Shopping for Life Advice

Karen Kent

GUEST COLUMN

By Karen Kent

Every parent wants to pass down words of sage advice to their graduating high schoolers. And while I’m currently on my last graduating high schooler, I’m still on the first draft of what to say to my first graduating high schooler. Since he’s 29 now, I’m thinking he lucked out.

Making things more difficult for parents in current times is the stress of having to say something in 280 characters or less, which, coincidentally, is the exact attention span of every person in today’s world. Still, I’m going to be real about this (which is why I don’t tweet … 280 characters? Please.) I mean, all parents rightly say things like, “We’re so proud of you!” “Look at where your hard work has taken you!” “Fill up the car with gas once in a while, won’t you?”

But oddly enough, my words put my graduate in a grocery store. A place in life we are all constantly running in and out of, perhaps in joy over an upcoming holiday, exhaustion after an endless day or panic over a looming North Carolina “blizzard.” A grocery store’s lessons are never-ending. Plus, it’s got coupons.

Five Things You Can Learn About Life From a Grocery Store

1. Don’t be that person in the “12 items or less line” with 25 items. Since you’ve graduated high school, I’m pretty sure you’ve learned to count pretty well. And 20 individual snack bags do not count as one item. Yes, we’re all in a hurry, busy forgetting what the pandemic has taught us about slowing down. Just remember that your “hurry” is no more important than anyone else’s. Unless, eventually, your wife is in labor in the car in the parking lot. Then, why are you at the grocery store anyway?

2. Don’t be that person who finds something on aisle 3 and then decides on aisle 7 you no longer want that item from Aisle 3. And instead of returning it, you leave it there … on aisle 7. Yes, it’s always Aisle 7. Have you ever noticed that? Anyway, I know a faceless “someone” in your mind will eventually put that item away. But your momentary laziness should never make anyone else’s life harder. Yes, “Clean up on Aisle 7” is meant for you, too.

3. Don’t be that person who parks your shopping cart in the middle of the aisle, so you can stroll over, unencumbered by said shopping cart, to another spot in the store to grab something you forgot. I’m not sure if that’s more obnoxious than the person who stands right next to their parked-in-the-middle-of-the-aisle shopping cart as they peruse the shelves. Too close to call. Either way, remember there’s a whole world living and moving around you. So, no matter how focused you are in the spice aisle looking for turmeric, make sure your cart is out of everyone else’s way. You’ll be amazed to discover how that store wasn’t built just for you.

4. Don’t roll your eyes at the crying baby or whiny child in the line in front of you. Because you used to be that crying baby and whiny child. Trust me.

5. Finally, learn to read people. The grocery store is like a library in the middle of life. There are serious characters, as well as cheerful, depressed and grumpy ones. There are easy-going people and the ones who are simply exhausted having just gotten off a 12-hour night shift. Someone there probably has someone they love in the hospital. Someone else’s husband may have just lost his job. So, think of each person at the grocery store as a book. And while I realize you can’t possible “read” every story there, you can skim them. Just look at their faces, especially when the masks finally come off. Assume someone’s impatience is because of their Chapter 17, and someone else’s kindness is because of their Chapter 10.

Everyone’s mind, yours included, will be on their own story, as they search for life’s sustenance inside that very store. But every now and then, try putting your own book down and smiling as you make eye contact with someone while opening a door for them. After all, that’s how best-sellers are written.


Karen Kent, an alumna of UNC-Chapel Hill and owner of Class Half Full Tutoring, enjoys writing in her spare time and the whole college-selection process…only not with her children.

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