A couple of weeks ago, the team over at The Ladders reached out to me and asked me to share my first job experience along with some of the important lessons that I learned from it. Coming from a family with a “school first, school second” policy, I didn’t have much of an opportunity to work during my high school years. However, I do remember my very first job as a hostess at a Greek restaurant and how that experience shaped my ideas about earning money and my future.
I spent my high school years living in a small town in South Carolina that housed: one mall, a ton of fast food joints, a Wal-Mart, and not too much more than that. My parents never pressured me to get a job and much preferred I spent my free time doing chores at home or studying harder for school. But, naturally, as I got older and my need for some financial independence increased, I found myself looking for a place that would hire me to make a few extra dollars on the weekend aside from the allowance I got from my parents. And so the job search began. I always imagined having my first part-time job in a small but fancy coffee shop that played elevator music all day and hosted open-mic night once a week. Cheesy, I know. But for whatever reason, there was something romantic about the idea of working in a coffee shop.
But before I had a chance to even go out in search of my ideal job, my mom informed me that she needed my help at the restaurant that she worked at and before I knew it, I was spending every Friday and Saturday night welcoming customers. Honestly, it was far from my ideal job. My job was pretty simple: sit customers, give them drinks, make sure everyone has been assigned to a waitress, and run the register. If I did a good job, some of the take-out customers would leave me a dollar or two and the boss would cook me something delicious to take home. Even though the job didn’t require any special certificates or qualifications, it was much more difficult than it seemed. I was still growing into my personality and was awkwardly shy, had trouble making conversation with older people, and felt nervous at the idea of getting yelled at by a customer. I worked from 4pm until 10pm and got about 60 dollars per day. Apart from the two or three hour rush hour closer to closing time, I spent the afternoon sitting in the booth doing my homework and eating garlic bread. Easy? Sort of. Exciting? Not so much.
It wasn’t long before I called it quits and chose to make better financial decisions with the allowance I was given. Now that I reflect back on the experience, I realize that there were many opportunities for me to gain skills that I didn’t act on because I was too busy being an introvert. However, it did help me realize that regardless of whether it was in a restaurant or in a fancy cafe, working in the service industry required a certain type of personality that I just didn’t have. But I did learn some customer service tricks and was able to meet many amazing people with interesting and encouraging stories. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to try my hand at working at such a young age, as it did teach me professionalism and allowed me to think about what a “real job” would feel like.
Some people are lucky to get the perfect job the first time around, but even if that first job isn’t a dream come true: persevere, learn new skills, and know that life isn’t over just yet.