What I Learned From My First Job Experience
Most of us look at our very first job as a memorable milestone in our young lives. It was when we first experienced some independence by earning our own money, entrusted with the adult responsibility of employment and held accountable not only to our parents or teachers but to a boss and company.
One of my first jobs was working for the City of Boston Parks and Recreational Services Dept. It was a job that I obtained through connections my family had and I was not old enough to do it according to the rules (that were bent). Most of the staff were at least 18 years old. I was only 15 and it was to be my summer job that year of high school.
It was a physical job and I was short and not very strong. The exercise of mowing lawns and maintaining the grounds of one of Boston’s most beautiful and largest parks (Boston Common) was probably very needed and better for me than I would ever have admitted back then.
Truth be told, I hated every minute of the job for the first month or so. It was being out in the hot summer sun all day and assigned everything from cleaning outside porta- potties, shoveling droppings from the park ranger horses, to riding on a garbage truck and emptying large park trash receptacles that I was only a foot taller than which was a struggle to lift over my head and dump. Most of the contents fell on me rather than into the truck, which made for an embarrassing train ride home as one can imagine what I smelled like. The job was clearly not my cup of tea, not because I felt it was beneath me in any way, but because I just wasn’t very good at it. I mis- operated and damaged every piece of maintenance equipment I used from leaf blowers, weed whackers, and lawn mowers to taking five times longer than the others when assigned to garbage removal, fence painting, and tree trimming. I wasn’t lazy, just very uncoordinated and very misplaced as I was smaller and younger than everyone else.
What I know now is that in that job I hated so much I was also learning and growing, and by the end of that summer things changed for me. I was mentored by the foreman who was a great person and could see I was feeling like a fish out of water. He was patient with me, kept me busy, and covered for me when I messed up. I learned a lot from that gentleman about sticking with things that I wasn’t very good at and not quitting. I didn’t realize it then, but he was mentoring me and teaching me things that I never would have had the opportunity to attempt. I also learned about asking for help as well as studying others to learn and do my job better (a valuable lesson I took with me to every future form of employment I obtained).
I started to become friendly with those older, bigger co-workers that I was so intimidated by. They took me under their wing and I knew I had people looking out for me should I ever need them. I was never as good at the job as they were, but it didn’t mean I couldn’t become their peer and I realized the 100% that I was giving was very valuable. What they did better, I could work at and eventually learn to be as good at. Again, the job I loathed was teaching me about setting goals and working to achieve them.
The whole experience made me realize that despite the fresh air and being outdoors, I was not cut out for that type of work after high school (and hats off to those that choose it). It’s physically demanding on you and New England weather isn’t the place to always be outdoors. I earned a new respect for people with physical professions who tested their strength and endurance every day. I had a decision to make. Did I see myself going to trade school and possibly making a great living? Or could I work harder academically and pursue college to give myself more options professionally? It was a turning point where I could have decided to take nothing away from that job and perhaps return there each summer or to work that was similar. One thing I knew was that working was going to be just as necessary as breathing for most of my life. I ultimately chose something different than being outdoors, but I realized it wouldn’t be given to me, as the job I was not very good at had been. I was lucky to have the opportunity to choose something that would make me happier than doing something I was already qualified (well, sort of) to do.
Fast forward 3 decades later. Many, many other jobs (some that I loved and some that I haven’t) were all experiences I not only worked in but was present in the knowledge that I had to take something away from each job. You can learn from any job and develop lasting relationships that can go beyond that company or department. Like it or not, for most of us, what we do for work does become a part of who we are. If you are a recent grad that took a job that is not ideal, but you needed a job, make the best of it and take the best from it. There are valuable lessons and gains from everything we go through in life if we just take time to look for them. Time can change many situations. Give everything a fair chance and one day you can look at the hardest and most arduous of experiences as great ones, just like I now do at that summer I turned 15 and never sweated so much or smelled so badly riding the T home. I didn’t enjoy it much most of the time, but in many ways, it was the best job that I ever had.