burnout
I still think about these statements every single day: how I am managing my energy, my expectations, and my commitment to racial justice work? Dr. Tatum’s verbiage of deposits and withdrawals resonated with me so much, that I apply it not only in my work for equity and sustainability, but in my interactions with my customers as well. Every time I interact with a customer at BR, I hope to receive the same level of kindness, warmth, and understanding in return. Although it never fully works out that way 100% of the time, there is something to be said about creating joyful and meaningful moments with the people who turn to you for questions or advice. And at my busiest, or when I am at my worst, if I have nothing left to give, it’s about time I start making more deposits for and to myself. Whether that be saying no to helping cover shifts or taking a minute to ground myself before I head into the chaos of holiday shopping, I have to constantly make those return investments. I love it when I am able to go above and beyond to make a customer’s day, and I recognize that sometimes above and beyond in that moment might look differently on busier or more stressful days, and that too, is okay.
- The Social Justice Hat: How much does it cost? Even in this kind of side hustle, I am always wearing my “social justice hat”, and I sure as hell hope my other student affairs counterparts wear their hats in both their main roles and their side hustles. The Social Justice Hat is one of those “final sales” kind of items where you can’t get a refund or exchange it for a different kind of hat; it’s simply your’s to own and wear.
From thinking about accessibility issues and customers’ needs for a specific fitting room, to greeting and checking in with my fellow community members of color to ensure they feel welcomed and cared for in the store, to thinking about sizism and the inclusion of certain sizes means the exclusion of other sizes (like XXL for example). The social justice hat is both expensive and priceless. It requires a huge amount of investment to understand one’s own social identities, the identities of others, and the dynamics that take place across difference. And when we finally take the time to challenge our assumptions and biases, to work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive environment, to be that much more intentional in our interactions, in our words, and in our decisions, we can create more meaningful, powerful, and liberatory moments for one another.Even when it’s snowing, or when it’s raining, or when it’s windy as hell, I will find ways to make sure that my social justice hat stays on for the ride. I have to. And so do you.
- Debit or Credit? Paying homage to my ancestors and cultural upbringing. Before I go any further with the post, I’d like to take the time to recognize and appreciate my parents, my Filipino culture, and my ancestors for instilling in me a sense of responsibility and initiative, providing me with a solid work ethic and attitude, and for teaching me the values of hard work, good work, and teamwork. We, Filipinos, are a resilient and determined force of nature and history. My parents, and my grandparents, are the beautiful and powerful embodiment of those forces at play. They taught me how to work hard and long, how to produce good quality results, and how to be a part of a team and community.
Growing up, Saturday mornings were both the best and the worst. Saturday mornings meant Saturday morning cartoons (shoutout to Pokemon, Ren & Stimpy, Aaahh! Real Monsters, Dungeons & Dragons, Street Sharks, Recess, X-Men, and oh my gosh, the list can go on!). These mornings also meant a furious knock on the door followed by a few annoyed shouts from my parents to get ready to clean the house and get started on the weekend chores – by the way, do kids even do chores anymore or watch cartoons on Saturday morning? It meant feeding the dogs in the morning or taking them for a walk, it meant bringing clothes down to the garage to do laundry, or cleaning that nasty bathroom used by 3 boys, or picking guavas from the trees in the backyard and then selling them at the store, or it meant separating the plastic bottles from the aluminum cans and then selling them for your monthly allowance. Growing up in the 90s, and in Filipino culture, was stressful AND amazing.
I am a product of brown excellence and love; of culture, history, and community; of wisdom and hard work; of generational sacrifice, giving, and teaching. And I make sure I show up at work, in my full Filipino sense of being, with the full strength and knowledge of my ancestors at my back. Out of respect, out of love, and out of gratitude, I show up.
