Hi Captain! I hope today is treating you gently. 🙂
Last year, I (twentysomething, they/them) moved across the country to be with my partner. The relationship is good and healthy! The town is friendly, walkable-ish, mild weather, etc. When I visited, I could see myself living here – and more importantly, working at this one specific business. (Uh-oh, right?!
I had worked in a specialized retail shop for years in my previous city. My entire life basically revolved around this particular lifestyle. I loved having conversations about shared ideologies all day and getting to explore products and methods that came up in the environment surrounding me. I’m going back to school to specialize in this field, and want to work in it for the rest of my career.
There’s only one business in this industry in my new, much smaller town, so I applied. They were hiring full-time for several positions to start in a few months and needed someone with my exact experience, so I thought I had a good chance. I had a bit of a time crunch with my lease, so I moved to this new town without securing a job first. (Yikes!)
I went through the lengthy interview process at Dream Business once and then was invited back. But the winter, repeated rejections elsewhere, dwindling savings, and not knowing anyone in town apart from my partner had really put me in a dark place, mental-health-wise. I stumbled through this interview, misspoke, wasn’t prepared enough, got so anxious I frantically emailed the interviewer in the middle of the night about a mistake I had made and had panic attacks about it for days afterward. Unsurprisingly, about three weeks later I got a curt email that basically boiled down to, “we didn’t think you were a good fit, don’t ask for feedback.” It was devastating – I didn’t see myself having any other options in town after this place.
Luckily, I’m now medicated, in therapy, employed (though not in my field), and going back to school – so things have looked up since then.
BUT. I miss this industry – socially, intellectually, ethically. Imagine you’re really into…specialty coffee. And this Dream Business is the only place in town where you can get your…organic, locally roasted, shade-grown beans, and everyone who shares your views and interests also shops here and talks about it constantly. I’m absolutely mortified at the thought of going back in. In my mind, I screwed this up so badly that I can’t ever go back! I’d rather MOVE TOWNS than go inside while my interviewers might be working, but I want to put my money where my mouth is, values-wise. And I miss shopping for my specialty goods, and this Dream Business is my only option locally.
What would you do? Do you or would any readers have any scripts, battle plans, suggestions for full-body disguises so I can go shop without panicking about having to interact with people I feel super embarrassed about seeing?
The final job interview sounds horrible, I’m so sorry!
You can *absolutely* still shop there. Lots and lots and lots of people don’t get hired at businesses – for many reasons – and are still welcomed as customers or clients.
I don’t want to minimize the guts it takes to go back into a situation where you feel vulnerable and ashamed. Those of us with mental health stuff going on do our best to be professional, fit in, and perform to expectations, and it’s scary when we encounter a situation where we feel out of control of our best selves and know that others can definitely see that we’re out of control (even if they don’t understand why). The stigma of being thought of as “oh look it’s that ‘crazy’ person who tried to work here once upon a time” is real because ableism is real. I can’t wave that away; it takes guts to go back.
The good news is that think you have those guts and I think the stuff you are most anxious about possibly happening is unlikely to happen. I ran this by Mr. Awkward to confirm (he of 20+ years of retail experience, including experience returning to jobs after hospitalization for serious mental health stuff) and he agrees: If – BIG IF – the owners & staff remember you or think about you at all, they remember you as the enthusiastic person who aced the initial interview process and then had a bad final interview and got a little bit intense-o with the emails. They could probably tell that something was “off” that week, but they do not know how much you had invested in working at this place, that you moved cities for them like you were Felicity and they were your Ben, or anything else that was going on with you around that time. The weight that was on you about all of this just wasn’t ever on them, so can you try to be very gentle with yourself and put it down before you try to go back?
You may encounter a flicker of recognition as they ring you up that first time you do go back, but that is likely to be all. Consider that they might feel awkward, too, like, you’re all worried that you’ve failed forever, and they are thinking ‘Oh that poor person I hope they are ok and don’t still feel bad about how that all went’ with a side of ‘oh please please please don’t say anything about it!’ It doesn’t feel good to have to reject somebody from something you know they wanted very badly, and unless you have a lot of experience delivering bad news, it gets weird on that side of the hiring desk, too.
The best way to reassure everybody, including yourself is to be friendly and businesslike and quick. Make your purchases, say hello and thank you, and then GTFO. Do not linger or try to discuss anything, you have nothing to apologize for or explain, if you try to make people process your feelings about a long-ago job rejection while they are trapped at work it will exponentially grow the weirdness, not diminish it. If the topic comes up, like, “Good to see you again, hope you’re doing better,” you say “I am, thanks!” and pay for your stuff and, again, GTFO. Don’t try to be special or deeply connect about your passionate history with their product & culture, just be nice and make it easy for the people who work there to ring you up.
Two-three times of doing that? In all likelihood you go back back to “nice normal regular customer” status and can relax.
Here’s another thing about embarrassment and secondhand embarrassment and rejection:
Unless they are deliberately being an asshole at the time, when I see someone visibly fail at something that I was rooting for them to do well at (like a job interview, public speaking, a presentation, an audition, a networking event, a performance, or other stage-fright/anxiety-inducing occasions), the embarrassment I feel when they fail in front of me is mortification on their behalf, not judgment of them. It is 100% “omg are they ok” and 0% “what an imposter!” When I’ve interviewed job candidates, specifically? I want them to ace it. I want them to be the right fit, because if they are, it means I get to stop working on the time-consuming process of hiring somebody.
These particular business-owners may not ever want you to work there (I’d take them at their word about that) but if they feel anything at all about you when they see you shopping it’s probably relief that you’re doing okay now mixed with a slight anxiety that you’re going to be the one who makes them relive The Day That It All Got Weird. If you can show that you can be cool and not reopen settled questions (‘Don’t ask for feedback‘), that will only add to the general relief. Bullies certainly exist, but most people don’t get off on others’ humiliation and these people probably want to move past that embarrassing moment just as much as you do. If they are mean to you? Fuck that place and may their reviews sink and stink like stones that are also made of heavy turds. When you finish school you can open a more awesome competing business on the other side of town.
In closing: Go shop there if you want to! Be quick and polite. The first time will be the hardest time, so give it 2-3 tries and some time before you give up. Use whatever tools your mental health team has shared with you to manage your anxiety before and afterward that will help you leave the feelings (& take the artisanal organic handcrafted locally-made specialty cannoli).
P.S. You mentioned disguises in your letter, there’s probably no time like the masked-up present to go get your favorite gourmet whatever-it-is.
Comments are open, with the reminder that if the LW wanted us to know what the place sells, we’d know, and Awkwardhaus already guessed “craft brewing” and “fancy weed dispensary?” if we want to save time. 🙂