The End.

I had a dream last night – it wasn’t a happy one. I was walking down an empty street, not a very affluent one. The mailman met me by the gate to my house and handed me two bundles of letters. He said they’d gotten lost in the mail, and they were only found now.

I opened each one with sadness slowly growing in my dream self as each one was counting down and read “Liberation.”

The saddest part was that I had sent them to myself.

I didn’t know what it meant, and I cried in my dream. I woke up somewhat worried. I’m the kind of person who thinks that, while there are chaotic dreams that mean absolutely nothing, there are dreams – like this one – that are meant to prepare me for something.

6:34pm I received a call from my manager; all Teavana locations will be closing by Spring.

Now, I have complained. I’ve complained enough. I’ve ranted and stressed and let myself be eaten away by anxiety because of things that have happened at this store, but I never once thought that this would happen – at least not while I was still here.

I had a plan once to make a website where I would post custom tea recipes using our teas. One of my blends even made it so big that it was featured on my region’s store menu. It was one of my most prideful days knowing that I had made an impact on this store even if in the smallest way. I grew from a team member, working from 6 – 9:30 to a manager who is trusted with the keys to the store.

“Who’s store is this?”

“It’s yours.”

“No. When you become a manager, it’s your store. So who’s store is this?”

“Mine.”

The woman who trained me talked me through this, and it became my statement.

This is my store. I represent my store. I represent this store that helps guide people through chemotherapy, through health struggles, through family bonding, and through this culture that I’ve loved since I was little.

Tea culture is part of my heritage, and I display it proudly. I was happy to know the benefits of these ingredients, to inform my customers how it can help you just as it has helped me.

I’ve seen my store go through one terrible manager and more than enough employees who didn’t see the job’s worth as much as some of us did. I’ve seen more than enough, and it all contributed to my growth as a salesperson and as an individual.

All in all, seeing this company dissolve right before my eyes after growing up with it is heartbreaking and shocking to say the least.

Outside of the sentimental side of this post, here is why I think Teavana is being shutdown.

When I first saw a Teavana, I was pulled in by the traditional tea culture that was being celebrated in such a modern setting. Yixing teapots with delicate designs and the highest quality teas that up until the turn of the century was only served to emperors. We even had the tea that was served to President Obama. Cool, right?

Our teas were organized by tea category:  white, green, oolong, and black. Customers came in asking for teas to help with blood pressure, headaches, cramps, and acne. We showed everyone how to make their teas in the highest quality Japanese hand-crafted cast iron tea pots and showed them the wonders of creating their own sets to share with their family. This was the world I joined.

Fast forward to Starbucks purchasing Teavana – by the time I had joined, we were already acquired by Starbucks, but the obvious changes were not showing. All the changes were benefits given to employees as we were adopted into the Starbucks partner system. This is the system that paid for my college degree as well as my Starbucks stock.

Until now, that was the big change.

As more and more Starbucks customers grew curious of tea culture, they would slip into the store, not knowing why they had to pay $4.99 for a cup of tea to go without bothering to learn that we were using at the most $30 worth of tea leaves for a cup that they would finish within five minutes. Teavana did not settle for low grade teas, and if one was discovered among our stock, it was quickly discarded and never heard from again.

Tea drinkers came out from under the covers and declared their love for the tea, but as Starbucks took more hold on us, our teas took a different direction. Less samples, less creativity, and no traditional teas available for customers to try. I distinctly remember a woman approaching me and trying to learn about matcha only for her to ask:

“So if I mix this with water, this will taste like a green tea latte?”

Being integrated into the Starbucks system not only changed how we operated and what we sold, it changed our clientele. People came in looking for Starbucks drinks and shrugging us off because they were coffee drinkers, not tea drinkers. I’ve even had someone complain with a simple reason being:

“It’s like you guys aren’t actually Starbucks.”

Let me say this once, and everyone better hear me.

