The Power of Your First Job

Do you remember your first job? I mean really remember. Was it terrible? Did you love it? What did you find there? Why did you get that first job? What was your first boss like? People often groan when I tell them about my retail leadership experience. Ugh. Teenagers. That must be awful. So much drama.

I have never felt this way about my young staff. Sure there are challenges, especially when it is their first job. I see it as an amazing opportunity to introduce them into the work force. I am helping to shape their world view. Some of these kids come to me with not a lot of skills. I have had to teach a sixteen year old how to use a broom. Such a basic life skill in my teenage world. A lot of these first time job teens have not had much exposure to the world outside of their family or school where it can be easy to slide into the background and be ignored.

Our young staff is dealing with a world that is under constant scrutiny. Everything is public. There is nowhere to hide. The only place to put their identity is in the secret world of the internet. Their form of journaling is in a social media post. Desperate for approval. It isn't any wonder they come to me for a job without a clue how to present themselves in the workplace. Their world is digital.

I was a teenager in the 90's. My dad was hardcore against technology, not that we could afford it anyway. My parents divorced when I was a teenager. The oldest of five kids, it was put on me to do all of the housework, babysitting, driving everyone around. Everything that shouldn't have been my responsibility. My parents took me out of school at the end of my sophomore year so that someone was around to look after my toddler brother and preschool sister. This was before the internet was in every home. It was school through the actual mail. No email. No zoom. Just read, do this worksheet and mail it in to get a grade. I was a terrible student in the best of situations. I struggled to be engaged in a class room. I didn't keep up. Without anyone checking on my work or helping me. No one even noticed that I stopped doing the work just a few months in.

Education was discouraged in my world. My father was incredibly disdainful of college educated people. I assume this was his own trauma manifesting as hatred for what he didn't have. But that's a different story. I knew my only way out was to get a job and have my own money. So I was desperate for that first job. My dad was self employed and had nothing but atrocious things to say about having a job. He isn't a fan of authority or following directions.

My best friend at the time had started working at a local pizza joint. A family run business in the next town over. I grew up in a rural area. The next town over was 2 miles away but it was a whole world away in my young sheltered life. The possibility to escape my life at home and all of the trauma within those walls. An opportunity to make some money to get the hell out of dodge. That was my mission.

So I walked into that pizza place scared as hell, without a clue what to do or say. The owner was a large Italian man with a belly that said he regularly indulged in his own product. He was loud and took up all of the air in the room. I was terrified and fascinated by him. I have no idea what we talked about. But I walked out with a new job that was going to pay me $5.15 an hour and I was going to get to work with my best friend.

It turns out I had three bosses at that job. John was the man that I met originally. He had a brother named Randy. Their mother owned the plaza that the restaurant was located in and their sister ran the craft store a few doors down. John and Randy were an education to watch. So much different than my own family. They were loud and opinionated and they fought in front of us all the time. I was never afraid when they fought though. I also saw them laugh and hug. They cared about all of us on staff. Then there was Cyndi. Yes I spelled that right.

Cyndi was nineteen to my sixteen. It's important to remember I would be seventeen in about three weeks. Very big deal at that age. Not so much at forty one but we won't get into that in this story. Cyndi was older, had a bright smile, was in college and had huge boobs and she was the manager. I hated her on the spot. One of the first things she said to me after learning that I was sixteen not quite seventeen was "Wow. They just keep hiring them younger and younger." Umm excuse me. Did you just age shame me?

John and Randy treated us like family. They held huge Christmas parties for us. Treated us to free food. We got together after hours to just hang out. I loved that job so much. I was free to be the kid that I was. I was also terrified to let them down. So I worked my ass off to make sure I was a valued employee. My fondest memories from my teen years are in that pizza place. They gave me a safe place to be. A place to share my stories and grieve. A place to laugh and be included. I got to be me.

Being a teenager is so hard. Are you an adult? Are you a child? What is your role in the world. The only thing that is certain is that everyone seems to hate you. Cyndi and I eventually became great friends. She got me through my parents divorce. A teenage pregnancy scare. A broken heart. All of the things that young girls deal with. My bosses and my co-workers in that job became my chosen family.

I rarely visit my home town. Too many ghosts in that place. A couple of years ago I was driving through and noticed the old building that my happy place used to be had been demolished. It filled me with overwhelming grief to see that piece of my history is gone.

I see this all the time now being on the adult side of this relationship. So many of my staff over the years are young people with very difficult home lives. Some of them are working to help support their family financially. Some are working to escape an abusive home. Some of them are working because they know it's the only chance they have to pay for college. Some have a job to escape boredom and others have parents that are forcing them into a job for the experience of work. As leaders I strongly believe we must build relationships with these young people. Like it or not we are affecting their world in a way that can impact their entire relationship with work for the rest of their lives.

I often quote "With great power comes great responsibility." I feel this in my soul as a leader of a team. It's not enough to just not abuse our power. Particularly when we have the lives of young people in our hands. They are the next generation of leaders. They need us to show them the way the world can be.

-Adrienne Taylor

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