I prefer to keep to myself. I don’t like to start conversations with strangers. I don’t like people I don’t know learning my name. The thought of interacting with a large number of people actually gives me a stomach ache. So when I got a job at PetSmart, where I actually get paid to do the things that give me anxiety, I wasn’t sure how it would go.
I’ve now been working at PetSmart for three months. I wear a name tag, and have to initiate conversations with strangers every day. I’ve cleaned up dog poop and puke, caught birds (which whoever domesticated birds and thought we should keep them as pets was seriously mistaken), been bitten by hamsters, clawed by cats, and I come home every day smelling like fish tanks and crickets. I’ve been chewed out by customers to my face and over the phone, for several reasons, but mostly for things that are out of my control. The most recent incident that comes to mind involves a fish tank filter cartridge that has been discontinued, meaning it will no longer be offered in our store. We are a smaller PetSmart than most stores, so we have a limit to what products we can sell, but they would still be available at another PetSmart or online. The customer didn’t appreciate this explanation, demanded to speak with a manager, and even after we gave her what we had left of the filter cartridge for free, she continued ranting for thirty minutes about how I don’t care about pets and that when her fish die, it will be my fault… I want a t-shirt that says retail workers are people too, please be nice. But that takes me into a whole other discussion about how we are all people, created by God, let’s be nice to everyone, but I’ll save that for another day.
I’ve learned more about animals and animal care in the last three months than most people will in a lifetime. I didn’t know 90% of a guinea pig’s diet needs to be hay, or that they can’t have exercise wheels or balls like hamsters because of how their spines are formed. I’ve handled and fed snakes, and even though I know their strike is coming for the frozen prey I heated up, that I’m timidly holding with a pair of tongs, I will jump and squeal every time it happens. The other day, I even gave a snake a shot. Believe me, I didn’t volunteer. The managers thought I would be the only one who could handle it (Thank you Animal Science degree). I’ve given ten guinea pigs a bath with Dawn Dish Detergent because a coworker covered them in olive oil. He was supposed to oil the habitat, not the animals… There are a bunch of other little tales I could tell you, but I don’t want to get off track from my point in boring you with all of this.
Even though we are a smaller PetSmart, we still have 68 fish tanks. As you can imagine, that equals a lot of fish. After working there for a couple of weeks, and cleaning approximately sixteen tanks a day, I came home and apologized to my mom for ever having fish. Scrubbing the glass and vacuuming the rocks is a lot of work, and my back and knees are always protesting by the time I finish. Catching fish is also a lot of work, and fish parents are not typically patient, and are picky about how you handle their fish. It’s quite stressful, but the most important lesson I’ve learned working there comes from the fish.
One of my morning tasks is feeding the fish. I quickly memorized which tanks get tropical flakes, which tanks get the algae tablets, who gets the bottom feeder pellets, and who gets the cichlid pellets. I also seem to have mastered how long to soak the goldfish flakes before pouring them into the tank. (I guess that’s another fun fact I’ve learned. Goldfish need their flakes soaked so they drift to the bottom of the tank, so the Goldfish don’t inhale too much air.) The walls of the tanks are all glass, so customers can see the fish, but the fish can also see their friends in neighboring tanks. This is especially entertaining at feeding time, when the fish see the food floating in the tank next door, and go after it, just to miss the food floating in their own tank. The first few times I would laugh, shake my head, and think you stupid fish to myself. Then one day, something occurred to me.
I am a stupid fish.
No, I’m not swimming around in a tank banging in to the glass because I think my food is on the other side, but how often do I look at someone else’s life, and compare? How often do I miss what God is doing in my life because I’m too caught up in what He has done in someone else’s? How often do I question His plan for me because I feel forgotten based on what He’s doing over there?
The answer? Way too often.
One of my biggest flaws is getting caught up in the “could have beens” or the “should have beens,” and even the “what ifs.” I “could have been” a college softball pitcher, had I been a little better or a little braver. I “should have been” eventing at preliminary this year, but my horse got hurt, then had to be retired. “What if” I hadn’t changed my major in college? “What if” I had done this instead of that? I’ve spent a lot of time regretting and doubting, which hasn’t done anything for me but create anger and sadness. I see the successes and joys in the lives of those around me, and find myself questioning what I did wrong to end up here, wondering when it will be my turn to find that happiness and accomplishment.
Now that I’ve gained some perspective from my fish friends, I can see how the pain and disappointment I’ve experienced in the last couple of years have prepared me for where I am now. I don’t have all of the answers. Let me rephrase that. Most days, I don’t feel like I have any of the answers. But I know the God who does, and I know that each day, each event, each step forward or backward, is taking me where He wants me to be.
Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” I can make plans and change them. I can make a decision, but not follow through. I can fail. I can, and will, fail again. I can feel like I’ve made a mistake that has brought me to where I am today. But I can’t change the plan or the purpose God has for me. And at this point in my life, this is the fact that I am clinging to, and finding comfort in.
Of all the jobs and careers I have dreamed of, or thought might interest me, PetSmart never crossed my mind. I’m not sure why I applied, but when the phone interview, in person interview, and job offer all came in a matter of five hours, I felt like it was something I needed to do. I don’t know how long I’ll stay, or where I’ll end up after, but I know I’ve already learned a lesson that I’ll take with me anywhere I go.
Stop looking in the other tanks. You’re missing what’s already in yours.