By Lisa Sugarman
Like our first kiss, or our first date, or our first time behind the wheel, the day we walked into our first job is a day that’s forever engraved into our memory. We remember that electric, scary, and intimidating feeling of crossing the threshold into that new role and taking on a brand new stage of life—the stage where we become an active contributor, an independent person, a bread winner. (Even if it’s only in the form of crumbs to start.) And it was inspiring.
I remember turning sixteen and walking into the video store where we rented all our movies, sucking in a deep, calming breath, and asking Charlie, the owner, if I could have a job. I was terrified, but the only thing more intense than my terror was my desire to be employed. Needless to say, Charlie said yes.
Because as far back as I can recall, I’ve had this fiery little ball in the pit of my belly that was burning white hot for a job. I remember all the dinners out with my parents at their favorite little bar & grille in town when I used to beg our regular waitress to let me work in the kitchen. (According to my mom, my waitress-nagging started when I was still too short to see over the bar and went on for years.) Poor woman never had a chance.
Eventually, of course, I wore the restaurant staff down and they gave me a little white apron, a broken golf pencil, and a half-empty note pad and told me to stay in the back corner of the kitchen and dry dishes. It was like winning the kid lottery. And for all my hard work and dedication I was given an unlimited supply of dinner rolls and butter. I was in heaven. I was employed. I had made The Big Time.
But, of course, it wasn’t a real job. It was just our waitress’ kind-hearted attempt at humoring me and giving my poor parents five peaceful minutes to finish their chowder. Either way, it marked the beginning for me—the beginning of a career as a productive and independent working woman that continues to this day.
Now I’m telling you this because my youngest daughter, our fifteen year old, just got her first real paying job working in our local candy store. And watching her cycle through the range of emotions that came with heading out the door for her first day of work just brought me right back to my first shift behind the video counter in the early 80s.
It was just so funny watching Libby experience all those things for herself. She went from being elated that she was hired to petrified that she didn’t know the first thing about how to make or sell candy. She wanted so badly to make a great impression on her new boss but was afraid that the fact that she knew nothing about candy besides how to eat it would be a problem. But after a quick reminder that everyone has to start at the beginning with something new, she took her own deep, cleansing breath and stepped through the door.
The truth is, she was being absolutely adorable, wanting to get there early, wanting to wear the right clothes, wanting to do all the right things. And it was her nervousness that made Dave and I realize how much she wanted to be successful at this new job. And that from that point on Libby was going to crush it at any job she ever gets. Because she cares. And although she’s been a babysitter and a junior counselor at a summer camp for years, none of that quite equates to earning a real live paycheck with your name on it. And it’s that desire to work hard and make a good impression and do your best that separates the slackers from the go-getters.
So as you ruminate over your first job, here are five reminders of why our first is so monumental:
- You learned, firsthand, how important it is to have good people skills.
- You developed an immediate sense of responsibility.
- You recognized how critical it is to learn to collaborate with other people and work as part of a team.
- You discovered that you’re going to make mistakes but that’s ok as long as you learn from them.
- You figured out that you have to learn to get along with people you don’t like.
And why our child’s first job is so powerful for us as parents is because the it means that all those single dollar bills, along with the folded-up tens and twenties we shove in the hidden pocket of our wallet, will actually still be there the next time we go looking for them. And that’s life-changing.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.