Lessons from that First Job

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might. Ecclesiastes 9:10a


Remember your first job? For a lot of us, maybe most of us, that was when we were teenagers with no aspirations other than getting our hands on some cash without going through stingy parents. Those who had stingy parents were the lucky ones. Teenagers of indulgent parents didn’t have the motivation to go through the important life lesson a job teaches. Earning your own money is truly eye-opening. I contend no one can learn about money and accountability until they work for their money. But working for a living can be a scary door to enter.photo 1 (5)

I didn’t get a job until I graduated from high school, but I had a plan beyond earning pocket change. That plan involved working my way through college. I would work full time for a year and what I saved, along with small scholarships, would pay for two years of college.

Getting a loan wasn’t an option ever. I don’t know why except there was something shameful about borrowing money back in the olden days.

Here are the four things I learned from my first job.

1. Nothing ever turns out like you imagine.

Did I mention this job was with my dream employer in the Department of Defense? I would work in a swanky office filled with glamorous women and handsome men who’d give me important correspondence to type, urgent, secret messages to deliver, take notes at meetings that would change the course of national discourse.

Most of my co-workers and supervisors turned out to be rather frumpy. For some reason, they didn’t pay any attention to an eighteen-year-old who giggled when nervous, and the most they wanted from me was to stay out of the way. My days were spent sitting at a little desk in a cubby hole reading something called Regs, the most boring gobbledygook known to man. DoD is in the government, after all. It took me two days to realize this task was designed for no other reason than to keep me occupied. My most challenging assignment was staying awake.

2. Money is never as much as you think it is.photo 1 (6)

Nothing is quite as heady as your first paycheck. The amount hardly matters. It’s yours. You earned it, and no one can tell you what to do with it. This feeling is quickly followed by the desire to spend. After day three, it’s gone, and the next one won’t come in for another eleven days if you’re paid bi-weekly as I was. Luckily, I was still living with my parents and didn’t need it to support myself. But it was harder to save for college, or anything else, than you ever imagined. Near impossible, in fact.

3. Don’t leave the old job until a new one is lined up.

I didn’t have much choice in finding a new job because the first was temporary, but I made the mistake of waiting until it ended to hunt a new one. That’s when I discovered opportunities can be few and far between. When that happens, you have to take what you can. For me it was stuffing owner’s manuals in boxes filled with lawn mowers. There was one bright spot in that job. It motivated me to keep up my pursuit of a college education.

4. Whatever the job, excel in it.

Before I finished college I got the opportunity for a permanent position at my dream employer, and they had a program for continuing education. Working and going to school is hard, but I soon learned that if I was to really progress, I’d have to excel in both. There’s no other way to stand out from the competition.

All of these lessons are obvious, but many people don’t learn them in their first job, or second, or… That’s one of the reasons seventy million people in this country are in debt. Many others don’t attempt to live on a budget. Yes the economy is bad, despite what economists say about recovering. But those who’ve learned these four lessons early in life are more likely to keep a job in economic hard times.

What other lessons can young people learn on their first job?

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