That Very First Job And It’s Value

Can you remember your first job? I’m willing to bet that for many of you, it was babysitting or delivering newspapers. Oh you might have done things for your mom, dad, aunt or uncle, but I mean the first job you did outside the home where you got paid. Was it a good experience?

I think it’s essential in the very first job that a person be in it to learn more than in it to earn. While getting paid and having some spending money or money to put away in the bank is nice, it’s really more about learning some long-term values.

Earlier this year around the waning days of summer, we in the neighbourhood went through a transition from a newspaper girl to a newspaper boy. The first couple of times I noticed he was out there with his mom. She was helping him learn the route, telling him where to put the newspapers and also doing a little public relations work with the customers on his behalf as he made the rounds.

She was really no different than a supervisor or trainer might be in many jobs when adults take on a new position. And what happened to the paper girl? She moved on and up to babysitting in the neighbourhood, but not having any young ones that need a sitter, I’m not sure how she’s doing in this position to be able to comment.

First jobs teach a child or young teenager many things. For starters, responsibility or accountability. As much as you might look unimpressed when seeing ‘babysitting’ on a resume, everybody has to start somewhere don’t they? And come to think of it, for a first job, it’s pretty cool to be able to say you were entrusted with the safety and care of children who are precious to their parents.

Another valuable lesson that comes from that first job is learning an appreciation for the value of things we want. Instead of saying, “I want this” and, “I want that” and having them magically appear, you learn to say, “I want this so how long will it take me to earn the money needed to buy it or contribute to buying it.”

Jeans are examples that come to mind when as a parent you are prepared to buy your child a pair for $24 but the pair they want to fit in (pun intended) is running at $75. So this could be a situation where you leave the store with the $24 pair for now, but you offer to put $30 of your money toward the more expensive pair when the child raises enough of the balance to buy them.

Any time  someone has a first job, it also may be that they eventually learn that they have to choose between doing things they want to do versus doing things they committed to doing. “Should I deliver those newspapers now like I promised, or should I go play street hockey with my friends and do the papers later?”

Prioritizing work loads and meeting expectations is really what’s going on here. Playing hockey on the street with your friends might be more immediately pleasurable, but when your mom calls you in to tell Mrs. Green on the phone why she hasn’t got her paper yet, you might feel compelled to change your priorities.

Now these kind of first jobs usually have a limited period where they can be useful in demonstrating to an employer that you have experience and are prepared to work responsibly. If you are 38 or 28 and only have such jobs listed, there are way too many other applicants with additional experience to compete with.

I used to babysit a niece and nephew of mine many years ago. Then I recall a job in a grocery store where I took small plastic numbered cards from customers and put grocery bags in their cars from bins that matched the numbers. I can remember too getting the first cheque with my name on it and needing someone to tell me why I wasn’t getting all the money I’d earned. “What are these deductions for?” And in those days, getting a cheque meant I also learned about banking and needing an account.

Lastly, jobs at a young age also teach you  about dealing with people. Customer service and interpersonal communication skills, problem-solving and the importance of a smile can never be learned too early. These essential skills carry a person ahead for years to come across many different jobs.

There is a fine balance between knowing when a child is ready for the first foray into the world of work and when they aren’t. It could be that a child is protected and over-coddled, but later is sent out and has to play catch-up when learning basic skills as noted earlier. Or it could be that the time just wasn’t right. It’s an individual choice for each family, and each member in it.

If you know someone just starting out, be positive and encourage them. Work should not be first seen as a bad thing, but rather as a way to use time productively that provides us with satisfaction , a feeling of accomplishment, and a way to earn money that teaches us the value of things.

So what was your first job?


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