We are not Starbucks. We were never Starbucks. Even after acquiring us, we never became Starbucks. As Teavana employees, we sold tea – not coffee. We were not there to cater to coffee drinkers’ complaints over why this cost more than a bag of coffee because – again – this is not coffee.

This is tea.

The transition into Starbucks took away the traditional tea culture that the old Teavana employees loved and celebrated. We saw the worth in our products, and we tried to do our best to show you the same.

Though, we are not entirely innocent. The original sales process was crude and did not cater to a customer’s needs, but money. By the time I was hired, we aimed to fix that. I wanted you to leave satisfied with your purchase. I don’t care how much you spend; I’m selling something to help your health, that was all that mattered.

Steering back, we slowly turned into what most would say “the Starbucks of tea.” Although, that could not be more accurate. Drinks are not our business; it’s tea leaves. I’m not here to be your barista; I’m here to help you find something to make your life better. I am not a Starbucks barista, ready to give you your venti cup of blond roast in the morning. I’m here to give you information to better your life.

Our tea wall changed, organized by flavor because “customers don’t care about how much caffeine or how many antioxidants this kind of tea has.” They said it would only confuse people. The Yixing pots disappeared, and slowly but surely, we knew the cast iron would, too. Right before my eyes, the world I had entered was slowly being catered to Starbucks customers who wanted a quick fix and something that tasted like juice – only this wasn’t juice so there was a false sense of security that this was so much better. We did not receive any new pure teas without fruits or herbs; we got cocktail-inspired teas for customers to mix with alcohol.

The vision had disappeared.

The culture had disappeared.

The roots of what Teavana had grown from – all gone.

The disappearance of the Buddha logo was just the cherry on top. This was the new Teavana.

Starbucks’s Teavana.

This is not the Teavana I wanted to work for – that Teavana died a long time ago, the shadow of its former self stood in its place, paraded with sugar and pastel colors.

And the sun just decided that this shadow isn’t worth saving.

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Step 1: Honesty

Honesty is the best policy.

Or is it?

When I was in middle school, making friends depended on how I spoke and what I spoke about. I talked about things that I thought people liked, and I crumbled even if I didn’t think it was right. In other words, I had two personas – public and private. My public side was very into the current trends, things that the people around me liked. Public Me wanted to make friends everywhere even if that person’s ideas didn’t match my own. Public Me was loud – she wanted to be heard in anyway she could.

Private Me had all the thoughts, the ideas, and the potential but kept it stored away out of fear.

After my first friend purge, my first genuine best friend got me to stand up for myself – something I never actually considered doing. I was okay letting my friends walk all over me if it meant keeping them. Once I stood up for myself the first time, I couldn’t go back.

Why do we assume that people will only like one side of us?

Private Me was a different kind of loud – she was assertive, and she had all the thoughts that needed to be heard. But she saved those thoughts for the Internet or whatever other media outlet she could find. The private side of me stayed hidden within the confines of my computer screen. Then I suddenly had an epiphany –

How could I ever expect to make friends who I’d be willing to have for the rest of my life if I only ever show them one side? And what was the purpose of having both sides? Was I protecting myself? Who was I saving?

I wasn’t saving anyone. I was hurting myself. I kept these thoughts tucked away for the sake of having people around me.

So – honesty first.

Friends second.

It’s easy to talk to people, but what are you supposed to talk about? Do I talk about something I think you’ll like or do I talk about what’s on my mind? To whom do I cater this conversation to? And that’s where my lesson had finally been realized.

I needed to close the gap between Private and Public Me. As time went on, I made the decision to combine the two. The public persona brought the private to light, and the private kept the public from only focusing on what other people liked. There was definitely a result.

People started to tell me I was “real.” What does that mean? I’m being honest, how is that real? Is there such a shortage of honesty in the world that it has become an anomaly? Friends, friends, friends – they all said the same things, and I just let myself continue to be honest.

