Why Having a Hard Job (or Two) in Your Youth Can Sometimes Help You in the Long Run
May 09, 2021
Ahh, the teenage years - filled with angst, rebellion, and the classic summer job. Do well in school but don't forget to explore yourself and figure out who you are, then immediately decide your life's trajectory at 18. That's often what we expect of teenagers, and it can be a big ask. They're just getting their feet underneath them and starting to figure out their place in the world - when I was a teenager, I was still figuring out what the world even was, much less where or how I fit into it.
One constant, however, was that I was expected to work - at least, when I was out of school. My first summer job was as a waitress at a local chain restaurant. I made roughly $2.50/hour plus tips. Needless to say, it wasn't quite what I had expected, but I did make a little money from it. For the first time in my life, I was steadily earning my own money that I could spend however I pleased (after I put 50% away per Dad's orders).
As a teenager and young adult, I'd picked up a number of odd jobs - I worked at a mall bouncy castle, in the deli of a local grocery store, at a mall kiosk, cold calling and hosting for a market research company - some jobs were better than others, but they all had their moments. I was starting to get an idea of what "working" was really like. During my time at all of those jobs, I can't say I ever liked any of them - but I did learn a lot, and those lessons have helped me as I continue to build a career.
Here are a few ways those hard jobs taught me something:
1) You can't please everyone (and your manager should have your back)
No, really - if you've ever worked customer service, you know good and well that there will be people out there whom you cannot please no matter how correctly you do your job. Some people will stay mad at you, whether you understand why or not.
You shouldn't have to take people's emotions if they're taking them out on you (or the nearest person), so one thing I learned is that you need a manager or superior who will step in when something isn't right. You should never feel you can't speak up when someone crosses a line. Your workplace should be openly communicating with you, and you with them, about what's acceptable and what's not - and they should never hesitate to help you when you're telling them you need it.
Beyond that, dealing with difficult people or picky people is something you'll run into time and time again, and in working a customer-facing job, you'll no doubt work with people from all walks of life, so for me it was better to start figuring out how at a younger age.
2) Money doesn't grow on trees
The "smart" teenager in me so desperately wants to say "technically, it does," but the adult in me has to say it really doesn't. Money doesn't just appear for a lot of us - we have to get out there and find a way to earn it. As a teenager, I was lucky in that I had parents who were supportive, I had a stable home to live in, and I had a strong group of friends and relatives who would've no doubt stepped in to help me if I'd ever needed it.
It was only in this environment that I was able to start understanding just how far my money would take me - to the gas station and back with a stop at a coffee shop, most days. Nevertheless, I had taken my first steps towards financial literacy and budgeting, whether I knew it or not.
3) Jobs (and adults) have responsibilities
As I started my path towards adulthood, I began to realize that every job, and every person I worked with, has responsibilities. Jobs are responsibilities - something I'd wished I could've avoided for many more years.
In taking on a job, you're agreeing to uphold the responsibilities listed on the job description, and that means you're going to have to be accountable for the things you do and say while you're at work.
It was a scary prospect, once I had the self-awareness to realize that I was, in fact, responsible for something, but it was a good lesson to learn at a young age. No matter the direction I decided to go, I couldn't avoid taking on responsibilities, so I might as well learn how to start handling them.
The summer jobs, the hard jobs, the college jobs - they were all mini-prep sessions for the adult world that I was so desperate to enter as a teenager and college student. While there's a lot I'd change if I could go back, I'm glad to have gotten a glimpse of some real-life lessons before I entered the real world.
I understand that I can't always please everyone, and that's okay. I should always feel safe at work, and I should be able to communicate with my manager if something's wrong. My money has to be earned, and what I do with it should have some type of a plan. Last but not least, in taking on adulthood and real jobs, I am taking on responsibilities - to myself, to others, to the company, etc.
There's many more lessons I've learned from the "worst" jobs I've ever had, but there are also many cherished teachings I was able to learn at a young age, and, at least for me, it was much better for me to learn those lesson then than it would've been for me to just start learning them now.
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