Essay, Reflections

The “Value” of a Gift…

For all of my adult life, I have chosen to walk hand-in-hand with the “just getting by financially” crowd, and I have no idea why.  I know that it doesn’t stem from lack of talent, or even ambition, because I have plenty of both.  Numerous “investigations” into this facet of my life plan have led to some interesting possible excuses and explanations, but all of them have one common denominator: the primary obstacle to financial security in my life is, and has always been, me…

The why of this only becomes relevant when I am looking for ways to change it.  I understand that now (2017 America) is neither the time nor place to change my path, as everything in the state and economy is rigged against such success, but perhaps that makes it the perfect time to explore why none of my previous efforts to change it worked.  After all, there is nothing to gain, and little left to lose these days.  And as my working life becomes more difficult to sustain, the questions swirl in the background of what I should expect next…

One of the most common recurring themes revealed by previous research is a tendency to self-sabotage, to underrate my own value, to seek the least productive path, financially speaking.  When asked to rate my own value (as in setting prices for work I do, or services I provide), I always go low.  Perhaps I am lacking in self-confidence, or self-esteem, as most people assume, but it doesn’t feel that way to me.  Rather, I feel I am protecting myself from unsustainable expectations; after all, “you get what you pay for,” right?

The “problem” for me is that I have always believed I must “earn” my way.  Every acquisition of resources need be by “fair and equitable exchange.”  It doesn’t mean that the monetary value of the exchange be equal, but that the perceived value to both parties be equitable.  For those who value money (businesses, for example), actual dollars have been exchanged.  For those needing services, a barter might suffice, providing both parties receive something they consider as valuable as what they are offering.  That makes any transaction more difficult in its subjective assessment, but also ensures a more “even” exchange, providing both parties are open and honest about what they perceive as valuable…  It is also a test of integrity, to see if one party will try to “take advantage” of another…

In a society based on the selfish pursuit of all things “me,” such integrity is often hard to find.  For me, personally, I always choose to err in favor of the other; give more, take less, thus ensuring my conscience is clean.

But is it?  Really?

By under-valuing myself, am I being fair to me?  Could it not be said that I am taking advantage of myself?  How can I label such exchanges as fair and equitable if I refuse to fairly assess my contribution?  Am I not placing unsustainable expectations upon myself?  After all, if I am doing my “best” as my integrity demands, while asking for “less,” have I not just created a scenario where my needs will never be met, no matter how determinedly or diligently I work at it?

Disturbing thoughts…  Made more disturbing by their reflection in my reality.  For I have proven, time and again, that no matter how hard I work, I simply can’t get ahead.  There is no safety net in my life, no financial cushion to fall back on; there is only the knowledge that if I stop moving, the entire house of cards I’ve built may well collapse.  And while that collapse may cripple me, it will be unlikely to shield me from the consequences of it happening.  Eventually the piper will have to be paid, one way or another…

I recently ran into a friend who has a debilitating and terminal illness; less than 6 months ago, he was in a hospital, and medical wisdom determined he would likely never leave.  But he survived, thanks to new (and expensive) treatments.  Being a laborer by trade, he is unable to work, and yet he has been denied disability benefits (which would have likely only paid him a third of his “working value” in a best case scenario).  Furthermore, he told me he has to wait two years to appeal the decision.  And while it is common knowledge that all disability claims are denied at first, and later paid out retroactively when approved, it baffles me how this is supposed to work?!  With a home he needs to live in, and expensive medical care he needs to survive at all, what is he supposed to do in the meantime?  So, like many in his position, he has turned to criminal activities to provide a subsistence income.  Where is the integrity here?

I am not so foolish as to believe that life should be fair.  Nor do I assume that doing right means you will be properly rewarded.  And I realize that very few control almost all of the available resources to hoard for themselves, and use those resources to mop up what’s left for themselves, making sustainable living an impossible dream for most of us.  But still…

I love crafting, and all things creative, so I used to make things and try to sell them.  I wasn’t so much trying to make a living, as I was trying to get my hobbies to pay for themselves.  Such efforts were disastrous.  Not only did I undervalue my merchandise, just trying to get rid of it, but I invested a small fortune (for me, anyway), in opening the channels in the first place.  I found that if you under-price things, most will not buy, but if you over-price things, none will.  I would find myself at craft venues, reaping in praise, but only selling items $5 at a time.  It was necessary to have these low prices on some items simply to make up the cost of the booth.  And there was never a profit in it for me.  So I would wind up selling stuff to friends, and online, at below cost prices (not even covering materials, much less time invested), or giving stuff away as gifts, simply to get rid of it.  And now my tools rust in a damp basement, unused for years, because what, after all, is the point…?