Honesty, however, does not always guarantee a common thought. I stayed honest, but when my words contradict your own thoughts, I became something else. I was no longer “real,” I was judgmental – I was insensitive, I was inconsiderate. All these things made me think I needed to change again.

But did I really? It wasn’t that I changed over time, but my thoughts no longer consistently aligned with the people around me. Suddenly I became the bad guy. I was no longer “real,” and there became a floating assumption that I’m hiding a part of myself from the world.

Trust me – I’m not.

If I’m hiding anything, it’s something I, myself, have not even discovered. There are no surplus thoughts underneath this image I’ve created for myself. I worked hard to make sure my visage matched my thoughts.

Believe it or not – I’m honest from day one. Until I find a legitimate reason to lie to you, I will not because there would be no purpose. I would be lying for the sake of lying.

Step 2:  Friends, but Step 3:  Consistency.

There’s a reason for this long explanation into why I act the way I do, and here it is.

If honesty comes first, what reason do I have to lie to get people to like me? And hand-in-hand with that, why should I have to fight when someone says otherwise?

Truthfully, there is no reason. If you’re my friend, you’re my friend. I learned just yesterday that the ones who cherish their friends are the ones who stick to their convictions. Childish rumors and hasty actions will not change that. Anyone who has anything to say about the way I act can only know that speaking badly of me will only make the reaction to seeing the truth that much more satisfying for me. Say what you want – you’re still speaking of me.

In this day and age, young adults have all become truth-seekers. In the presence of malice, they pursue the side that makes the most sense, and the side that doesn’t is the one spattered with red in the end.

True or false:  the truth finds you.

False.

You need to find the truth on your own.

Working in Retail Fixed Me

There are certain aspects of one’s personality that need to be adjusted but go by unnoticed.

Today at work, I was asked to watch a video by a motivational speaker who told of his experience with one Starbucks partner at a Minnesota airport terminal. He said he’d never forget this encounter due to that partner’s genuine interest in her customers’ lives.

“I don’t want them to come back to Starbucks; I want them to come back to me.”

Such a recollection like this brought me back to one customer interaction I had over a year ago. Actually, I don’t really remember the first time I met this customer. It was during a holiday season, and, for retailers, you know that the holidays are when you meet and interact with the most people in one day.

It’s difficult to maintain a perfect customer experience when you need to balance these two concepts:

  1. Show a sense of urgency.
  2. (but) Be patient with your customer.

In other words, I need to help you in a reasonable amount of time without making you feel like I’m pressuring you because there are other people in the store. And in balancing these two principles, occasionally, that customer service ability might dwindle down as you go through your day.

Again, I don’t actually remember the first time I spoke to this customer.

However, she definitely remembered me.

The next time I heard of this particular woman, it was actually through her friend who wasn’t even my customer. As this woman was being helped by someone else, I threw in my two cents about a product, and she smiled.

“You helped my friend the first time she came here. She told me about you.”

This was the first time I’d heard this in my few years working at the same location. She then went into detail saying that her friend is now an avid shopper at the location by where she lived. She only visited them once a year, and it was always just after the Christmas rush. I was honest with her and said I couldn’t really remember, but I couldn’t hide the joy in my face at the thought that this one customer enjoyed her experience at the store to the point where she’d tell her friends and family.

Some weeks later, the same woman came back to the store – this time with the friend I had helped.

While I vaguely remembered her at first, the interaction came back to me. She spoke to me with such enthusiasm about how I showed her everything she needed to know and that she had to come back to see me. She was frank; she didn’t need to buy anything that day. She just wanted to see how I had been.

We then delved into how I got into this job, why I was still there, and why I enjoyed it so much.

I think every young adult who works retail says this at least once with a tired spirit –

“I hate this job.”

Sometimes you do; sometimes you don’t.

