After being laid off, I took a huge pay cut to work a $15/hour retail job at Target—why I don’t regret it

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In April 2023, my director-level job in real estate management got eliminated. I allowed myself a small window to mourn, and then decided to view the layoff as an opportunity instead of a loss. I’d been longing for a career change, and here was my chance to pursue a path that gave me a greater sense of purpose.

But I never expected to still be unemployed as the holidays approached. I had applied to hundreds of jobs but landed only two interviews and received zero job offers.

In early December, I applied online for a seasonal position with Target completely on a whim — half expecting to be ghosted again. But the very next day, I got an offer to be a guest advocate for the holidays at $15 an hour.

It was a huge pay cut from what I made as a director, but I was excited to get out of the house and interact with living things other than my pets and family!

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Initially, I was as nervous as a 16-year-old showing up to their first job, but after some training, I found my stride. And it didn’t take long for me to realize that my “little seasonal job,” as I liked to call it, was one of the best things I could have done for myself.

Going from senior roles to retail was humbling

If I’m being honest, I secretly felt like I was too good to work in a retail role again more than 20 years after my last day at The Disney Store, where I’d once picked up a part-time job on the side for fun. I assumed I’d dread every shift and be annoyed by customers who treated me like gum on their shoes. 

But almost every guest was incredibly kind and engaging. I bonded quickly with my co-workers and looked forward to seeing them every day. And I didn’t dread a single shift.

I gained so much respect for workers who are on their feet (and game) all day

Retail and other customer-facing employees are some of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met.

In those first weeks, my feet and knees hurt so badly that I developed a close relationship with my ice pack. I found myself sweating from the physical exertion of assisting crowds waiting in line for purchases, returns, and order pick-ups, and logged at least 10,000 steps with each shift.

My confidence came back

When I began my career in higher education more than 25 years ago, I loved every moment of it. But stress and budget cuts took a toll on my positivity, and I spent several years refusing to acknowledge I was burned out.

When the pandemic hit, I finally recognized my lack of enthusiasm for the work I used to adore and admitted I needed a change. Returning to retail was the therapy I didn’t know I needed. I remembered that I am valued, smart, hardworking, and fantastic at making customers happy!

I also realized I need words of praise to buoy my confidence and will make sure I can get them in future roles. 

I took immense pride in my work

When the chaotic assortment of clips for plastic hangers in the back room started to resemble the aftermath of a colorful plastic explosion, for example, I took the initiative to organize the mess. It made everyone’s work easier, and my colleagues were thankful I did it. 

My crisis-management skills were handy when a guest had a medical emergency while in my checkout lane. And when I was asked several times to stay on a permanent basis, I couldn’t help but feel proud of myself.

Now that my “Target Run” is over, I’ll forever look back on it as one of the best decisions I’ve made in my career. I’m searching for my dream role in HR management or training and development, and I will no doubt be a better manager due to my lessons in humility, respect, pride, and self-confidence.

As I bid farewell to my “little seasonal job,” I feel grateful for the unexpected but rewarding detour. And you can be sure I’ll be back to shop!

Kathleen Baker is an award-winning presenter of training programs, seminars, and publications. Her career spans higher education, real estate management, and human resources. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in counseling, and has studied at the doctoral level in educational leadership. Find her on LinkedIn.

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