A Summer Of Dirty Fingernails, Car Grease And Life Lessons

This summer, I worked at O’Reilly Auto Parts. It’s a store similar to Napa, or any other place that sells wiper blades and engines for fixing up our beloved vehicles. My time at O’Reilly was definitely a memorable one. From grease being stuck under my fingernails for days, to being the only female on the staff, it was a very eye-opening experience that has me ecstatic to be back here at Western. 

First, how did I even end up at an auto parts store of all places?

I had received a sales and marketing internship somewhere else. However, it was horrible. I was commuting about two hours in total every single day to said internship, and I was only getting paid off of commission with no additional base pay. I was losing money, which was the opposite of my summer goal. I needed a quick fix; O’Reilly came to my mind because my brother had worked there the summer prior and it was within a ten-minute walk from my house, which meant no more commuting or losing more money! I applied and then was called back instantly for an interview. I was hired on the very same day. 

     Snapchat Photo by Roveena Jassal​

On my first day, I absolutely despised the job. My first task was to put away three carts of stock. Now, there are two types of stock. Basic floor stock: air fresheners, hammers, car seat covers, wax, antifreeze. Then, there’s back stock: the really important and really heavy stuff, like struts, control arms, alternators and calipers. It’s all the stuff that actually makes our cars, well, cars. So, my first day involved a lot of brain power because I had no idea where to put any of these things. It took me about the entirety of my shift: a solid seven hours. 

My manager probably thought I was going to quit, but that doubt pushed me to stay. The next few days were tiring; it was difficult to adjust to working 7-8 hours a day when I would usually be studying or reading webtoons (mainly studying of course) in my cozy dorm. I was on my feet constantly and putting away as much stock as possible when I wasn’t helping customers. I wasn’t fully committed to the job yet, because of the stigma of simply just working at an “auto parts store.” 

This nonchalant attitude of just working and not being fully present began to show. I felt like I was only working just to go home and actually start living. I felt negative and annoyed that I was forcing myself to do something I really didn’t want to do, yet wanted the end results from. I started to look for alternatives and escape routes by checking out SnagAJob, Indeed and other quick fixes during my bathroom breaks. Along with this discomfort, I started to have issues with one of my assistant managers. Being the only girl, I felt like I had to constantly prove myself and be stern, otherwise, I wouldn’t be taken seriously at all. Then, my lunch breaks started to disappear (which is technically illegal by the way!). Next, I was working 8-10 hour days straight. Eventually, I started closing and coming home at around 12:30 AM every night. My two days off a week was cut in half to just one. I was ready to quit. But then came the breakdown, or the epiphany, I shall say. 

I was on FaceTime with my brother and just bawling. I felt disappointed that I couldn’t push myself to keep working. I was hurt that my coworkers didn’t respect me. Then, as I let my tears dry up with a few strands of hair still stuck to my wet cheeks, I realized that my priorities were misconstrued. My mindset was misconstrued. 

The remaining months of summer completely changed me. I no longer focused on the fact that my coworkers didn’t respect me or that I didn’t know anything about cars, so I couldn’t do my job well. I learned how to carry multiple thirty pound boxes and carry out several transactions at once. I focused on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to feel accomplished. I stuck up for myself, demanding lunch breaks and even went on vacation when they said I couldn’t go.

     Oil Filters by Roveena Jassal​

I began to realize that an internship might not necessarily always be more beneficial than a regular ol’ summer job. To me, I viewed O’Reilly as more than something to put on a resume; I started to view my position as being a saleswoman, therapist and telemarketer all in one. I decided that I was going to take advantage of this full-time job, allowing me to create my own customized “internship” experience. I pushed myself to speak fluent Spanish 75% of the time, (Spanish is one of my majors), allowing me to practice my language skills AND sell to more customers. 

I learned how to deal with the customers. I learned how most people are unhappy and can’t be bothered to think because they’re stressed about how to feed their families. I learned to be less sensitive to sarcasm because there are more far more painful things in this world than to be teased by someone you’ve known for a total of eight seconds. Not only did this job help me understand people more, but it helped me in how to deal with them, in how to help them, even if I was just behind a counter, asking if they wanted to buy an extra packet of bulb grease with their brake pads. 

My change in attitude was apparent. Suddenly, the assistant manager that wouldn’t listen to me started to ask me about life advice. Everyone else wanted to talk to me more and more. I had gotten extremely close with one of my coworkers who had been my friend throughout the entire process, and the others now wanted to be just as close. I learned from them too because they were all stressed with worries that I have the luxury of not having. Some of them had families at the age of twenty. Meanwhile, most kids I know at that age are off playing beer pong every weekend. Some of my coworkers wanted to go to school but didn’t have enough money. Some of them were just trying to stay away from gangs that they used to be part of. 

They were all smart; they were smarter than me at times. My stereotypes about intelligence, identity and personal worth were shattered because I realized that everyone has a different lifestyle. I realized that the area I grew up in was quite sheltered and, though I have had painful experiences in life, these people had to endure through much more than me. 

Working at O’Reilly taught me that hard work doesn’t mean just getting good grades or writing as many pages as you can in a day. Rather, hard work is about consistency and commitment. It’s about putting yourself in the real world, regardless of the job. Studying is hard work. Corporate jobs are hard work. Government jobs are hard work. Everything is challenging, but sometimes we forget that because we want to feel accomplished about ourselves, thinking our work is the hardest. 

However, after hearing my coworkers’ stories and realizing that their lives will still be revolved around O’Reilly after I leave, I felt grateful to return back to Western. After having the privilege to experience both the academic and working world, I realize that the stress of deadlines and exams and reading lengthy textbooks is a privilege. The apartment I live in is already paid for. The groceries I have to buy are already paid for. I have no responsibility, other than to take care of myself and cherish the life lessons I learned while working at O’Reilly Auto Parts. 

     Last Day by Roveena Jassal

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