Elliott Pardee

The Self-Manipulating Sinner

The more you run in circles to find something external, the more you’re bound to reveal what is truly internal. This is the preliminary advice to the reader, and to myself. When you are lost in the world or if something outside of you has gone missing, look within you. Ironically, the advice holds up if the opposite. If you have lost something inside of you, look around you.

Background

This started mid-October 2018, before I had started a job at Walmart. I was in a dilemma between two potential employers. Walmart wanted to hire me for a temporary remodeling associate position that only secured me 3 weeks. However, Target wanted to hire me for seasonal cart pushing, offering better pay and assurance that I’d learn another position. Despite the fact that Target seemed immediately clear as a more favorable position, there was something bothering me about it.

Target seems relatively simple and nice to work at. Seeing the back areas and the employees, it seemed as though there was no real life to the environment. I’m sure this isn’t the case in other Target stores, as ours is relatively unpopular. The atmosphere felt dead, employees looked bored or lost and there was no liveliness in the environment.

Walmart was the near-opposite of this, at least for a substantial amount of it. While imperfect, Walmart makes an effort in trying to make their employees feel some intrinsic value to what they’re doing. They try to make an effort to make sure you feel like you belong. Walmart provides an environment where you feel important, as long as you do your job. Despite what Target offered, higher wages and longevity, Walmart seemed like the winner to me.

Being new to the adult world, you feel this pressure of making the right choices in these sorts of things. The “wanting to survive and have the most by all means possible” part of me said Target, while the hesitant, anxious part of me said Walmart. I worried greatly about judgment I’d receive by family and friends over my choice, I feared failure the most. I prayed little about it and I was desperate for an answer.

On October 15th, I got one. Target emailed me a message saying they weren’t moving through with hiring me. I couldn’t have been more relieved. God solved the dilemma and wiped the anxiety, and that was the last he spoke.

The Setup Associate

After a day of orientation, I immediately started working as their training system didn’t have me registered. I met my support manager (who I will refer to as B), who would become an invaluable leader during this time, as well as those who I would be working with for these next 3 weeks. They were working in the hardware department, changing shelves and product pegs. He placed me with a couple of associates who were working in electrical. My first day consisted half of observation and understanding how this system worked, the other half actually doing the thing.

After another few days of this remodeling, we were responsible for stocking product in hardware for the next couple of days. These days would start quick but near the last few hours would be extremely boring. We had about 6-8 people stocking, which gets things moving rather quickly. We’d finish everything with hours to spare, which just left us to make shelves look pretty for the rest of the day. Some had the right mind to bring some music with them, even though it was against policy. After we finished hardware, we moved on to sporting goods, then toys. Rinse and repeat what we did in hardware.

Anticipating, anticipating, anticipating…

All during this time, I faced a great deal of what my therapist refers to as anticipation anxiety. Once I arrived home, I spent the rest of my day looking to distract myself from the fact that I had to work the next day. Anything that could do it, video games, music, YouTube, I had to have something distracting me. Otherwise, I fell into existential dread about the life I was living, which felt like I was slaving away at something that had no real value, exchanging suffering for hourly pay.

As soon as I’d get out of bed for work, I’d find myself coughing constantly out of anxiety, the kind of coughing that leads to vomit. I ended up doing so once. This happened only once in the past, when I was in 1st grade I did this before school because the teacher I had was very abrasive. But this wasn’t 1st grade, this was a job, and I didn’t have an abrasive teacher, I didn’t have an abrasive anything. What gives?

The coughing started to loosen up over time, but the existential dread was very pervasive throughout the rest of my time at Walmart, which leads us to the next section!

Moving on up!

In the middle of my second week of working, our personnel coordinator summoned me over the PA system. Wondering what was going on, I went to the personnel coordinator. I found out that my manager gave a good word about me. They wanted to hire me for a permanent position, with more pay than what Target’s starting was. They suggested I join the electronics department, as my manager had noted my experience in computer science (thanks, B). I gladly accepted.

The electronics department was my best job experience thus far. It was a great blessing to work there and the people who I worked with were supportive and helpful. My favorite part of the experience were the people who I got to meet and assist there. Time slows and the pace doesn’t seem so bad when a customer walks up and asks for help. It gives you a moment to breathe in exchange for helping someone find what they need. I even had a few regulars.

During this time, I had met a few people who I hadn’t seen in a long while. The most important being two people from my previous Lutheran church. One of them being one who I had the pleasure of going on a spiritual retreat with in August 2017. These two were very instrumental in this journey, even if they didn’t know it. God showed me something, yet confusion led me to not understand.

The… anticlimax?

After a week or 2 of working in electronics, thus began the thanksgiving week, which all employees work outside of their typical availability. This was alright but somewhat disappointing because as soon as I arrived home from work, I’d need to sleep for the next day which had a morning shift. I wasn’t able to focus on things that were important to me outside of work which added onto the depression and existential dread.

Things became especially tense November 21st through the 23rd. Walmart, like some other stores, starts their Black Friday sales 6pm the day before. Meaning on top of thanksgiving was Black “Thursday”. Up until now, I didn’t work all too much in my department itself. I was moved around to help wherever with stocking, as I happened to be fast at it. I ended up doing a lot of returns and cardboard handling.

Black Thursday had a lot of customers before the event started. We had people making camp in the shoe department, despite being told to not do so. I was dragged everywhere, helping out whoever needed it. It was one of the most stressful days of working, but at least I didn’t have to work during the Black “Thursday” event. I didn’t have to work Black Friday until around 1pm. So the big rush should have faded by the time I get in tomorrow, right?

Wrong

There was due warning in Black “Thursday’s” event, Walmart.com released the advertisement for it a week in advance, which even led to one family expecting they could get that price on a TV before the event. Ultimately, there was no excuse in those who wanted something really really bad to get to the event. Meijer had their “Black Thursday” event 12 hours before we did!

Despite this, the store packed full of people desperately looking to find the Spider-Man PS4 bundle or most of the electronics/games. We hardly had much of anything, yet people were rushing and demanding anyway. On top of this, we had two carts full of returns. This, 2-3 wireless workers, 6-7 electronics associates, 1 manager, and 30 people moving non-stop led to me having an anxiety attack in the break room. I went home early that day and I didn’t come back.

The rest of my day filled with guilt over the situation. I dealt with a lot of existential dread over the weekend. On Sunday night/Monday morning, I came to my parents with it and my mother and I sat down and talked about it. Through the anxiety and dread, I explained how I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t keep waking up to coughing fits, to work at a job that at the end of the day had little value, to come home to existential dread about the life I was living. The path ahead at Walmart seemed to be of self-destruction and misery, killing any dreams of going to college, which I dropped classes in order to work, and resigning to a life of wage slavery. I couldn’t fathom that kind of life for myself.

To be continued…

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