August 29, 2014

First Jobs and Life Lessons (Pt. 1)

Customer buying food at recently published an interesting article, “8 Lessons We Learned From Our First Jobs,” where it shared the many different things people learned from their very first jobs. The story offered insight from Next Avenue readers, a PBS website catering to America’s 50+ population.

As I read the many things people have learned from their first jobs, I realized that, although younger than those polled, I too have learned some of the same things from my first role. Yet, some of the lessons listed I found to be opposite in my life, even though I’ve heard older generations say workers will learn these things at their first jobs.

Now, we’re all aware that there are some major differences (in terms of thinking) between Baby Boomers and millennials, but as I read each lesson and compared it to my own and those of others I knew, I began to wonder if the similarities and differences aren’t so much about age as they are about the evolution of our workforce.

So many things have changed over the years, especially with the addition of technology and social media. And although how and where we work has evolved, some aspects of the workplace and/or working and professional life in general remain the same.

For example, interviews aren’t just conducted face-to-face anymore; now we have video interviewing. Yet, the general rule of thumb is still that interviewees should dress professionally for an interview—whether it is in person or online.

So, below are the eight lessons people learned from the Forbes article and my opinion on if they are still relevant lessons that can be applied today or if they are areas where our workforce has evolved.

1. A bad first job can focus your career goals.

The article explains that several readers learned pretty quickly from their first jobs that they wanted to do something else.

I partially agree with this lesson. For myself and most people I know, our first jobs had nothing to do with our career goals—they were just quick ways of making money. My first job was as a bagger and cart pusher for Kroger. I knew pushing carts had nothing to do with my career goals—I knew Kroger in general had nothing to do with my career goals. It didn’t take me working at my first job to realize or focus my career goals; the role didn’t serve that purpose. Most people I know simply worked at their first jobs as a way to begin making money.

Now, that’s not to say that a first job cannot help focus a person’s career goals. Although not the norm (because first jobs are usually low paying), a first job can give someone a new experience and show him/her that he/she ultimately wants to continue in that line of work or industry. Contrastingly, a first job can be so unbearable that it confirms to a person that he or she would never ultimately work in XYZ industry.

2. Start working early. 

The article quotes Joseph McManus, of North Andover, Mass.—who began work in 1957 at 10-years-old delivering newspapers—as saying, “I recommend you go to work as early in life as possible in order to encounter the feedback from boss and client expectations, experience the rigors of a full schedule and the rewards of realizing early in life that you can earn your way.”

I disagree with Joseph’s lesson. My first job was at 15 and a half and I wish I would have waited instead of being so eager to start working. As I continued to work throughout high school, I missed many family trips, gatherings and even worked on Thanksgiving and Christmas day my senior year of high school. When I look back on that, I realize my little wages of $7-10/hour at the time wasn’t worth memories with my family and friends.

I do think working when you’re younger is good and teaches you valuable lessons, but I also believe children and teens still need to be just that, and not miss out on parts of their childhood being so eager to work or working excessively.

3. Low pay is better than no pay.

“Some jobs our readers held first paid almost nothing, like $1 per hour for cleaning a school after hours, $1.25 per hour for typing reports or a whopping $1.89 per hour for a nurse starting out in a pediatric hospital unit,” the article says.

This lesson I think most—no matter the age—would agree with when it comes to a first job. If you were like me, before your first job your income was $0; so, anything above—even if minimum wage (which at the time at Kroger was $7)—is a step above.

4. No job is too menial.

Many of the Next Avenue readers “started with some tough jobs in fields that are under-appreciated and often underpaid.”

I think this lesson is still relevant today. In my case, pushing carts and bagging groceries seemed menial at the time, but all of us know just how helpful it is to have someone packaging your goods at the grocery store, or to not have to wander around the parking lot looking for a cart because they’re all aligned inside the store.

Whether it’s cleaning the bathrooms, dropping off mail or tweeting from the company Twitter account eight hours per day, no job is too menial because something always needs to be done and needs someone to do it.

As you stay tuned for part 2 of this article, take a trip down memory lane to your first job. What were some of the biggest lessons it taught you?

Read more in Career Advice

Marks’ stories have also been published in a variety of newspaper, magazine and online formats including The Arizona Republic, The Daily Herald, Arizona Foothills Magazine and various classroom magazines of Scholastic Inc. Service is her passion, writing is her platform and uplifting and inspiring the community is her purpose. Marks received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication from Arizona State University.
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