Climbing New Heights


When I get stuck in my own head and need to decompress, an hour of retail therapy at a local department store works wonders for me. I can wander around and ooh and aah at everything and forget about what was eating away at me in the first place. I can also purchase a few things and not break the bank, which is both a plus and a minus—as all these short, albeit frequent, trips add up.


The best thing about this is that I can be invisible; I can hide among the racks of clothing or bags or housewares, not talk to anyone and get totally lost in the moment.   


The other day I headed out once again to seek refuge at the tried-and-true TJ Maxx. As I planned to enter the parking lot, I made a last-minute adjustment and went to REI instead. I wondered whether this store—for outdoor, recreational equipment—would have the same satisfying effect as TJ Maxx, given it has fewer (and pricier) items. But since all it needed to do was provide the necessary reboot, I figured it was worth a try. I was also looking forward to combing through the clearance rack which I hoped would be filled with big, warm sweatshirts. And the best thing? I had an unused gift card from my generous husband for last year’s birthday.     


As soon as I walked in, I felt pleased with my decision, as I saw lots of rich looking, textured materials that I was eager to explore up close. My first order of business, however, was to finish up a weighty conversation I was having via text so that I could fully enjoy my outing.   


In the process of doing this, I almost collided with a man walking toward me. I was so embarrassed that I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and could have caused an accident of sorts so, rather than finish my text, I tossed my phone in my handbag, zipped it closed, took a deep breath and apologized to the man.


“Don’t worry about it,” he said, introducing himself as Mark the manager. He asked if there’s anything he could help me with. I told him I’m just there to browse, and he told me they put some new signs up to help direct shoppers as to which of their inventory is male or female (for sizing, not sexism) because they received feedback from customers that their clothing was too hard to locate without defined departments.     


I told him I’d never had that issue and that I actually like the men’s sweatshirts and jackets for myself more than the women’s, but it sounds like a sensible idea to streamline the shopping experience when they know what a problem for some could be.


I told him if he sees me wandering around with no direction, I’m not lost or looking for female—or male—clothes but rather just enjoying my afternoon.  


He proceeded to tell me he’s been part of the REI team for about 10 years and it’s still his favorite place to hang out, so he gets that I’d want to spend time doing that also. At this point, I actually forgot that I had wanted to be left alone and found myself asking if he likes working there. He said he loves it; it’s a great combination of helping people find the clothing or equipment they need, meeting new people, and there’s a component of counseling involved too that makes the job even more fulfilling.


Did he say counseling? This part grabbed my attention, given that I’m a wannabe therapist. Maybe I still could be, if I work at REI too. I asked “What do you mean, counseling?” He said that a lot of the customers need encouragement. I asked “about what?” and he said some people need an expert’s advice on a particular sport; others need support to do something important to them.


He shared a story about an experienced hiker who wanted to live out her dream of hiking the Appalachian trail, from Georgia to Maine. She came in to the store several times to make sure she had everything she’d need to be successful, but she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to go the distance and would then feel she had failed.


He explained to her that this dream is attainable, but the trick is to keep saying to herself, “Don’t stop till the top.”


Some months later, if not a year or more, she returned and gave him a great big hug for the encouragement he had given her. She told him that the hike started with several of her friends but she was the only one who was able to complete it.  


Mark was very happy for her and explained to me that outdoor dreams can be very attainable with a good plan, know-how, equipment and, most of all, determination. There are people who can be very specific and accomplished with such dreams whereas in “real life,” dreams may be harder to identify and carry out.


I was so engrossed in each detail of the story. I started to wish I worked at REI and told him so. He suggested I go on to the store’s website and apply! I told him I have no outdoor expertise to offer; I wouldn’t have been able to help the hiker, camper, kayaker, swimmer, cyclist, etc. You name it; these are all things I either can’t do or haven’t done (and don’t care to do). So why would they want to hire me? He said I could take their classes to learn about the sports and equipment, I could help with the register or in the shoe department and so on, even if I don’t have technical knowledge to impart, and I could definitely cheer everyone on in their endeavors. I was thinking I’m far more likely to write about REI (viola!) than work there, but you never know.


He told me that once I apply, I might not hear from REI for a while, because they tend to hire in groups of 10, for training purposes. There’s full- and part-time, all the way down to one or two days a week, and everyone regardless of their hours gets to enjoy team outings and classes and other perks. (Check it out if this would be of interest to you)


I was so rejuvenated talking with Mark, a man who believes in dreams, wants to help people achieve their dreams and who took time to share his philosophy on the role dreams play in everyday living with the crazy lady who almost ran him down in the store.


That was almost a week ago, and I keep replaying the conversation along with what I would have missed had I gone to TJ Maxx instead. While that visit would have been productive in its own right, the conversation with Mark made me realize that although I enjoy my life, I often define a good day by 1 – nothing going wrong and 2 – crossing items off my to-do list. I have been aware for some time now that at just 58 years old, there’s a lot more I should be striving for.  


What if I live as long as my mom? I’d have almost 40 years more! What do I want to do with all that time?


Hiking the Appalachian Trail may not be for me—but that’s someone else’s dream, not mine—not right now, anyway. I am fairly certain that once I get myself in the right mindset, I’ll find a whole world of dreams out there, ripe for the taking.


Surely, I will identify one, or more, just for me.  



Judy grew up in Philadelphia and raised her children in Cherry Hill. She currently writes about life as a 50+ year-young woman in her blog entitled, “Marriage, Divorce and Everything In-Between,” which can be found at For many years, she had been a newspaper reporter and feature writer for local publications while also working for a pediatric practice. She and her husband have been married for 15 years and have five grown children, one “funtastic” grandchild, and one very special doggy. She likes to spend time with friends and family, knit and crochet, stay current with today’s news and—when feeling motivated—go to the gym.