The work experience: In the beginning

49 thoughts on “The work experience: In the beginning”

  1. That’s a fun story Steve! It reminds me of my first job at 15 as well. I was a busboy at a place called Wag’s down in Miami. It was sort of a down-scale Denny’s. It only paid minimum wage, so you had me beat there! You learn a lot from those entry level jobs, that’s for sure.

    #1 – You don’t want to do them very long
    #2 – You don’t wan to end up like the 30 and 40 years olds that are doing the same job as you

    I wondered too how those people ended up working there as adults. One clue, I was offered cocaine on my first day on the job! I politely refused…

    1. Hey Jon – yeah, those first jobs often do teach us what we DON’T want to do and the importance of working hard and smart to find better opportunities for ourselves. And wow, being offered cocaine on the job is definitely something that didn’t happen to me. Good on you for politely declining. 🙂

  2. Man that’s a rough first job. I started out as a swim instructor/lifeguard as a summer camp. The actual job itself was boring. Life guarding is hours of sitting in a chair staring at a pool hoping no one drowns so you don’t have to get up. Swim instruction was a little more interesting but depending on the age of the kids sometimes devolved to baby sitting. Still the life guarding bit was the fun part. At the end of the day cleaning the toilets and at the end of the year taking down camp were the equivalent of your reboxing. Kids do some nasty things with a public restroom. Interestingly enough the oldest workers at the camp were college kids, so no influence on long term career then. My next job was working as a lifeguard for the YMCA. Same issues but then I started to meet the poor individuals that guarded as a career. Seeing someone at 40 dealing with the same crap you are at 17 is a real motivator. I look forward to wednesdays article.

      1. It depends largely on the type of lifeguard. As a summer camp lifeguard I was making about 9 dollars an hour back when minimum wage was somewhere around 6.50 locally. So not great. However a lifeguard at the beach can make 40-60K a year. Then again the stress there is through the roof.

        1. Thanks for the detail, FTF. Still, $2.50 above minimum wage as a teenager isn’t horrible. I can only imagine the stress of being a beach lifeguard – and the training that you need to go through before actually getting placed.

  3. Great story Steve! It’s amazing how tough it is to stand and work for that many hours a day (even as a teenager)! I bussed tables and then waitressed (along with lifeguarding) all through high school and college. It was exhausting carrying trays of dinners – but I could carry twelve plates of food on a tray and not even spill it back then! I was in much better shape, but happy to not have to do that any more too!

    1. Thanks Vicki. Being a server at a restaurant is always something that I’ve been curious about. It can’t be easy dealing with people, either – your tips can sometimes rely on things completely outside of your control. But then again, sometimes you’ll get customers who are understanding to a fault and wouldn’t short your tip even if the restaurant caught on fire. 🙂

    2. I think it took me until this year (3+ years removed from law school) to have a salary that surpassed my average weekend hourly rate working as a server at a very busy restaurant in State College, Pa. Tough work that I’m happy I don’t do today, but wow did I do well on football weekends!

  4. Thanks for sharing the story. I also worked in a grocery store as one of my early jobs. I lucked out and landed a position in produce, which for whatever reason was way better than any other section. Our responsibilities were mainly keeping the fruit and vegetables stacked up nicely and always full with fresh produce. When we had down time, we’d cut up fresh fruit and set it out for the customers to sample. Even as a kid, I was surprised with how effective this strategy can be. If you cut up a pineapple and allow people to taste it, we would easily sell 30% more pineapple that day.

    1. You’re welcome, and thanks for commenting. Actually, the produce and bakery sections did seem to be a little more relaxed or structured. You were still standing on your feet, but your job was relatively straightforward too. And pineapple is by far my favorite fruit. I’d eat that stuff all day, every day. 🙂

  5. My first job (other than paper routes) was working as a clerk at a Target Store. You certainly learn a lot from these jobs and look at us now. I often think they would be shocked to learn that one of those kids saved their money so well that I could retire before I turned 50!

  6. Interesting story, Steve! I had a similar experience which is why I think those early jobs are really valuable, they quickly teach you what you don’t want to do for a living and why it is so important to do well in school so you can get the job/ career you want.

    I worked in a print shop, pretty tough manual labor…and also very boring work. I couldn’t see how that would be appealing for anyone for a long-term job. I toughed it out working part-time to help pay for my college and as soon as I didn’t need it anymore I was gone.

    I look forward to part 2!

  7. I worked in a grocery store one summer, and my least favorite thing about it was the apparent lack of respect between the front-line employees and the company/managers. Little things like that timecard issue drove me mad. They’re really going to make a big deal about paying you an extra 10 cents for a minute of time? (Yes, they really are.) All that stuff just built a mutual disdain; the employer treated people like children, and the employees hated the place for it.