Which brings me in a long, typically roundabout way, to the point I originally wanted to make.  Just this week a co-worker made a piece of jewelry partially inspired by a suggestion I’d made, that I absolutely fell in love with!  I wanted it, though I have no use for more jewelry.  Still, I want to encourage and support her efforts, as she does amazing work!  I asked her what she would charge for it?  The price, while reasonable, was far beyond what I can afford these days, and I told her that.  She offered me a “discount,” suggesting I pay her whatever I thought I could and/or should; a typical dilemma among my co-workers…  I struggled all day with how to respond.  I didn’t want to take advantage of her generosity, but I really couldn’t afford to buy it at all, being a non-necessary item.  I could sense her confusion growing as the day dragged on, and I did not make an offer, but I honestly didn’t know what to do…

Finally, I sought advice from another co-worker with whom I have often discussed this very dilemma.  I thought we were zeroing in on an appropriate offer, when she suddenly turned and walked away from me.  I was stunned and disheartened by her “abandonment.”  A little while later she reappeared, and when I questioned her about her abrupt dismissal of our conversation, she plopped the necklace on my desk and told me it was a “gift.”

I could not respond…

It was not her willingness to purchase it for me that rendered me mute, for she is often thoughtful and generous in the giving of things.  Rather, I later discovered, I was paralyzed by my inability to imagine how I could “make it up” to her.  For while she often gives graciously, she does not receive well…

A familiar theme…

So…  While there was much value in this gift she gave me, I found myself swamped by the many forms it took.  There was the necklace itself, which I love.  There was the revealing of the nature of exchange, as Lisa views it, revealing a worldview automatically biased against myself.  There was the acknowledgement that receiving is something I do not do well; I am so uncomfortable with it that my insides still cringe when I remember her dropping that box in front of me.  And there is a profound understanding growing in me that, though I may consider myself empowered and capable of manifesting whatever I truly desire or need, it does me no good whatsoever if I cannot receive the fruits of those efforts graciously…

Truly a valuable “gift” my friend has given me…

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NoBloPoMo, Reflections

Unsolicited Advice… (Day 26)

For those of you who celebrate the solstice season, at least in part, with a shopping and gift giving frenzy, this post is meant for you.  It includes my unsolicited advice for maneuvering through the retail chaos of this season, offered from the perspective of one who has worked in the field for over 30 years, filling every position from cashier to clerk to management, and several in between…  (And if it sounds a little snarky at times, just go with it, as I’m merely trying to get into the holiday shopping spirit!)

