During my son’s last semester of high school, after all of his sports seasons were over and all his volunteer service hour requirements had been met, I pulled my newly lazy college-bound son aside, looked him lovingly in the eyes, and said, “Go. Get. A. Job.”
“Huh?” he said. Yes, it was time to seriously start bringing home some bacon in the short time he had left before college.
During his busy high school years, working a part-time job was out of the question. His days were already 16 hours long, and weekends were spent catching up on homework, sleep, and family time. He spent his summers volunteering, and although he was theoretically a “free employee,” he always told me he treated it as a real job.
I scoffed at this, knowing full well his volunteering job spending days playing with at-risk kids was one in which he actually adored, and was far from what I would consider real “work.” I didn’t want him getting another job like that. What I really wanted was for him to work a low-end and totally un-glamorous minimum wage job — and if I was really lucky, his job duties would include cleaning a public bathroom.
College admissions officers have recently shared their concern about the lack of real work job experience applicants have. While many may have white collar internship experiences at their uncle’s law firm, few have held jobs in the service sector, and even fewer will admit to it. But it’s exactly those kind of jobs that today’s young people — especially those living comfortable middle-class lives — need to spend time working at. The lessons that can be taught thanklessly flipping burgers are some of the most important ones to be learned.
1. People will treat you like crap, and not think twice about it. Keep smiling anyway.
Life lesson #1: It’s a rude and selfish world out there, and people want their french fries now. Learn to smile at even the harshest of humans. It will remind you not to forget how.
2. The value of a dollar will no longer be overlooked.
The price of stuff is now magically translated into “how many hours do I need to work to buy that?” Once my son’s bank account started bulking up, the less and less he bought. Everything became “that would take me three hours of work to pay for.” Yep, that’s called life, son.
3. Minimum wage is not a living wage.
How people manage to live on a 40-hour work week at minimum age boggled my son’s mind. He did the math, and even had co-workers who were working two full-time minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. Lesson? He became more excited than ever that he was being given the opportunity to go to college.
4. Show up ready to work hard, or learn that you are instantly replaceable.
Your boss doesn’t care that your phone died and your alarm didn’t go off, or that you woke up with a headache, or that you got into a fight with your girlfriend. You are replaceable in less than five minutes — not only at this job, but most likely at every other job you will have the rest of your life.
5. You can live without your phone.
An entire 8-hour shift without staring at a device once is worth it, right there. Learn how to make eye contact, speak with people face to face, and do so without an emoji, Snap Chat, or 140 characters.
6. It’s work, not a selfie opportunity.
The investment group that owns the fast food franchise doesn’t care how cute you look in your visor and apron, nor do any of your future bosses. Take your job seriously and do it with pride, because whether you are mopping the restaurant floors or you own the place, the same amount of character to get the job done is required.
7. Gratitude will grow.
Nothing builds empathy quicker than working in less than desirable conditions, serving people from all walks of life, and seeing firsthand the struggles they go through. What you once viewed as your “stressful life,” you will now be thanking your lucky stars to have.
My son did end up working in fast food before leaving for college, and then he continued during the short break between summer and fall. For him, I knew it was worthwhile when, after only a few days on the job, he came home exhausted late one evening and said, “That place managed to teach me in three days all the lessons that I think you and dad have been trying to teach me for 18 years. So thanks for making me work, Mom. I get it now.”