by: Maggie Hansen
I started my first job ever – besides babysitting – the day after I graduated from high school. In an effort to keep my siblings and me focused on school, my parents had enforced a strict “no working during high school” rule (I'm talking stricter-than-curfew strict). And in high school, I thought I was pretty hot stuff. Having received numerous accolades, knowing I had a scholarship to attend an in-state university in the fall, I was fairly positive any place of business would be honored to have me on their payroll. And I had passed AP tests, for crying out loud – a petty job that paid minimum wage was small potatoes in my book. This prima dona got hired at a local Gandolfo's for the 3 month interim between high school and college. What I didn't know was that I'd learn life lessons in that sandwich shop that were at least as important as the knowledge I'd gain by continuing my education. What follows are some truisms that have come in handy while workings as a professional in my chosen field, but that didn't show up on any final exams.
#1: There is always a bigger circle in the world that does not have you as its center
I thought I knew everyone in my hometown. More importantly, I was fairly certain everyone knew me. Imagine my surprise to find out that I had never seen the majority of my co-workers before in my life. Even the familiar ones had been the kids whose faces I knew, but whose names I'd never bothered to learn.
#2: Your co-workers don't automatically like you
I had to earn respect: it didn't come to me just because my last name was Hansen, or because I was going to college Respect came as I took shifts for other people, or when I made sure the mayonnaise jar was full (more on mayo later). It was lost when I had to ask for the 100th time if someone could show me how to clean the soda machine spigots or when I fell for obvious practical jokes.
#3: Getting an A in English doesn't always translate into good work ethic and its sister truth: You are conspicuous when you watch TV while on the job
That big-screen TV with ESPN rolling non-stop turned out to be the bane of my employment. When business was slow, why bother looking for little jobs to do when I could watch Anna Kornikova smash the socks off of some hapless tennis opponent? I thought I was discreet, watching TV from the corner of the kitchen doorway Turns out I stuck out like a sore thumb when I failed to notice customer arrivals and no one was at the cash register.
#4 Everyone has to take a turn cleaning the toilet
I had thought I was only hired to run the cash register. Little did I know, I would be expected to make sandwiches, slice meat, mix the special mushroom sauce, take phone orders without forgetting about them, and, yes, clean restrooms. To make a business run, everyone has to do a little more than he or she was “hired to do”.
#5 Not everyone likes things the way you like them: or, How I learned not to put too much mayonnaise on sandwiches
Did you know that some people like mustard more than mayonnaise? I've always thought that was pretty messed up. So I interpreted loosely any customer instructions like “hold the mayo” or “extra mustard.” That was before I had really learned about calories or high cholesterol. And you know what? I couldn't force my love of mayo on people just by continuing to add it to their sandwiches; in fact, I got the privilege of re-making more than one sandwich that was made exactly to my specifications.
#6 You can always get fired
And I did. For not attending a mandatory meeting. And subsequently rehired, but not until I endured the shame of getting fired.
Can you imagine where I'd be if I hadn't gotten a job before beginning real life? Not only did this job take my ego down a notch or two, but it also helped me see what it takes to be a valued employee. And now, working at a hospital, I think of my manager, Bones(!) DeGraffenried, and I wonder if he would believe I ever survived in the real world. And I would say, “Bones, I owe it to you.” Thank you, workplace, for schooling me.