I’ve definitely said this before, more than once, in fact. At the end of the day though, I really don’t hate it. Granted, once I’ve finished this chapter of my life, I don’t think I’ll ever return to the world of retail, but I can genuinely say that without this job, my view on how people should treat one another as a whole has changed.

So what makes working at Teavana so rewarding and life-changing?

I’m not just selling a product that, at first glance, seems overpriced. I’m not here to take your money for my benefit, to have my name on a sheet of paper that says I’ve sold this much to you.

I’m here to help you improve your life in whatever way I can.

Tea helps people. It’s helped me, so I believe that it can help someone else, too. I will in no way whatsoever sell you bullshit – as some might say. If I don’t believe this product can help you, I’ll tell you. I want you to leave my store knowing that I’ve helped you take the first step to achieving a goal – the task you’ve shared with me. Think back to that scene in Miracle on 34th Street when Santa pointed a customer in the direction of another store, and suddenly it was seen as a revolutionary thing – putting the customer’s needs first.

I’ve had people tell me that I helped them cut sugar out of their diet which led to a healthier lifestyle. I’ve helped customers going through chemotherapy by showing them things that will keep them comfortable. I’ve shown parents ways they can bring the family together.

Mostly, I hope that I’ve shown my customers that I genuinely care. From the woman who’s allergic to apples to the man who knows that he’ll enjoy whatever drink I make for him – I care about them all. I want them all to know that I pay attention, and I will continue to do so until I’m done with this job.

My job does not stop when I clock out; it will stop when I no longer work here. And even then, the world of retail surpasses the job itself.

You learn other basic things that aren’t really seen as common sense nowadays. I’ve moved up in this job from a part-time salesperson to one of the managers, and while it put more pressure on me, I certainly learned a thing or two.

Taking constructive criticism is the number one thing – not from your peers, but from your customers. There are rude ones and there are polite ones, and generally, the polite ones are the people who want to see you succeed. It isn’t a hit to my pride to get feedback. Receiving this feedback also helped me gear it towards other customer service workers who aren’t displaying the kind of service I’d show to my customers.

Regardless of your position in this world, customer service can be interchangeable with simply being a good person. Do not be selfish, keep in mind the person’s background, and don’t let your bad day turn someone else’s day sour.

Another short story – something that was a sign to me that I had grown as an individual in a world of adults who still don’t know how to treat people.

It was on a ride, some ride – no need to go into specifics – and my mother began to exhibit signs of claustrophobia. Anyone with a phobia knows that you should treat the situation seriously and with consideration to the individual.

“Ma’am, if we let you off the ride it will take half an hour, we need to shut off the ride, take everyone out of the cart, and call an operator to do this. The ride is one minute, would you rather I inconvenience everyone to get you out?”

No need to fast forward – I was livid.

How could anyone think that was the proper way to treat this conversation? We were customers just like anyone else. God forbid, the claustrophobia was worse than it actually was. Needless to say, I kept a straight face; I did not argue, but I began to form a conversation in my head.

The moment we were off, I ushered my parents to the waiting area and walked up to the beginning of the line to the ride once more. I asked for the manager on duty which surprised the worker. She radioed the man in charge, and he met up with me in no time.

I spoke calmly and professionally. I look young, but I will not act adolescent. This is an adult conversation, and I will treat it as such.

“I just wanted to point out something, but first, I just want you to know I am not here to argue or put you or the rest of your staff in a position that would make things tense. I work in customer service, so I need to point out something that happened in case it happens in the future.”

He responded to my demeanor, did not argue, and acted with respect because I treated him with respect. I’ve handled customers in the past who have argued with me, but I still responded in accordance to how I should have. You can argue with me, but I will not argue with you. As long as you are my customer, I will treat you as such.

Lessons learned from retail surpass your own job; they help you in the real world when others might not even recognize your actions. People are people, and this job helped me learn how people need to be treated.

Take on a retail job once in your life. Trust me – it helps.

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