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How Mystery Shopping Changed My Life


Back in 1993 my son and I were driving to school and that’s the last thing I remember that day.

I “woke up” at 4 p.m. and noticed a hospital bracelet on my right arm and sensed something had happened. I was in my own bed, so I was perplexed as to why I had this plastic bracelet on my arm? I called my husband in the room and asked him, “What happened?”

He was upset and said, “You’ve asked me that over and over for hours. You were in a car accident. You hit your head and you have a concussion.”

It finally “stuck” what happened to me. My brain had been jostled about like Jello in a bowl. My daughter came in my room and confirmed what happened. She sat on the bed and tried to explain everything. I asked, “Was it my fault?” She said no. She said a day care bus pulled out in front of me with 22 kids on it. She said all the day care kids went to the hospital along with my son and myself. They closed off the busy road that I had traveled to take my son to school. She told me that the day care bus driver said, “I couldn’t see because of the kids on the seat so I pulled out anyway onto the road” It turns out that she had kids double and tripled-strapped with the seat-belts, when it should have been one seat-belt per child.

I asked my daughter about my son. My daughter said he was in the hospital and my husband would be bringing him home tomorrow.

I was so worried that I called the hospital. My son was very gifted and I worried he had damaged his brain because his head had hit the windshield. I got the nurse on the phone and asked how my son was doing? She laughed and said, “Your son is just fine. He is playing a video game and he is doing great with the game! We gave him some ice cream and he is very happy. He does have stitches in his forehead but he is going to be just fine. How are you doing?” I told her I don’t remember much.

She said the news team was there and you will be on the 6 o’ clock news! I said that I wanted to see that. At 6 p.m. they showed me laying on a stretcher going in the ambulance. It was surreal. To this day I don’t remember anything except that I could hear sirens inside the ambulance and my son saying I was going to be okay. That was it for the entire day. I do not remember anything else and I never will.

I had a concussion and this left me with dizziness and vertigo. To this day, anything moving across my line of sight makes me feel dizzy, like the stock market ticker-tape that runs across the TV screen.

My biggest concern, after finding out my son was okay, was that I had poor memory recollection (still do)  and much later, I discovered my writing seemed “off.”

I loved writing in school and had written some plays and comedy/satire, which my English teacher loved.

I am sure you are wondering how a mystery shopper with a bad memory is able to do this line of work?  By taking lots of notes, and by remembering people’s names by “association,”  or by giving them a famous name, I able to remember them later on in the report.  If the associates name was John, I would say he was John Wayne. If he handed me some apples, I would say, ‘John  Wayne handed me some apples in the produce department.’ It really works for me! As with any deficit of the human senses, we pick up other strengths to compensate for those deficits.

I went through the years accepting that this is how it was going to be. I was going to struggle with memory and my writing was going to be affected. I had to find a way to get through the accident and live a normal life.  I worked in the culinary industry most of my life but then got laid off during the crash of 2008-2009.

Fast-forward to 2011:  I had lost my long term job and was trying to get into something new. To re-invent myself, I initially began doing store demos and then got into merchandising. But one day I saw a mystery shopping article and wondered if that was something I could do, even with my poor memory and shaky writing skills.

The first report I submitted had very little narrative, so that one turned out okay.

But my first month in, I realized I was being critiqued by the editors for something I did not realize I was doing. I was placing the period after a space. Like this space . It was brought to my attention and also my quote marks were not correct. It should have been like this: “correct” but I had it like “ correct .” I also noticed when I typed the letters, they were backwards. I still have this problem. Also, when I am tired, my speech is incorrect, the words come out wrong. I also would say, “Hand me the stock.” when I meant to say, “Hand me the stick.” I always have to check my work for spelling errors and the spell-check feature really comes in handy.

My accident left me with permanent vertigo and my brain sometimes does not “see it” in terms of mistakes with my writing. I looked at old emails that I sent my friend and I had many blunders! I have always loved to write since being a teenager and the accident really messed with my writing ability.

I have come to the conclusion that mystery shopping has actually saved my life. I love what I do.  I am forced every day to write better and better. In this industry, you have to improve your writing and pay attention to what the editors are saying to you. If you don’t, you sink fast.

After the first critique, back in 2011, it really stuck with me about where I was placing the period at the end of the sentence. Then I was critiqued on the quotation marks and a few other things. But each complaint helped me to get better and better.

Another way mystery shopping saved my life is when my beautiful cat passed away after 9 years. I was devastated. She was like my little girl, as my kids were all grown and had their own families. I was deeply depressed. But after 4 days, I decided to do a shop. It helped keep me focused. It forced me to keep my mind busy. The more shops I did, I found the sadness was lessened to some degree. If I did not have the mystery shopping, which was based on heavy-focus and observations, then I would have been left with my own sad  thoughts about how depressed I was, so I needed to do something to keep my mind diverted from that sadness. Mystery shopping filled that role very well.

In closing, mystery shopping helped me to focus more intensely on life. It drastically improved my writing skills. I am forever grateful. It has taught me the fine art of role-play, because we “play a part” every day in what we do. It has taught me about professionalism and fairness. I realized I was dealing with people’s lives. What I said in my reports would impact that employee,  positively or negatively. I wanted to be the perfectionist who was 100% accurate.

I achieved all this through mystery shopping. I also learned to understand what was expected of me and to not take short-cuts. To be 100% accurate in what I was reporting. There were times where my narrative were re-written 5 times by me, because I wanted to make sure everything that I said happened in the way that it did,  in every way possible.

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