    I never hated working in a service role, and I could laugh at the over-the-top complaining customers — but that condescending treatment never sat well with me, and it was good motivation to keep working toward a better career.

    1. Looks like my experience at Safeway wasn’t all that unique. The store manager, to his credit, was fairly respecting of what we did, but like the assistant manager…that respect wasn’t shared among some of the other managers.

  8. Hahahaha, sounds like a fuuuun time over at the Safeway. I never had a job as a teen, and in many ways that made me unprepared for the professional world. There are a lot of lessons to be learned, *especially* for how to deal with assholes at work.

    1. Oh yeah, much, much fun! I did learn a lot while working there, though. It was my first *real* job. Dealing with assholes was just a single element of what I was taught, but an important one. 🙂

  9. I too worked at Safeway while in high school, I made it about 6 months. It wasn’t my first job, more like the third or fourth. It was a fun experience even in the cold and snowy Utah winters, i guess i liked the fact that it was different than the restaurant jobs I had prior.

    1. Hey Troy – I guess that it can be fun because you get to do different things. For me, it was mainly the standing part and the fact that my feet just couldn’t take it. Working in restaurants is the same deal, I bet. I probably couldn’t do that, either!

  10. Good story Steve! I think we all had jobs like this growing up. We learned what kind of jobs we *didn’t* like.

    For me, it was working in a restaurant kitchen. Total grunt work, and on your feet for 8 hours a day. Full-on hustle the full 8 hours. Extremely tiring for little pay.

    It’s probably jobs like this that set me on the path to Financial Independence.

    1. Thanks Mr. Tako. I think you’re right that getting exposed to grunt work can spur on additional motivation to find something better. It certainly did for me.

  11. My first job was as a lackey at a pizzeria. Making sandwich starts, pizza dough, and sauce. Chopping vegetables (ever chopped an entire 25 lb bag of onions?)

    Had a great time with most of my co-workers, earned very little money, and learned all about the evils of taxation. 2 years earned enough money to cover half of my first quarter of my first year of college.


    1. Wow, I have never chopped a 25lb bag of onions! I do love onions, but I’m sure that I’d get just a little tired of that in short order. And oh yes, the evils of taxation. Don’t even get me started. 🙂

  12. I don’t think I’ve ever hard a job this hard (in terms of physical labour and pain) in my life. I like your point about knowing, just knowing, that your life had to be about more than that job, that you couldn’t do that job for the rest of your life. That must have been motivating – you would do what it took to get out of there. That is a valuable lesson for a kid to learn.

    1. It was motivating…though I didn’t exactly know it at the time. All I knew was that I was a high school student that went to school for 7 hours a day, then for another three school days, I’d put in another 5 hours at work, then work AT LEAST another day over the weekend…all the while coming home every day with my feet aching. Yeah, I was determined to find something different! 🙂

  13. It’s the teenage jobs that turn us into what we become! At 15, I had a paper route and worked at an ice cream counter in a local restaurant. Good memories of hard work for low pay, but the work ethic remained, and let me into a successful business career. I look forward to Part two!!

    1. Thanks Fritz. I think you’re right – our experiences working as a high school student definitely shape how we think about work today…and some of the choices that we made in a previous life to help prevent us from turning our high school jobs into…well, careers!

  14. Ha, fun reading!
    It is funny as we think back to jobs we used to do. As a student. I used to work(24 hrs on, 48 hrs off) on a ship that sailed between Scotland and Ireland. One lesson I learned quickly was to never go to work on a ship with a raging hangover. Especially foolish when seas are stormy and they often were on that route especially in late summer/early autumn. Beer plus headache plus nausea plus high seas = disaster…….!! amazing how quickly humans can learn…..

    1. Ha! I can only imagine the pain of swaying back and forth with a bad hangover. *shivers* I don’t drink all that heavily, so it doesn’t take much for me to get a hangover!

  15. Great story! That’s some very powerful motivation seeing people much older than you still working that crappy job. Looking forward to Part II. My dad owned a small business where I would work doing a number of things when I was young. The thing I hated most that he had me do was making cold calls at office parks and surrounding places to try to drum up business. It takes a special personal to enjoy and thrive in sales. Looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

    1. Oh my, the cold calls. Yeah, that is definitely something that I could not do. I hate the phone in general anyway, but add in the element that people probably don’t even want to talk with you in the first place, it makes the torture that much worse!