  • DO shop small.  Please support your local small businesses whenever practical and possible.  Not only will you likely encounter more unique gift options, shorter lines and more helpful staff, but you may very well be helping that business (and its employees) to stay afloat.  Many small businesses depend upon the holiday season to pull them through each year.  And though they may not offer the Black Friday deals you’re looking for, many do offer huge sales on Small Business Saturday (the next day), and American Express offers incentives for shopping at local businesses that day as well…
  • DO come prepared.  If you come with just a list, hoping some clerk will help you find the “perfect” gifts for you, please be prepared to answer a few simple questions: what age you are shopping for; what price range are you looking for; and what interests does your recipient have.  If you have no clue on the last one (and most don’t, so you are not alone), be prepared to take suggestions, and to make the final decision.  We can tell you what’s been selling (trendy), and what might be unique and memorable (our own personal favorites), but we cannot, under any circumstance, guarantee that your recipient will like it.  So please don’t come back after the holidays and tell us you’re returning a gift because our clerk failed in their recommendations.  Ultimately, you are going to get credit for a win, so take responsibility for any fails as well…
  • DO be patient!!  I cannot emphasize this enough!  Expect to encounter lines and wait times.  There are only so many of us working, and we are vastly outnumbered by those of you who are shopping.  We WANT to help you, we really do, but you are going to have to wait your turn.  For while you, as the customer, may be the most important person there, you are most definitely not the only most important person there!  Tapping your toes, rolling your eyes, and making snide comments will not improve your status or your wait time; in fact, the opposite may occur.  By the time you finally get to ask for help, you may find we are “out of stock” or “going on break.”  Let’s face it, it’s the only power of retribution we have…  And if you are one of those customers requiring a lot of “help” time (as in you want us to shop for you), be prepared to be interrupted several times while we’re working with you; there’s absolutely no reason why another customer should wait 30 minutes to ask us what aisle such and such is in, and we clerks are well-practiced at multi-tasking…
  • DON’T delude yourself .  There is no magical retail warehouse we can call to get that one last brand-specific requested gift you want that’s out of stock everywhere!  If you need it that badly, plan ahead.  Shop early, call ahead to see if an item can be put on hold (and yes, folks, if we say we will only be able to hold it for three days, we mean three, not four, five or six), buy it online for in-store pick-up, or put it on layaway.  If all of that fails, and no substitute or gift card will replace it, call Santa Clause; maybe he can help you…  (And remember, every minute you waste ranting at us about not anticipating your last minute need for this item, is time Santa’s elves no longer have to create your miracle!)…
  • DO control your children!!!  (Do I feel strongly about this? Yes!!)  They are your responsibility!  Please do not let them run amok in the store while you shop, grabbing whatever they want off the shelves, opening packages to see what’s inside, and generally wreaking havoc.  Demo items and toys for kids to play with are usually prominently displayed; anything else should be off limits! And while we provide play tables in our store for kids to demo products, that does not mean you should leave them there unattended while you shop.  Please understand, we are not babysitters; we don’t have the time, or by now, the patience for it.  (I’m more serious than snarky here because I have seen parents of small children walk several aisles away from their kids to shop, leaving them at the play tables, one of which is right by the door.  Some time later they come back, demanding we tell them where their child went.  When told we don’t know, but we’ll help them look, the parents scream at us, “well, weren’t you watching him?!  He was right there in front of you!”  Problem is, we weren’t able to be there the whole time, and countless other people were.  Usually, the child has just wandered off in search of the missing parent, but we did have a case where a little boy followed another family right out of the store.  Luckily, they brought him back!). So, seriously, folks, please watch your kids!
  • DON’T  just drop unwanted merchandise wherever you happen to be!  Classic scenario: customer asks us for something we happen to carry (yay!); we take them to its location, but the shelf is empty (noo!);  we check inventory, in case we haven’t had time to restock, which happens quite often at this time of year (so always ask if you are looking for something specific), and computer says we have one left (yay!); we check backstock, but it’s not there (nooo!); we enlist other clerks to help search, who are busy with other customers and such (yay!); we search reshops, hold bins, layaways, everywhere, but we do not find (sad sigh…); we fail to produce said product and both the customer and store are disappointed…  Closed, finally (yay!); cleaning up the mess the customers left us so we can do it again tomorrow (nooo!); find missing product shoved behind other merchandise on a shelf four aisles away (grrrrr…..).  Is it any surprise, really, that retail clerks get a little grumpier as the season progresses?  Seriously, friends, if you don’t want it, fine, just please hand it off to a clerk or a cashier and tell them; they will be more than happy to return it to its proper place.  Really!
  • DON’T throw a fit about how long your transaction takes to process.  Just an FYI to those of you using credit cards this season, especially the new chip cards: they take 2-3 times longer to process than the old cards did, especially if the store has the new chip reader technology that requires the card to be inserted into the machine.  We have no control over that.  And if your chip card has the word “Debit” on it, expect to have to enter your PIN, even if you’re using it as “Credit.”  It’s how the new system works, and it’s designed to protect you!  We cannot override it, even for you…  Also worth noting that during the busiest shopping times, the credit card servers can get back-logged, slowing things down even more.  Yelling at the cashiers, and ranting at the system will not change anything but the moods of all those around you; and they will get darker and meaner the longer you carry on…
  • DO take the time to acknowledge excellent customer service.  Really, this is important!  We, as a society seem to have no problem voicing our complaints whenever anything doesn’t go our way, but we spend precious little time acknowledging our victories.  Your compliment, even expressed to management, will not likely result in a raise for that cashier or clerk who helped you, but I guarantee it will make that clerk or cashier’s day!  We are mostly overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated (and I’m not just talking retail people here), but it’s amazing how worthwhile it can all feel when that one person steps up and says, “Thank you!  You made my day!”  If you can take the time to tell management, even better, but please try to get the name of the person before doing so; that kind of personal recognition might just keep them going another day in this retail hell.  And if you don’t have time to wait for a manager, consider going on the store’s website later and leaving a review, or calling to speak with a manager on the phone.  Trust me, this small act of kindness is more in keeping with the holiday spirit than any gift or deal you might find while shopping…  Speaking of which…
  • DO try to have fun, and spread a little cheer.  Ultimately this holiday season (whatever you celebrate, be it religious, spiritual, or simply capitalistic) is about spreading a little light and love in the world.  It is no coincidence that the holidays come at the time of the winter solstice, when days are short and nights are long and cold.  Whether you are celebrating the birth of a Son or a Sun, or Lights in general, it’s all about a little love and hope to get us through the darkest nights.  We can all share that much, even if we never agree on details…

So…  Having said all this, let me be one of the first to wish you a happy holiday shopping season!  Together we can get through this, and maybe, just maybe, we can have a little fun doing so!

End rant…

 

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