I feel like when I am able to show up in my full authentic self (in this case, it means being Filipino American), I am not only paying homage to my parents and culture, but I am more closely aligned with my truth and my values, and how I experience the world around me. And to be honest, it pays off. In the month that I’ve been at Banana Republic, I’ve received a lot of verbal affirmation from both customers and managers, more than I ever expected to get. I’ve increased our sales, helped us meet our goals, and made peoples’ days, all while staying classy, happy, and engaged. I genuinely enjoy what I do here at BR, but I think I enjoy what I do even more because I am able to bring all of my lived experiences and learned experiences into an environment that is creative, everchanging, people-oriented, and goal-driven.
- To Make an Exchange or Get a Refund? The Privileges and Challenges of Managing the Side Hustle. The truth is, my side hustle, although great in financial contributions and gains, is a real privilege. I don’t need to work two jobs just yet to support and sustain myself. I choose to work two jobs. It’s just me at the moment – I don’t have my own kids yet or a mortgage to pay. When the university was closed for the winter holidays, it meant I could put in several more hours at BR because I didn’t have a full-time job to manage at the time. For that I am grateful and for that, I also have to recognize the luxury of being able to do that.Although this experience is/has been a privilege, it also comes with its fair share of challenges.
Choosing to work two jobs now means having to work three times as hard to now find moments of self-care (when self-care was already a challenge to begin with). It means having to work longer days and longer hours, sometimes in weather that hovers just above zero degrees. It means planning my travel times pre- and post-work, accounting for the bus schedules and routes, and deciding whether or not tonight is a walk-home-kind-of-night or call-a-ride-kind-of-day to make sure I get home safely. When are my “days off” if I’m now working nights and weekends? When do I have a moment of silence and rest? When am I able to celebrate with friends or cheers to my accomplishments? When am I able to put up my feet and drink a nice cold beer to round out the evening? When am I able to go back to California or plan a nice trip somewhere and escape the Vermont winter weather?
Hustling the side hustle is a full-time job in itself, ya’ll. It requires absolute patience, sheer determination, constant reflection, and intentional self-care. If you ever start your own side hustle, ask yourself: What are you hoping to gain from this experience? What are you willing to sacrifice? And what do you need from yourself and from others to help you be at your best in every facet of your life?
- Finding and Discovering Moments of Excitement and Peace. My final bit of reflective wisdom I’d like to share is about the beauty of learning and the power of zen. I am constantly learning new things: new folds, new systems, new processes, new fits, new styles, new words, etc. And I am also finding moments of peace and gratitude through folding, sorting, and “standardizing”.I find that being “a learner of life” is so cliche, but it’s so cliche for a reason. I love learning, whether that be in the classroom, in the professional realm, or about myself; it is exciting, challenging, and motivating.
When I first started at Banana Republic, my first full-time shift was working the Black Friday weekend. As I mentioned previously, I have never worked retail before. Prior to starting, I learned a little bit about folds, goals for the company, how things were placed and organized in the store, and quick BR lingo for the beginner. But what came out of that weekend was a whirlwind of buzz words, learning curves, and confidence.
In the quieter moments of retail work, I find myself able to incorporate aspects of contemplative practices into my sense of being and doing again. Given the structured busyness of my lifestyle these days, using every chance I get to be a little more reflective, a little more zen, a little more mindful truly helps me start and end my day. Sometimes simply “board folding” a stack of t- shirts is a blessing from above (although it depends on the day … we are complex individuals afterall and sometimes board folding will simply infuriate me at the wrong time)!
My time at BR has been a humbling one. It has reminded me to create moments of joy for myself and has encouraged me to cherish the quieter moments in my life. It has reminded me of things that bring me meaning and fulfillment: learning for the sake of learning, giving back to my community, and rekindling my love for art, creativity, and life.
To all my family and friends hustling the hustle, know that you are loved, that you are not alone, and that you are working towards living your best life. Joy is an investment in ourselves – if not you, then who? if not now, then when? So please remember to continue to stay grounded in your brilliance, your excellence, and your truth.
Cheers to a fiercely fun and rather refreshing New Year’s Eve.