Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Lessons learned from my first job

What I learned from my first jobs

A few weeks ago, the talented people at TheLadders asked me to share my experiences at my first job, which I gladly accepted because I think a lot of us can relate to the struggle of bad first jobs and finding a job after college. TheLadders is a comprehensive career platform that helps make your job search simple, focused and effective. Now for my first job story...

I was 16 when I got my first “real” job as a waitress at a small diner in my hometown. The job market was pretty slim for teens where I’m from — I refused to work at Fareway because that’s where most of my high school worked, and I didn't want to drive half an hour to the nearest mall to work in retail, so that left waitressing.

It was a terrible job. The pay was lousy, the tips were sometimes nonexistent and the customers were a mix of creepy old men and families with bratty kids. Not to mention the fact that I reeked of fryer grease and cheeseballs when I came home every night.

I remember deciding to get a job after my parents told me they would no longer fund my shopping habit. (In case you haven’t noticed by now, I kind of really like clothes.) While I wasn’t happy about it then, I’m so grateful to my parents for pushing me into that responsibility. They didn’t force me to get a job — they just made it clear that they weren’t going to pay for all the "extras" anymore. Which, I can see now, was the right move for both of us. I firmly believe that teens should get jobs, because it’s important to develop a strong work ethic and learn about managing finances from an early age.

My first job taught me two important things that I’ve carried with me ever since: 1) Making money doesn’t mean having money unless you know how to save it, and 2) I never want to settle for a job that requires less than I’m capable of and doesn’t make me happy.

Let’s start with the first one. Yes, I was bringing home paychecks every other week and tips every night I worked, but did I leave high school with a well-endowed college fund? Nope. I do remember going to the mall with my friends on a fairly regular basis though. As soon as I saw the tuition numbers and filled out loan applications for college, I regretted all of those shopping trips. Why did I work such a crappy job for so long and have practically nothing in the bank to show for it?

Now, I don’t want to throw my parents under the bus here, but in my defense, they didn’t exactly teach me to save. We never really had a conversation about money, saving or the future that I can recall, and I definitely wish we would have. Although, in their defense, it probably wouldn’t have stopped me from making most of those shopping trips.

And now for the second lesson from my first job. I was miserable at that job. I served greasy food to rude people and often got only change for tips — seriously, some customers would leave only 10 cents — 10 CENTS — as a tip. I basically worked at a 1950s diner in a 2000s economy. My co-workers were a mix of classmates and older women who had been working there for decades. Everyone gossiped and complained about each other behind their backs. 

Another one of my favorite stories: I had been waiting on a grumpy old man but was very busy with other customers, so another waitress took one of my plates around to my customers, not know who ordered it. The grumpy old man took a chicken wing off the plate (that he didn’t order) and when the waitress told me, I added it to his check. When it came time for him to pay, he became angry that I charged him for this chicken that “he didn’t order.” I calmly told the man that he ate the chicken, so he had to pay for it. He proceeded to yell profanities at me and then threw the rest of the money he was arguing about at me — it was one nickel.

I promised myself that I would never settle for a job I hated just because it was easier to stay than to leave or try something new. I told myself I would never again stay at a job that didn’t make me happy, because life is too short to spend the majority of it miserable.

If you're currently looking for a new job, or considering switching careers, check out everything TheLadders has to offer. And my biggest piece of advice: Find a job that makes you happy, not that makes you rich. (Although if you can find both, good for you! ;)

Now I'm curious: What was your first job and what did it teach you? Was it awful or are you glad you did it? Or both? I'd love to know...

P.S. Big Girl Budget 101 and How I failed my first budget challenge

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