Flipping the Switch


I should have known Menards wouldn’t be a good fit when I used to only help my dad with house construction when I could wear the cool glasses.

Everyone struggles at their first job. This is just a rule of the universe. Now, things get a little more fun when your first job is at a place with a man-to-woman ratio of 9:1 as a 16-year-old girl and when you’re assigned to work in the electrical department when you’ve never changed a light bulb.
If you haven’t figured it out, my first job was at Menards. And if you know me or have had a single conversation with me, you’re probably asking yourself why I would choose Menards as my first job or as my job at any point in my life. I have three reasons for you.
1. My older sister Anna worked at Menards in the hardware department and was not only exceptionally good at her job but also enjoyed it.
2. At the time, Menards was offering a two-to-three-dollar hourly bonus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. I didn’t think I’d have to see anyone I knew from Stoughton.
With these three reasons in mind, I applied to Menards in Monona in the summer of 2021.
For my interview, I sat in a lawn chair that was for sale in the middle of the store. I got hired on the spot and got my Menards apron with my very own name tag that said “Lauren” at the top and “Save big money” at the bottom.
I came in for my first day of work on a Wednesday afternoon with my hair in an intricate braid, jewelry dotting my ears, neck, and fingers, and a baby pink mask matching my acrylic nails.
I nervously walked up to a worker in my department and introduced myself with a big smile on my face.
“Hi, I’m Lauren. Today’s my first day,” I said
“Hi, Lauren. Let’s get you started on something. There’s not much to do right now, so why don’t I show you the break room, and you can clean the microwave,” he said.
So I cleaned the mysterious red sauces out of the microwave and then dusted the products and lights in all 16 isles of the electric department.
For the next two weeks, I worked on memorizing where products belonged, how to use the work iPad, and how to not fall off the ten-foot tall ladder when stocking or unstocking products.
Although, the best skill I mastered during that time was responding to customers with the phrase, “Sorry, I don’t know. I just started working here but can get another worker to help you.”
I didn’t say that because I was lazy; I just had no idea what I was doing and wanted to learn.
I remember on the second day of work, I asked a coworker of mine who seemed to know everything how long it took him to get to that level of familiarity. He said two weeks. I just stood there, smiled, nodded my head, and thought how it would take me two years.
I was often hard on myself initially because I told myself that if I was just smart enough, I could skip the uncomfortable and unknowing stage of starting a job. I expected myself to be at the level of employees with a construction background or who had worked at Menards for several years.
Then one day, the switch just flipped in my head.
I had been working at Menards for about two months now, and a middle-aged man came up to me and asked a question.
He said, “I’m doing construction in my house, and I have a ten-foot-long raceway. What conductor do I need?”
I stood there and blinked and blinked some more. I was used to people asking me what aisle the fire alarms were in or the difference between a soft light and a daylight light bulb—which I was great at helping with, by the way.
I told him I didn’t know, and he asked me how I could not know. Part of me felt like such an imposter because he was right. How could I have this job and not know these things? But this other part of me said, Hey, cut yourself some slack; you never were trained to know these things.
I then almost broke out laughing because I saw my reflection in a glass window and thought, this man is coming up to a little 16-year-old girl at a place that will essentially hire anyone breathing and is getting mad when she doesn’t know precisely how to fulfill his needs.
I’ll agree, he had the right to get annoyed because he gave me the chance to help him, and instead, I proved every female stereotype true. This usually would have been added to my mental list of reasons why I’m not enough, but instead, I decided to be kinder to myself.
I realized that everyone has their talents and that electrical work was just not mine, and that this was okay. In fact, for the most part, I was very good at my job. I showed up ten minutes early to every shift, did what I was told, and never complained, and I could tell my coworkers appreciated me just as I appreciated them.
I stayed at Menards for about six months before quitting. In those six months, I learned a lot, and not just about circuits and copper wire. I learned that no one knows what they are doing until they do. I learned that just because you don’t think you belong, does not mean other people think the same way. In fact, they may just come up to you and think you seem to have all the answers to their questions.
I am forever grateful for my time at Menards because it forced me to work through uncomfortable and nerve-wracking situations, making me a more confident and self-assured person today.
Most importantly, I learned that there is no guilt or shame in saying, “I don’t know. Let me ask.” Because at least you are trying. All you can do in life is show up and try.