Originally published January 20, 2012
As I look at my volunteer year in retrospect and see myself where I am today, I am not sure how to feel about what the year experience really meant for my life or my professional development. Going into my year of service I felt like a lot of my hard work through college paid off (finally) as I was actually going somewhere. If anyone would have ever told me the day I was getting onto the New York bound aircraft at MSP that I was going to move back to Minnesota after my year was up, work Whole Foods (WF) and an unpaid internship for three months I would have probably broke down in tears or decided not to believe them.
But…. that’s what happened and I must admit I did break down in tears on several occasions wondering what all of this “pain, anguish and degradation” of running a WF meat slicer really meant for my previously much (maybe over)examined life.
Through the intense two-week long WF opening store training, I met many of my new co-workers previously out of work and stoked for their new grocery store opportunity. In between learning about WF’ “noble” mission, “organic standards”, and how (supposedly) terrible unions are, I was able to get a feel for what brought this team of 50 year-old cashier women, meat guys who reminded me of my father, bro-ish produce boys, and alternative-ish looking college grads to come and work at a grocery store for $10 an hour.
Even though I liked hearing the stories of the old ladies who just didn’t want to be retired anymore and the previous WF employees who just transferred because they loved the corporation, like any human I was drawn to those who were like me- the 23- 26 year-olds, the college grads.
There were a few I found who looked like I would genuinely hang out with and talk college stuff with. The girl who just got back from teaching English in China who was also a sociology major, the brilliant looking philosophy major who was early-on sort of promoted, the hard-working girl in the kitchen who graduated with religious studies, the super cool psychology major, and the history major who also did a service year prior to joining WF League.
(Just to name a few.)
While everyone has their reasons for working at WF, I couldn’t help but link all of these people and their backgrounds together. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was just like them, why I found myself serving up Sonoma Chicken Salad and Apple Almond Quinoa in pint sized containers to Patagonia clad, gluten hating customers who assumed I barely graduated high school.
My co-workers would make conversation during our daily tasks regarding “my story” and on more than one occasion when I said I graduated college over a year ago I heard replies that pierced my heart. Things like, “Oh you graduated college and you’re doing the same thing as me who didn’t even go to school?” or “Looks like you’re not doing anything even after you spent all that money for a piece of paper,” or “I can barely read and write and I’m getting paid more than you with your degree.”
I wondered why hadn’t I really known that my numerous jobs and near perfect grades in my sociology major and minors in mass communications and rhetorical and applied English wouldn’t have really landed me something more concrete than this now that I am a year and a half graduated? Was it worth taking subjects that I truly enjoyed and loved most every paper and assignment of? Or was it unrealistic, irresponsible, and frivolous to spend money on a major that people constantly asked, “Well, what do you do with that?”
On many of the occasions when I was sweeping the floors, carrying dishes, or smiling through gritted teeth to help a condescending customer, I thought to myself maybe all of those papers examining Marx, Durkheim, food deserts, systematic racism etc. were possibly a waste of time when I should have been learning things like accounting, marketing, programming, math, or science…. As terrible as that sounded to me.
Do the sociology majors, the history majors, and the philosophy majors have any place in 2012 society? Should any incoming, bright-eyed, freshmen be deterred from studying the social sciences and arts because they may have a tough time finding a job to legitimatize their degree? What makes a job legitimate for a person with a diploma?
Even though my Social Theory, Sociology and the Global Politics of Food, Social Inequality, and Expository Writing courses don’t really translate into creating Excel documents, designing curricula, supervising part-time staff or managing a budget- but that doesn’t mean my hours pouring over these texts and creating these papers were spent in vain.
I believe that my sociology and writing classes made me into the person I am today- creative, analytical, and knowledgeable about people and the systems that govern our world. I like what I learned through my major and am thankful for the priorities, life views and values I have because of it. Because I reach for a life of fulfillment. So I guess, even if my major is pushing me to take the longer, harder way into full, well-paying employment- I have to step back and realize that I spent a great amount of time developing myself and my true character- something that many college graduates may not be able to say as confidently. I know that with this well-built base I will be able to enjoy life and my jobs for years and years to come.