  16. It’s fun to hear your early work experience! My early jobs where all ones where I couldn’t go to the bathroom when I needed to — LOL! I was a lifeguard (can’t leave the pool unattended!), a dorm security guard (can’t leave the door unattended!) and later rode on an ambulance (no bathroom on board!). And that secured it for me: I only want a job where I can go to the bathroom whenever I need to! Hahaha (Of course, saying that, I’m currently stuck on a plane with the seatbelt sign on, so everything has come full circle.) 😉

    1. Ha! That’s funny, but I also sympathize. I have a micro bladder myself…so not being able to go to the bathroom would certainly make me a very upset little worker. And an uncomfortable one to boot! 😉

  17. My first job was at a fast food place and the interview consisted of:
    Them: “Do you have a car?” Me: “Yep” Them: “Someone gives you a 5 and their bill is $3.67. What is their change?” Me: Puzzled look, “Um, $1.33” Evidently, they loved I could do math in my head quickly. Seriously… I lasted about 8 months before I quit and started bagging groceries at Kroger. That only lasted through the holidays. I too was surprised by the lifers working there. One cashier had worked there for 20 years at that point. 20 years….

    Those jobs and the other jobs I had like lawn boy/boat washer/general lackey for a boat dealer, and the loads of restaurant work, kitchen and front of the house showed me I want to do something different than that. Although I would have gone to culinary school if my brother hadn’t beaten me to it. I don’t want to compete with him at a career, no thanks.

    I realized this past weekend though, that the longest stretch of time I’ve ever spent at any one job was 7 years at a restaurant. The same restaurant. All my other jobs have only been 6 years at one place tops, and I don’t plan on being at this one for another 4.5 years.

    1. Wow, they actually asked you a math question! Actually, that kind of impresses me. If you can do quick math in your head, then you aren’t a complete idiot.

      Like you, I tended to move around quite a bit in my career. For me, that’s how I learned…getting exposed to new ways of doing business, new projects, new management, new customers. It definitely kept me learning along the way.

  18. My first W2 job was at an RV campground. I loved it (mainly my friends and the work) and hated the manager. He was a mean, old, scabby, chain-smoker. He had a thick southern accent and I could barely understand him. We butted heads constantly since the owner loved me and he didn’t care for the 16 year old kid getting special treatment. I stayed there for 5 years and learned a ton about maintenance work, camping, RVs, customer service, and hard work. Even though some times were tough I wouldn’t change it for anything.

    1. Good attitude to have, Fervent. We do tend to learn a lot from our first jobs…both things that we enjoy doing as well as the stuff we don’t. And a little work ethic along the way, me thinks.

  19. I worked a variety of minimum wage jobs throughout high school and early college, and one of these jobs was at a grocery store for a summer. It was easily the worst summer of my wife, 40 hour weeks with all the horrible things you described. I was nodding all throughout reading your post, because everything rings so true and takes me back to that horrible summer. It felt like all I would do was wake up, go to a job I hated, come home and go to sleep. I had always known that I wanted to go to college, work hard, and get a “good job” and working at the grocery store showed me the exact reason why I wanted to avoid the fate of working minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life. Now I look back at those minimum wage jobs and it makes me thankful for how far I’ve come and it motivates me to keep pursuing bigger and better things in my life.

    1. Wow, sounds like a pretty horrifying experience at that grocery store! But yup, I think we both definitely learned from working this kind of job that finding something better and getting a good degree is a *requirement* to help avoid the possibility that we’ll ever have to do this again. 🙂

  20. Great story Steve! I always love hearing about people’s first jobs.

    My first job was a cashier at a major drug store chain. I totally remember so many details (both good and bad).

    Like you, I didn’t like some parts of the job….mainly standing around all day haha. I stayed there for a little over a year.

    While I wouldn’t do it over again, it was a great experience, because it taught me what hard work is and what I didn’t want to do when I was 30+!

  21. Great read Steve!
    My early career shares some similarities with yours. I got a job to have more money and freedom as soon as I could. I started at 16 for Swiss Chalet as a dish washer. It paid $6.81 per hour and was awful to say the least. I worked there for 3 months and then managed to get a warehouse job for Canadian Tire. After a few more of these type of jobs I got into sales too.

    I also strongly agree with what you said about always remembering to stock the shelves properly to this day. I feel the same way about customer service. I think everyone needs to work in customer service so they learn how to treat people. Working in retail sales or in a call centre is challenging.

    Great post though. It really got me thinking about my early career. I’m looking forward to reading part two now.

    1. I wonder how different our world would be if everyone had worked in customer service for some point in their lives. It wouldn’t solve everything, of course, but I’d be that we’d generally be a kinder, more friendly society!

  22. Love your blog post. I started my first job as a cashier at the local grocery store too.

    While the people I worked with weren’t necessary mean or anything, but I truly understood what it meant to have a job. It meant having to deal with difficult customers and enduring excruciating pain on my feet on a 7-hour shift for minimum wage. It was also then that I appreciated the freedom that money can buy.

    Yes, it all started with that first job…..

    1. Amen to that, Living Free. I think it started with that job as well. Although I definitely wasn’t focused on early retirement at the time, I certainly knew what I didn’t want to end up doing for my career! 🙂

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