First Job Lessons Learned

Way back in the day, little did I know that an adventure was just beginning.

My first job of any kind took place back in high school, back in the late 80’s. Just typing that makes me feel a bit ancient, though I’m young at heart:) Anyway, I was reaching an age where people started to take on part-time jobs in high school, or at least summer jobs. Frankly, I hadn’t given much thought to working, as my mind was elsewhere at the time.  Of course once I started to see others work and how they were actually making money, it got me interested in making some for myself.

The Search

I had applied for a few jobs, and didn’t hear back. These were at the “glamorous” locales at the time, which meant interesting restaurants and other service establishments. Keep in mind the immediate town in which I grew up was solid, but the surrounding areas were all declining rust belt type of places without too many great opportunities.  Anyway, one place did call back, and asked me if I’d be interested in a “porter” job. It was a donut shop of all places. The guy told me that the most important part of the job would be regularly cleaning the bathrooms. That certainly didn’t sound too glamorous and I didn’t pursue that any further!

Then, a friend told me about an opportunity….

The Job

The buddy of mine had told me that he worked occasional weekends at a banquet hall. Why occasional weekends? Well, he apparently didn’t have a car of his own, so he had to get a ride there from parents or others. That meant he couldn’t commit to a regular schedule.

Enter The Squirreler.

My friend told me he could get me a job at this banquet hall for work every weekend, and asked if I could drive him there. I thought about it, and decided “why not?”.  The kicker for me was the pay: $5 per hour.  Yes, the boss man at this place paid me $5 per hour but I thought I was pulling in some decent money for a high school job. In reality, I actually was making decent money. Most of the people I know who held these part-time jobs were making under $4 per hour, so I thought I was lucky! Plus, we got to eat a “free” meal during a break, which was usually decent food.

In case you’re wondering what I did there, it wasn’t too exciting: I washed dishes.  However, I have to say, it wasn’t quite that bad. It was pretty routine, getting plates put in front of you as you then washed them and sent them through a washing machine. All these years later, I can still practically feel the steam coming from that machine, it seems like just yesterday.

It wasn’t just my buddy and I, but his younger sister was there as well sometimes. I recall another kid there too, and he seemed pretty cool. We worked hard, and were ready to go home at the end of the night! However, we did joke around and make the best of it.

The Lessons Learned

Well, upfront I can tell you that my biggest lesson learned was that I needed to get an education! It actually wasn’t a bad job at the time, but I didn’t want to be washing dishes my whole life. Even though it was barely physical labor, I realized that my future needed to be based on other type of work that required some kind of thinking or analytical ability.  Even at that age, I somehow thought that I wouldn’t want to be old and have to do that!

I also learned that sometimes it’s who you know that can get you something. That job, while seemingly no big deal to many readers I’m sure, was actually higher paying than anybody else’s job at the time from what I remember. I was almost embarrassed to admit that I made $5 per hour believe it or not. What happened to that good fortune since then, tell me? Anyway, I wouldn’t have gotten this job if it wasn’t for my friend, whose family seemed to know the boss man over there at the banquet hall.

Also learned that your enjoyment on the job can often be strongly enhanced from working with people you like. I liked hanging out with my buddy, and his sister was pretty cool too as I remember it. Had there been some jerks working with instead, I probably wouldn’t be looking back at this so favorably.

Finally, I learned how hard people sometimes have to work in order to make money. I didn’t make big money there, as my work hours were pretty modest: something like 10 hours per week, which amounted to $50. Even though I was a kid and not responsible for bills around the house, even I realized that just utility bills alone wouldn’t be paid by such income.

This was a long time ago, back in the day…..but I still remember!

My Questions For You:

What was your first job like?

What lessons did you learn from it?


  1. says

    I worked in an industrial environment for a while and it makes the importance of education abundantly clear. These guys had hearing loss, scars and other injuries from being on the job so long and I knew I didn’t want to be the same. Nothing is as good as having options when it comes to making a living.

    • Squirrelers says

      No Debt MBA – great point, options are good. When faced with minimal options, it might be a matter of either doing the jobs nobody else wants to deal with or not eating. Then, those people are stuck.

