• André Quinta

Breaking out of retail

A bored face of a retail worker

A bored retail worker at Michael Kors, New Kings Road, London.


In December 2005 I accepted my first retail job at O'Neill, the surf shop, at a local shopping centre. I felt pressured by the rest of my family into finding a job ever since the big 'C' took my mother earlier that year. I was having exams at university when it happened, and as my world came crashing down with the prospect of her loss, suddenly exams didn't seem that important anymore. So I quit, and I threw my higher education out the window like the idiot twenty-two year old I was. I felt angry, I felt alone, I felt I had lost my best friend, and worse, I felt I didn't appreciate her as much as I could have.


As expected, things only got worse for quite a long time. I don't recall if I started feeling pressure by other members of the family to find a job before, or after I quit University. But not having studies or exams at this time to worry about anymore was a massive weight off my shoulders. In retrospect, maybe that distraction would had helped me keep my mind busy with something less tragic. But I remember doing the math, and the insurance severance paycheck that I received from my mothers death, combined with the small monthly allowance I was receiving from the government since her loss, was not enough to pay for the monthly and yearly costs of the private University I was in. I had to get a job to justify my existence in the house, and so I did.

Too hard on myself?

Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But to this day I still think I made a lot of stupid decisions during that time. One of them was quitting university, another was that if the money didn't stretch, then I could have gotten a part-time job to pay for university while living rent and bills free with my grandmother. That would have been the solution to keep going I suppose, it's very obvious now, that's what I should have had the willpower to do back then. But there's a combination of so many other factors that lead me the opposite way...

My wife wondered why I didn't have the drive to do these things at that time, and just endure, find solutions and use them (she was much more savvy about the world when she was the same age). Of course she didn't pose these questions to me, but to an older mutual colleague, also Portuguese. She [the colleague] told my wife that a twenty-two year old Portuguese isn't at the same level of maturity as a similar aged Briton, that the Portuguese independence from parenthood comes a lot later. My wife later told me this, and it awed me how right she was, and felt odd how I had never given it any thought before. So many British youngsters that I've met during these last few years, some of them friends of mine, and I never realized how autonomous they are, nineteen, early twenties, studying, working to sustain themselves while studying, taking care of family members instead of being taken care of.

All of this just made me feel worse about myself, about my choices at their age, older than them even. But in the end I did appreciate their independence, how different young adults face situations in the U.K. compared to back home, how they are educated to mature that much faster. But I'll leave the social-economic disparities between the U.K. and Portugal for some other time.

Looking through

Hard to get in...

As it is the case with any industry (specially without higher education), it proved quite hard to find jobs in retail that would take me in. O'Neill didn't go that well during the first month probation (lack of product knowledge, I'm a self-proclaimed geek, not a surfer) and I had to find something else, which I did, but it took a lot of CV's to get a chance. The typical case of "needs experience in Y or X", but how do you get that experience if no one is willing to give you a chance?

Eventually someone did, in the field of games entertainment and retail tech devices, this was now 2006, and from then on, I never had any issues finding any retail job related to that sector, interviews were smooth and successful, and my CV just kept stacking years of experience as a retail worker.

But what happens when you want to get out?

...Hard to get out.

When I finally had my 'click' last year, I had finally figured out what I wanted to be 'as a grown up'. I don't recall where or how I've seen it, but I saw something that said that if you wanted to figure out what you wanted to do for the rest of your life, you need to think about the basics, you need to go back to your childhood or teenage times and think about what you enjoyed doing the most.

In all honesty, the first thing that came to mind was video-games, but I like to play them, not make them, so with that swiftly out the window, three things remained that I was always very passionate about since an early age. Out of the three, photography won. Oh great, another would-be photographer...

Contrary to all would-be photographers with Leicas or D7100s shooting in Auto-mode, I put a lot of time and effort learning (and even some re-learning) as much as I could about photography, namely the more technical aspects of it. I'm a creative by nature, I draw, I write, I shoot (cameras), I build, my education was Arts, so the notions of composition and aesthetics I was fine with, a technique here or there, but otherwise I feel pretty comfortable with that department. My whole energy was directed at going out with my camera in Manual mode since day one, I took a course in London, and I'm currently undertaking another 6 month long course, albeit online.

I feel comfortable with my camera now, there's still lots to learn and to experiment, in photography no one ever runs out of things to try anew or can claim to know it all, and that's a good thing, but at least I'm out of the pool of auto-shooters and tourists with expensive DSLR's for no reason.

My problem now, and bringing us to current time, is trying to get into the photography industry, it's proving very hard without a qualification or professional experience on it (as expected). I don't mind if it's as an assistant photographer lugging equipment around and help setting it up, or as a junior image retoucher / editor (have I mentioned I actually enjoy retouching and have fifteen years Photoshop experience? Yes, Lightroom is fine too). At the moment I just need someone to actually give me a chance to prove myself in this field, I want the opportunity to succeed on this, I want to break in and show how hard working I am when I'm passionate about something, when it's a career that I actually care about.

I need to get out of retail shops, I can't stand them any longer...

A fed up retail worker

#career #experience #education #retail #firstjob

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