Small Life, Slow Life: 49/100 {What it’s really like to work for lululemon.}

Me at headquarters in Vancouver in 2015!

I got a comment yesterday asking me about my job, what a typical day is like at lululemon, and how I knew it was the right career for me.

Well, I can start out by saying that I didn’t know it was the right job for me, at all! I applied at lululemon because I heard that they goal coach their employees instead of teaching them how to sell pants. I’m a real goal-oriented person, so that really attracted me.

But I also got a job at lululemon because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing with my life. It was a year after the big quake had hit Japan and ended my time there, and I’d had two jobs in the interim, but neither was a long term fit. The last one actually ended with me storming out.

All I had going for me is that I knew how I wanted to feel in a job. This sounds like a small thing, but I think it is so crucially important, bit just in work, but in all areas of life. Know how you want to feel first, and then go after the job, the relationship, the apartment, the big move. Anyway, that’s a post for another day.

I knew, from working in a staff room with so many cooperative people in Japan, that I wanted to be part of a team. That was important to me. And I knew that I wanted to feel valued, that I wanted to feel that I was helping people in a healthful way (I also had goals to be a personal trainer at that time), and that I wanted to have fun.

But here’s the big secret about lululemon and me: I actually hated it at first.

Lululemon has a culture of feedback, and they’re not kidding around about that. I really was a poor communicator at the time I got hired. So all of the feedback about all of the things I was doing really felt, well…in my face. I almost dreaded going in each day because I was afraid of the feedback I was going to get.

I also had an ego thing going on. Everyone cleans the store and takes out the trash at lululemon. Even the store manager. And I was telling myself a BS story that went something like: I can’t believe I’m 30 years-old and taking out the trash at my retail job. There was also a lot of I went to Berkeley and I was a teacher in my last career stuff going on in my mind too.

But what I really remember is that everyone I worked with seemed to really love working there. And as smart as I can be, I’m not so deluded that I think I can be the only sane person among twenty-three other people. I figured that whatever they loved so much would ignite the flame for me, eventually.

I’m glad I waited.

Lululemon takes a real interest in their employees on a personal level. In fact, I would say it’s the main interest. My favorite way I’ve ever heard someone else describe it is: “Lululemon is a leadership development company, and we sell stretchy pants to keep the doors open.”

A lot of companies say things in a similar vein, but I found as my time with the company lengthened, that lululemon really walked the walk and stood behind what they promised.

Along the ways, I learned what makes a company culture actually work. Which is, simply put, integrity. From the bottom all the way to the top.

I began to accept the feedback my coworkers gave me. I was able to see that it almost always came from a place of helping, of wanting to make me better. It wasn’t to make me conform, and it was never to make me feel bad. (I still don’t know if I fit in the typical lululemon mold, but my strengths and opportunities have always been embraced for exactly what they are.) I started, slowly, to be able to implement feedback in my communication too. And over a long period of time, I learned to get along better with others.

Lululemon has invested so much money for supplemental trainings and development work, just in me alone, not to mention thousands of others of people who have worked for them. I’ve written about a bunch of the traveling I’ve done with the company in this blog. They’ve flown me to Vancouver, Vegas (twice), and Scottsdale. They’ve sent me to Landmark Forum, the Advanced Course, and Purpose & Practice. I’ve undergone specific trainings for every promotion I’ve gotten, plus content facilitation trainings, leadership development offsites in beautiful places, and lots and lots of goal setting work, most of which has everything to do with me personally and nothing to do with my actual job.

I have also doubled my salary in six years, my bonuses are how I paid our hospital bill to have V, I am allowed to create my perfect schedule to maximize C and I each spending as much time with V as possible, and I get five weeks(!) of paid vacation a year. And obviously there’s the 401k and the discount, and the monthly stipend so that all of my workouts are paid for.

I have grown so much in this time. A store manager role at lululemon is very different from having that role somewhere else. The budget we control, the financial goals we’re responsible for, how much content and trainings we do with our team, how accurately and specifically we need to be able to speak to all aspects of our business, the relationships we are meant to foster in the community and mindful and innovative experiences we are expected to create…I literally can’t imagine getting this kind of experience anywhere else. And I am always learning something new, and always aware of how my own thinking can limit me. It’s a very special, very happy, and sometimes difficult career path with lots of obstacles and growing pains. But the good kind.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m writing an endorsement for lululemon. It is not a perfect company. There are days I get frustrated, absolutely. I have been in my current role for almost five years, even though I’ve been greenlit to move up for the last three years. Working until 10pm every Saturday is not my favorite thing to do (all lululemon employees work closing shifts). Certain ways the SSC (Store Support Center, aka corporate) operates are so different from how we operate at the store level, and that can cause backlogs and difficulties. And it still feels like we’re a very young company sometimes, and just when something is working, it gets changed, and that can be frustrating.

But I work with some of my favorite humans on this Earth, and lululemon still gives me all the feelings I was searching for six years ago. I work with a team I respect, and for a company who not only respects me, but wants me to thrive. And I know that, because they have shown me their commitment to that over and over again. I can not begin to imagine where I would be without the precious experiences and investment lululemon has given me.

Is it like, my forever-forever job? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ll be there when I am sixty. I think writing is my forever-forever job. And the goal of the company has never been to have employees for life (although it certainly has some). It has always been to give employees the tools that they need to elevate others, so they can go give that to other people.

If you are young and goal-oriented, love fitness or fabric, want to work on a team of people who will love you and push you, or if you just love the idea of wearing stretchy pants to work, I would highly, highly recommend applying for a job at lululemon. I think even just a year of working there would be enough to really positively impact your life.

Oddly, now I don’t mind the cleaning or taking out the trash. I take pride in our store, and it’s a nice change to be able to clean up versus doing managerial stuff all the time. On my first day six years ago, I saw my store manager take out the trash, and it always stuck with me. If she’s doing it, I shouldn’t mind doing it. And I don’t mind doing it at all.

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