  2. Holly says

    My first job was when I was 14 or 15 y.o. It was a summer job running a hot dog cart/snow cone stand at a gas station. The nice thing about the job was that I could ride my bike to it, had all of the snow cones that I wanted, and it was part-time. Also, it was on a major route that was a half hour from the ‘Jersey Shore’! I got to meet a lot of interesting people that summer.

    Anyway, I also got the job through a friend who knew the gas station owner…how lucky~!

    • Squirrelers says

      Holly – that sounds like a fun summer job, as summer jobs go. Ride a bike there, unlimited snow cones, and good hours. When you add in the interesting people, that’s not bad for a 1st job as a teenager. Funny how it works, by the way, about getting the job through someone you know!

  3. says

    My first job was a door to door salesman. I was a commission salesman. At the time, minimum wage was $1.10 per hour. Yes, it was a long time ago (1964)! I did very well, I earned $75-100 per week, working approximately 25 hours. I earned my spending money for college that summer. Aside from the obvious skills I learned from sales, I became independent, confident and tenacious. The real lesson was living on the earnings! This is when I developed my personal financial skills.

    • Squirrelers says

      Krantcents – I wasn’t alive back in 1964, but I can still say that when accounting for inflation and the time value of money, it would seem that you did very well for that summer. Also, you learned skills and gained perspectives on appreciating money that seemed to help a lot. What an valuable summer that was.

  4. says

    My first job was at the drive-thru of McDonalds, making $5.15 an hour, minimum wage at the time. It was the most stressful, demanding job I’ve ever held. Everything else has felt easier in comparison — even now, in the professional world. It taught me to tip the people at the drive-thru.

    • Squirrelers says

      Paula – interesting how you still remember how hard it was and tip drive-through people as a result. I’ve never even thought of doing that, honestly, but perhaps that’s due to the fact that I’ve never dealt with working at a drive-thru. Maybe we could pick up coins underneath the window and offer it up as a tip? :)

  5. says

    So True. I think the most important lesson I learned as well was the first one you state. I think every kid should get a minimum wage job in high school just to learn how hard it is to make ends meat with that kind of salary. At first, it sounds like a lot of money, that is until they take the taxes out of your pay. It also helps you with math. I would have to work how many hours just to pay for an apartment and car? ….and not a nice one either.

    Great article. The lessons are some really great ones.

    • Squirrelers says

      First Gen – I would like my kids to gain that experience when older, for that very reason. Good life skills, with the premise that they don’t get comfortable with it but realize they need to work hard for a better life.

  6. says

    Those were some awesome lessons! My first gig was selling water purifers as a telemarketer. I learned to be courteous on the phone. Having customer service skills, no matter what your job goes a long way.

    • Squirrelers says

      Buck – good points. When younger, I also worked in a customer service job where people often came to complain. I learned to listen to their needs and calm them down, while being courteous. Not always easy, but I think I was pretty solid with it and learned some good skills that way. These types of skills can come in handy later in life too!

  7. says

    That was great! It’s all about who you know in this world. :)
    My first job was putting pizza fliers on doors. It was actually my dad’s job and the kids helped out. The money went to pay the bill, but yeah I learn a similar lesson. Manual labor doesn’t make a lot of money and it’s no fun.

    • Squirrelers says

      Retirebyforty – yes, manual labor quite often doesn’t pay a lot nor is it fun. I’m sure some see it way differently, but I see it the way you do.

  8. says

    My first job (around 12 years old) was delivering newspapers. It was an early morning route, so I had to learn discipline (getting up at 5 AM) and responsibility. I actually loved being out on my bicycle in the quiet early mornings, and I continued my paper route during my high school years. I also learned that work = money and that I enjoyed earning my own money.

    • Squirrelers says

      Joe- that sounds like the classic 1st job, the paperboy! Nothing like getting up very early to teach lessons about making money!

  9. says

    Dang, you had it made. My first job was digging up cesspools for $3 per hour. I used to ride my BMX bike 8 miles each way and dig for 8 hours, just to earn $24 before taxes. When I wasn’t digging, I had to clean up the yard and wash the trucks. The only good thing was that I was only 16, so I couldn’t legally deal with any feces.

    That early work experience taught me a lot. My next job was at a union supermarket, while I went to college.

    • Squirrelers says

      Bret – yeah, you had a much tougher first job. Digging up cesspools? Riding a bike 8 miles each way to do so? That would teach some lessons, no doubt!

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