I got to thinking about my first “real” job after watching Oprah and other celebrities discuss their first jobs recently. My qualifications for a real job is that it resulted in a W-2. So, that rules out allowance from my parents and babysitting.
I was hired at age 15 when I didn’t have a lot of options and definitely no experience. That’s how I ended up working tobacco fields in Connecticut. Who would think Connecticut even had tobacco fields? This job taught me a lot more than how to grow and harvest tobacco.
1. Work Setting – Desk jockeys sometimes wish they could work outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, breeze and scenery. If they only knew. Working outdoors, mostly on hot summer days, was not as enjoyable as one might imagine. Growing and harvesting tobacco, and probably any crop, is hard, dirty, back-breaking work. I’m perfectly happy now sitting at my desk 90% of the time.
Lesson: Select a career that does not involve physical labor.
2. Fellow Workers – My fellow laborers included other teens like myself but were mostly migrant workers. Coming from my comfortable middle-class background this was my first exposure to a large group of immigrants and lower-income wage-earners. For the first time in my life I realized that not everyone lived like my family. As I matured, this experience helped me understand the motivation behind Cesar Chavez’s fight for farmworker rights.
Lesson: Be grateful for my socio-economic status and compassionate to those with less.
3. Attendance – I lived in Massachusetts and was bused to the job site across the state line. That bus left extra early so we could start the day at 6 or 7 in the morning. If I didn’t catch the bus on time, there was no way for me to get to work. My parents both worked outside the home and I didn’t drive yet so the bus was my only transportation option. It was important to get up and get to the pick up site early. Some kids would miss a few days and ended up being told they no longer had a job.
Lesson: Always be on time and have consistent attendance.
4. Earnings – I remember being thrilled and dismayed with my first paycheck. Thrilled because I had never earned so much money. Dismayed because I had to give some of that hard-earned money to the government. I took my first check and bought clothes. I was not wanting for clothes, but my parents controlled previous clothing purchases. My selections were limited to the family budget and sometimes, my mom’s taste. I remember feeling grown-up and empowered as I paid for my purchase.
Lesson: Money gives me the power to make choices in my life.
Your first job is more than just a chance to earn pocket money. These lessons have stayed with me as I went on to better employment opportunities and shaped my career choices. What lessons did you learn at your first job and have they made a difference in your career?