Today I ventured into Home Depot with my kids… not a very anxiety inducing experience unless of course, I’m looking for anything that isn’t paint, garden supplies, or a drawer pull. Today, it was pipe fittings in my cross hairs.
I’ve purchased other out of my comfort zone items previously from Home Depot, usually for different home decor projects but sometimes on an errand for my husband. Each time I walk in with trepidation that I’ll somehow be belittled and scoffed at when my little female peabrain can’t find some obvious piece of hardware that any typical and could find.
I walked in a little nervous about whether or not I knew what I was looking for, and if I’d be confronted by an employee in an effort to assist me in my project. My plan is usually to keep my head down, pretend I know what I’m doing, and not to look around too much.
Often I’m left alone, but sometimes I get the old scruffy white guy who looks at me with a twinge of pity in his eyes and a chuckle under his breath as he graciously shows me what I’m looking for. And, me being no kind of boat rocker, accept the condescension soaked help with a smile and a thank you.
This time I had walked in with kids in tow to look for pipe fittings for a desk I’m constructing. I figured since most people looking for pipe fittings are plumbers, contractors, or handymen, I would stick out a bit rummaging through bins of flanges and elbows.
And… I was right. I stuck out like a sore thumb, and within five minutes of my perusing, an older male attendant asked if I needed any help. I had prepared myself for this, since that’s what good, helpful Home Depot employees do. I also prepared to be examined and patronized. So when the old white guy shuffled up, I took a deep breath and put my game face on.
First thing he said was, “You find what you was lookin’ for? You’ve been staring at that sketch for quite sometime now.” I thought, oh here we go, now I’m going to have to show him my sketch and he’s going to look at me with that “oh you dear little woman you.”
But to my surprise he didn’t . He looked at my sketch and said, Okay let’s see what we got. And he went right to work finding what I needed like pipe fittings were meant to be used as furniture… like duh that’s what plumbing is for!
And when I noticed a hiccup with my design, he promptly suggested a fix to me, without assuming that he’d have to explain it to me like I was a five year old. It was an amazing experience. And as quickly as he helped me, he was off to help someone else.
Almost as much as I appreciated him treating me with seriousness and courtesy, I appreciated that within thirty seconds of talking with him I no longer felt like I was a woman out of place being spoken to like a little girl by an old white man who knows I don’t belong. Instead, I felt like I was just another DIY’er being helped by a peer.
I had completely prejudged this man by assuming he was going to prejudge me. I had allowed my past experiences to dictate my expectations of my interactions with him.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always walk around thinking old white men look at me like I’m stupid. But I find plenty of moments where I feel like a woman in a man’s world. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think so.
Either way, I’m thankful for my experience today. I may always feel anxious at the home improvement store, for fear of feeling judgement. But, I never have to assume that’s actually how my experience is going to end up.