An American Girl in Washington

Self-realization at a local department store

Posted in Uncategorized by AGinDC on 16 August 2010

This morning I headed out to Local Department Store (which shall remain unnamed in case I get a job there) to apply for a job.  I saw that they had an online option but I prefer to apply in person so I went to the office instead.

One of the things that I first noticed about DC when I spent my first summer here at 15 was that all of the menial positions in town are held by black employees.  Coming from Seattle, this was a shock, since there aren’t enough black people in the entire Pacific Northwest to make up the staff of just one Nordstrom, much less every store, restaurant, gas station, and federal agency in the county, but in DC, this is all par for the course.  Well, I guess I’ve been gone for a while, because it just hit me today that things haven’t changed much.

From the nannies carting little blonde children all over the neighborhood to every single person in the department store employment office, the south has risen again in Washington DC.  As I was sitting there, waiting in vain to ask for an application turns out you have to apply online, whether you like it or not- every single girl waiting for an interview was a 20-something black girl like me.  And I couldn’t help think, “What’s the difference between them and me?  Oh yeah, I have a law degree.”  Enter the quarter-life crisis.

See, 90% of the time I couldn’t be more sure about the path I’m on.  I have a free Palace, a little money in the bank, and five months with absolutely nothing to do but work on who I want to be.  After 26 3/4 years of working to obtain another degree from a better school, to finish that super-prestigious service commitment, to add yet another internship to the resume, I’ve finally had enough.  I’ve never been the type to be upwardly mobile for no purpose and law school finally convinced me that sitting in an office from 5-9 making $3000 a week doing absolutely nothing of import just isn’t going to do it for me.  I have a lot of goals and a lot of things that I actually want to do and before I turn 30 in 3 years and 2 months I would just like to give myself the chance to try.  If it doesn’t work out, then fine, I have my law degree from a Top 10 law school, my undergrad degree from a Seven Sisters college, my four page resume that spans five countries, three continents, and half a dozen states.  I’ll be fine.  But for now I’d just like to give myself the chance that most people don’t have.  I’d like to try to live my dreams.  And if I have to work the counter at a department store to do it, that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Easier said than done.

I quite often get on my high horse and talk the “I’d rather die than work in a cubicle” talk, but when I walked into that store, past the girls folding trousers and spraying perfume and gossiping, I remembered the summer before law school.  I was working at a department store just like this one, listening to idiotic managers, working with silly girls with no education and less sense, dealing with rude customers and sore feet and I told myself that this is why I was going to law school.  So I would never have to do this again.  And here I am, three years later, about to apply online for a job that makes $7.25 an hour and doesn’t even give good discounts.  It’s humbling -which is good -, but also terrifying and a little soul-crushing at the same time.  I’ve worked so, so, so hard for so long.  And what if it doesn’t work out?

What if I try to write this book and I can’t?  Worse, what if I do write it and it’s terrible and I can’t publish it or I do find a publisher and it fails?  What if I have no talent?  What if I turn 30 and I’m still single and still broke and still working at Local Department Store but I’ve tried to live my dreams and I’ve failed?  How could I live with myself? And what would I do next?

90% of the time I’m sure.  But 10% of the time, I’m not.  And that’s the part I’m worried about.

Here’s to having faith,



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