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On Stephanie Cole's first day at a new job, a stranger puts her mind at ease

Stephanie Cole was a frightened teen on her first day at a new job. When she froze during a transaction, a customer had some kind words for her.
Stephanie Cole
Stephanie Cole was a frightened teen on her first day at a new job. When she froze during a transaction, a customer had some kind words for her.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team, about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

The first day at a new job can be hard. Especially when it's your first job ever, and you're starting during the Christmas rush.

Stephanie Cole's first job as a teenager was in retail, working at a busy department store in 1960s Los Angeles.

"There I was in my black skirt and my white blouse, and ready to go the first day," Cole recalled.

Her training had been quick, and the store was now bustling with people trying to finish their holiday shopping. It wasn't long before a woman walked up to her cash register with a Christmas tree ornament that she wanted to buy. Cole froze.

"All of a sudden, I can't remember anything. I can't remember how to run the cash register. I can't remember anything about the transactions. I am just absolutely frozen and probably very close to tears," she said.

She'd wanted this first job to go well, and it was already going very wrong. But the woman looked at her with a kind expression and said, "It's alright. Take your time. I'm not in a hurry."

Cole felt a sense of relief when she heard those words. "All of a sudden, I could breathe, I could wait till somebody else could help me. It was gonna be okay."

The moment was a small one long ago, but the woman's kindness affected how Cole has interacted with people ever since.

"She gave me that gift without knowing she gave me that gift. And it's lasted all these years," Cole said.

"You know, you encounter somebody who's . . . just having a bad day and things are really, you can tell they're in a bad place, and you can say, 'It's okay. I'm not in a hurry. Take your time.' And it always makes the situation better. Always, always."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Katz
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.