The Highs and Horrors of First Jobs

Many of my friends have teenage kids and it has been amusing picnic table talk to trade stories over the past few summers about the trials and tribulations of our protégé’s first-ever jobs.  I am not talking about the dog walking, babysitting, lemonade stand first-ever jobs.  I am referring to the fill-out a W-2, clock-in/clock-out, negotiate a schedule, have a boss who-can-fire-you kind of job.  

While my older daughter has been working the summer and part-time job circuit for a few years, for the younger one – this is all new.  Like all rites of passage, first-ever jobs and part-time employment has its ups and downs. As a parent, I’ve experienced pride, occasional pain and a fair share of amusement watching my kids navigate the waters of the paid world of work.  

My teens come home fresh with tales of work unsullied by general life cynicism and years filled with a variety of great & terrible job experiences.  Turns out – in addition to providing fodder for idle parental chatter – this fresh perspective on the world of work provides a number of insightful nuggets.  

  • Paychecks are a cause for celebration: Most of us likely do not take our pay-checks for granted.  But – how often do you pause for a moment and relish it?  When that very first paycheck for that very first job was deposited into each of my daughters’ bank accounts – it produced a physical adrenalin high.  It was a tangible reflection of a job completed; it indicated that their time and abilities were valued.  And – as payday followed payday and bank accounts got a little bigger – it provided for my fortunate girls (who do not need to contribute to the family finances) an opportunity to start imagining all the things that money can buy.  
  • Work, in large part, is about the people you are surrounded by: Managers, co-workers, customers – they can make or break a job.  My daughters are learning who they can depend on and how to deal with people who have the potential to make them miserable.  The attitude they bring to every interaction can help or hurt (listening closely and some sense of humor can go a long way).  Friendship & support given to and received from co-workers can be irreplaceable.
  • Anyone can be a leader – even the lowest of the low:  As the youngest staff member in a lowly office job, my daughter is certainly at the bottom rung of the ladder at her camp.  But – when she saw and was impacted by a policy change that she felt was unfair and inappropriate – she chose to advocate for herself and other staff members.  First, she took the time to think through what she wanted to say and what outcome she was looking for.  She came up with rational points supported by facts layered with a few emotional pleas. She practiced what she wanted to say and she levered the solid relationship she had built with her boss to discuss her concerns and possible solutions.  Ultimately, an adjustment to the new policy was made that was more palatable for the staff (and my daughter).
  • Take-on what intimidates you – you may actually like it: When it comes to interacting with people, particularly people they don’t know – using the telephone is by far the most distasteful option for my kids.  When I pointed out to my daughter (minutes before her first hour on the job) that since she was working in an office she most likely would be answering phones, she was horrified.  Turns-out, with a little training, stepping outside of her comfort zone to answer phones is now one of her favorite parts of a job that can be pretty mundane overall.
  • Sometimes, even in the best sounding jobs, there are dead fish: My older daughter’s first job was as a lifeguard at a beach on a beautiful stretch of the Hudson River.  For those of us caught inside working during the summer, this sounds pretty wonderful.  Yes – lifeguarding is a serious responsibility.   But – it also comes with sitting high on a lifeguard chair twirling a whistle while catching some rays.  It also included cleaning the bathrooms, raking the beach and removing the occasional dead fish that washed-up on shore overnight.  No matter how much one may love their job – there likely will be a dead fish or two to deal with.

As a new entrepreneur, I am experiencing every day highs (those first paying clients!) and lows (no one responded to my last marketing push).  It’s a good reminder to see how the learnings of first jobs still apply to my work today. 

How do these insights resonate with you?  Are they still relevant 5 years into your career, 15 years in, 30??  What changes can you consider to bring some of these perspectives back into your job today?

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