Do you remember your first job? Of course you do. That’s like asking if you remember your first kiss.
Your first job is a part of who you are, and if you were good at it, it gave you a sense of confidence that stayed with you all the way to where you are today, no matter how far back in time that may be.
I was prompted to think about my first job, and to ask the women on “A Woman’s View” to share stories of their first jobs, after reading of the summer jobs initiative the White House announced recently, which was not without some controversy. I don’t bring up the program to debate its merits (or lack thereof) but to take you back in your mind to the summer (or whatever season) of your first job.
“I was a proofreader at a small town newspaper after school when I was 13,” former radio announcer and current author and stress management expert Angel Shannon shared. “My parents knew the editor. At the time, I was just making money for a new pair of shoes, but now I see the silver thread all the way to the present. I am a writer now and a public speaker. It adds to the beauty of now.”
Yes. All roads lead to here, to this precious present.
“I worked at the Golden Swirl,” Clair Mellenthin, LCSW and director of child and adolescent services at Wasatch Family Therapy, said with a giggle. “I have always had a job from 15 on,” she added proudly. “I’m so grateful to my parents for instilling that work ethic in me. ‘I can do this.’ Unfortunately we have a generation coming up that is so entitled.”
“They grunt at you,” Angel injected.
“But if they had to work,” Clair continued, “they’d have to stop texting. I’ve had clients who have wanted to text me how they feel, and I’ve said, ‘No. You have to actually come in and talk to me.’ How many young people have never worked, never had an internship, never known the feeling of work?”
She’s on to something there. The job itself may be almost irrelevant. It’s the feeling of work, of a job well done, that is key.
But wait. I had a third guest.
“My first job was at Expresso and Yogurt, which was no Golden Swirl,” author Sheralyn Pratt laughed at herself. “From 15 on I was working. I remember, and I don’t drink coffee myself, that’s just how I roll, but I was really good at making it. I would have truckers who would come with their huge rigs and take up the whole parking lot and ask for me for these 10-shot mochas. When you learn to do something well, you have pride, and you want to do other things well.”
Exactly. That’s the magic.
My first job was as a waitress at a little diner right off I-80 in Pennsylvania called Kemler’s Restaurant that you could have fairly called a truck stop, although a lot of families ate there, too. It had eight booths that lined the outside walls and four tables in the middle, plus four seats at the counter. There were pies in a glass case that we would take out and cut pieces from on demand. And there were endless pots of coffee.
We served a lot of opened-faced roast beef sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy at Kemler’s, and I learned to carry four plates of them on one arm, a feat I consider to this day to be one of my top five skills.
I learned to say “yes” to almost everything asked of me at my first job before I was sure of my ability to perform the task. “Can you pick up a shift on Saturday, Amanda?” “Yes.”
I learned that age-old truism that the customer is always right, and that my most important customers were my bosses, the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kemler.
I learned to smile while I worked, which wasn’t hard, because even though I grumbled a little about going to work, once I got there and got into the groove of it, I genuinely enjoyed serving people.
And I learned that, if I could learn to cut a piece of lemon meringue pie while it was still warm and make it look like a triangle, there must other things I could do that I hadn’t tried yet.
I don’t care about the politics of this jobs program. I care about young people having the chance to feel good about themselves and their skills. I want them to surprise themselves with their competence, their customer service. And when the paycheck comes, I want them to feel the sense of joy in spending their own money that spending mom and dad’s money can never bring.
So, would you like fries with that? Yes, I would. Thank you so much for asking.