[I intended to write this post about a week ago, and then got distracted by all things motorcycle.]
Someone on the web suggested that a good way to mark Labor Day was to think through the first jobs you had, and what they taught you in life. So, here goes…
My first “job” was as a paper route carrier at the ripe age of 9 1/2. I may have needed my folks to ask special permission, since I was so young. Each Wednesday and Saturday, one of them would drive me around to deliver my 40-80 subscriber route (varying routes over time). I got my first checking account and learned to balance my checkbook to be able to pay my district manager; I earned a life-long habit of calling folks “ma’am” and “sir” that gets me in trouble today, but got me lots of tips then; and I got my first taste of sales as I’d go door-to-door trying to convince folks to join my paper’s subscriber list so I’d earn extra money on my route or prizes from the district. Being a young kid did not protect me from rudeness from folks who really didn’t want to talk with me. I learned to not take it personally, as well as a certain amount of empathy for sales folks as they knock on my door now-a-days.
I had a paper route until at least 14, which was the earliest my state would grant a work permit for kids. The local hardware store hired me on as a cashier. I was decently good at it – kept a good attitude with customers, and liked getting customers through my line quickly. It became my own personal competition – could I remember that scan code? Could I hit the keys quickly on the keyboard without making any errors? And, of course, there’s the challenge of making sure the till at the end of night all evens out. Some of my coworkers weren’t as motivated, as one would expect in a place that pays minimum wage and hired teenagers for whom this money was spending money, not living-on money. But I was making better money than I did on my paper route, and hey, if I was going to be there, I decided I’d rather be busy and productive.
I had a few more jobs as a teenager- fast food convinced me that I needed to make sure I found a better career. Long hours on my feet, customers who definitely didn’t respect you, and the occasional filthy bathroom duty. Did I mention the customers not respecting us? I think a few went out of their way to make the nastiest messes they could in the bathroom, just to imagine us having to deal with it. Other retail gigs were painfully interesting in the Christmas rush season (lines to where?!!!) but also put more pain in my feet and less money in my pocket than I was willing to consider dealing with long-term.
I haven’t yet decided how strongly to encourage my kids to get jobs when they’re old enough. The jobs I did as a teen kept me from things like sports or clubs that I also see as valuable. In hindsight, the small money I made wasn’t actually going to cover my college costs, even though my folks’ rule was that I had to save 50% of everything I made. Thankfully, I earned scholarships to put me through, as my folks were upfront that they weren’t going to pay for school, and I don’t remember having any large stockpile set aside from my jobs. The big highly valuable life lesson jobs gave me was a sense of what things cost. Nothing like comparing my car payment to the number of hours I’d need to spend flipping burgers to earn it!