"If I'm going to make a living and spend most of my time at this job, then it better be something I believe in and I sure as hell should make a difference in someone's life."
As I make my way through my twenties and take a harder look at how I spend my time in life, I've developed a keen interest in those who love what they do for a living -- and I want to find out how I can do the same. Naturally, an interview series formed to find out how these individuals have gotten to a place where they don't hate getting out of bed each morning (and dare I say enjoy leaping out of it). I can't wait to hear all these answers and I think you might, too. Let's get started!
First up: Jessica DeFeo! A sweet friend of mine who loves her job. She spills on how she surprised herself by ending up loving work in a retail setting, the importance of a company's culture and beliefs, and how to find your heart's true calling.
Ruth: How long have you loved what you do?
Jessica: So being in retail, and managing in retail, can be very hard. I've done both of these things for almost 15 years. So I suppose you can say I've loved what I do for 15 years, even though I've managed at different places throughout that time. My current job, at Crate and Barrel, is by far the most rewarding and toughest job yet. I've been here for almost ten years and in my position (sales manager) for almost nine out of the ten.
R: How did you feel and what did you do before now?
J: Before landing my position at Crate and Barrel, every other job felt like a means to an end. I am one of those people that define myself by what I do for a living. If I'm going to make a living and spend most of my time at this job, then it better be something I believe in and I sure as hell should make a difference in someone's life. I never thought that I would end up doing that in a retail setting. The universe is funny like that. I had grand dreams of being an interior designer. Then I stumbled upon Crate and Barrel and it had everything I had wanted. I was able to not only help people find beautiful product for their home that made them feel good and connected, but I was also able to lead a team of people to feel passionately about doing the same thing, and help them to feel successful. It didn't matter if they worked 40 hours on commission or part time. I had a direct hand in building this beautiful business and making customers and my associates feel amazing. You can't beat that.
R: When was the first time you realized that you love what you do?
J: I almost know the exact moment I realized I loved what I did. It was very close to when I first started, and I had worked a very long day in the middle of the holiday season. And my shift came to end, and it felt like I hadn't worked but a few hours, and I didn't want to go home just yet. It was a feeling of complete joy and satisfaction. I couldn't wait to come back the next day. That was an incredible feeling.
R: Describe what you do now and what a typical day looks like.
J: So the reason why I love what I do so much is because no two days ever look the same. I run one of the top stores in the company, so I have a current staff of 80 associates. I'm in charge of all things sales related, so I am opening the store, looking at sales numbers and figuring out where opportunities lie, life coaching my team on a daily basis with everything from personal issues to store issues, writing reviews, interviewing new team members, conference calls with corporate, customer service issues, filling in for a sales team member when we are short on the floor, building displays and maintaining our sales floor, etc. It's non stop and some days every hour is planned with something specific. Change is inevitable and constant. I thrive in situations like this, however! Everyday is similar but completely different and you really never know what is going to happen. And I totally understand that some could never work in an environment like that. I, however, would never want to do anything else.
R: What were the steps you took that got you to loving what you do?
J: That's a great question, because there have been so many hard times. We've had corporate and store restructuring twice now, management change over in the store, hard employee situations, etc. But honestly it comes down to a bigger perspective and a love for retail and that environment. And, the people. Crate is known for its culture, and it's a culture of deep respect and family. Overall, that is what has kept me there and loving what I do for this long now.
R: Is there something about your work that makes you feel like you're contributing to a greater good?
J: Every day I feel like I'm contributing to a greater good. I get to have inspiring, motivational conversations and one-on-ones with my team that allow them to feel empowered to make a difference in someone's life on the sales floor. I get to show them how they have grown as a person and an employee year after year. I get to pick them up when they are disappointed in themselves or feel like they've made a mistake. I get to turn someone's day around by just telling them how proud I am of them and the work they've done. Every day I step into that building is another day for me to make an impact on a team member or customer. I am fully aware of the responsibility as a leader I have in that setting. I don't take it for granted any longer.
R: Do you have any advice for others on their way to loving what they do?
J: So my advice for someone looking to find something that they love AND make money at, is don't ever stop searching in your heart for what it is that calls to you. I know that's easier said than done. I've had to dig deep for several years and remind myself of what I'm REALLY doing every day. We have this saying at the store when we get super stressed out: "It's just sofas and dishes." You have to put things into perspective. I also suggest looking at what you are currently doing and finding how you contribute. Remind yourself every day how you are helping your business, company, team, etc become stronger or better. And don't ever stay at a job where the leadership or management doesn't respect your work ethic or opinions. Life is too short to work for someone that doesn't respect you and what you bring to the team. You are worth finding a calling that makes your heart feel full. I don't' care if that's washing dishes or leading the country.
R: If you could whittle it down, what was the ONE most important thing you did to begin loving what you do?
J: I started to become proud of what I contributed. I chose to see that I was making a difference, and I let the emotions show through my work. I saw that I made a difference, and that feeling was something that no one could ever take away from me. I knew that if I was making a difference, then I could teach others how to do the same thing, and become proud of what they contribute as well. We distribute joy every day in my store. And when you see the dots connect in how that affects not just you, but your team and the strangers that walk through the door every day, you start to understand that you are worth the time and the effort and blood, sweat, and tears to make it happen. You love it because you CHOOSE TO LOVE IT.
Thank you, Jessica!