Did you have a job when you were younger? Of course you did – we all pretty much had to! How else were you going to fill your gas tank, be able to take your date to the movies, or hang out with our friends? (Unless you were one of those kids with the rich parents ….)
What do you remember the most about working as a teen? The crappy hours? The repulsive tasks that no one else wanted to do? The impossible and un-pleaseable customers? Working ALL week long to make a few hundred dollars?
One of my first jobs ever was working in a restaurant. I started off as a bus-boy running lighting speed from table to table, clearing and cleaning it so that the customers could get seated faster. After a few years I worked my way up to take-out and eventually became a full server.
Some people may look back on their first job and lament it as slave labor. But in the four years that I worked for this restaurant, there were things I was picking up on and learning that college would have never prepared me for. It was a training ground for developing traits that would later prepare me for things to come throughout my professional career.
To illustrate my argument, I present to you my list of lessons that I learned from my early days of employment that I still carry with me today:
1. You have to show up to work on time. I can’t tell you how many people got fired for simply not coming to work. Unfortunately even as an adult, I still see people making this fatal mistake. It’s just part of that fundamental employer / employee agreement that you’ve got to come to work if you want to get paid.
2. No one likes a smart ass. Especially not your boss! Watch what you say and who you say it to.
3. All jobs are what you make of them. A job is a job is a job. As long as you’re an employee, you’ve got tasks to do that you’re not going to like. How you approach these tasks and your attitude will determine how much fun you have with them. I learned very quickly that making my coworkers laugh and using our shifts to get to know each other made the time pass a lot quicker and have a lot more meaning later on.
4. The customer is always right, even if they are wrong. One of the great lessons you learn in customer service is that your managers will ALWAYS side with the customer – no matter what! Why? Because the customer ultimately pays the bills, not you! The sooner you get with the program on this fact, the easier your life becomes.
5. Talking to complete strangers is great practice. I was painfully shy when I started my first job. But after I while I realized that with the thousands of customers I say each year, why not practice starting conversations and getting to know people? If you blew it, chances were that you were never going to see this person ever again! What a great way to practice!
6. You will have to deal with co-workers. You don’t get to pick who you work with. All you can do is deal with it, figure out how to get others to like you, and avoid those in the tar trap.
7. Avoid the tar trap. Who is the tar trap? That one employee (or group of employees) that are toxic – always complaining, always in trouble, “this close” to being fired, etc. Learning to not get associated with them is essential to your survival at the job.
8. It’s only a matter of time before you’ll change co-workers. Don’t like your co-workers? Stick it out. Turnover is usually pretty high, so if you just wait, they’ll be gone. Even when you grow up, the same thing happens when your coworkers go on to get promotions, work in different departments, transfer to different facilities, etc. Just give it time.
9. Learn what makes your boss happy. Your boss is human like you. The sooner you learn what makes them tick and what it takes to impress them, the better your job (and life) will be.
10. Learn what “not” to do from your boss. Some bosses make the mistake of assigning disproportionate work loads, showing favoritism, being generally cranky, etc. If you don’t like these things, remember how you felt about them and don’t do them when you’re the boss someday.
11. Stay ahead of the curve. It’s not hard to excel beyond your coworkers. As long as you’re ahead of the curve by being a better worker than more than half of your crew, you’ll still stand out as a great employee.
12. Multi-Tasking is the Only Way. How does one stay ahead of the curve and excel beyond their coworkers? Learning to multitask is the only way you’ll get things done and stand out among others. You’d be surprised at how many people CAN’T do this.
13. Some days will suck really, really bad. Sometimes no matter what you do, your day is just going to be terrible. It might be because of a customer, coworker, your boss. But it’s okay. Tomorrow is always a new day and a new start.
14. Change will happen no matter what. Nothing is ever going to stay exactly the same. Embrace this fact and you’ll be much better prepared for the unknown.
15. Those in general labor jobs work harder than you can imagine. Every time I go out to eat and I see those servers busting their butt, I’m reminded of how hard I use to work to make $100 in a night. Never forget what that was like. And always remember to have respect for those who are still in these positions (no matter what the reason may be).
16. The more you use your mind, the less you’ll have to labor. When I moved from being a bus-boy to a server, the job was so much different. I made a lot more money, but I was now using more of my brain than I use to. Now as a working professional, this same trend has continued to many times beyond what I was paid as a server. But my specialized knowledge has also developed many times beyond what it used to be. Don’t underestimate the value of having a specialized skill or talent.
17. If you fail, this is what you’ll come back to. If nothing else, let your experience of having a minimum wage job serve as a reminder that this is what you’ll have to come crawling back to if you fail in your professional career. Let that light a fire under you and be your motivation to give it all you’ve got!
Readers: What did you learn from your first job or working as a teenager? Did you think it was a big waste of time, or did it give you an edge in valuable life lessons? How do you feel this developed the person you are today in your professional career?
Photo Credit: “Night Gig” by Emilio Labrador on Flickr