As I look at the calendar, April 8th has some significance for me. It was on that date, twenty five years ago, that I got my first real job. Faced with the happy prospects of car ownership, I was also put in the position for the ongoing expenses of such a responsibility, namely insurance and gas. I remember talking to my father about my precarious position. His advice? Get a job.
So, I dutifully walked across Market Street and went to the local hardware store. I sheepishly asked someone that looked like the owner for a job. After confirming that I was a neighborhood kid that occasionally came over with my father or by myself, I was hired on the spot. April 8 would be my first day at work. Given this good news, I went home and reported to my father that I was now part of the population that could count themselves as gainfully employed.
For the better part of eight years, I was there. And in between there were other jobs as well. There was the carny job at Cedar Point. There was the road inspector job for the City of Savannah. There was the maintenance job at the Hayner Center. There was the substitute high school teacher job. There was the job at Wright State, which I am not sure exactly what I was paid for, but it got me through graduate school.
Looking back, all these jobs provided unique and valuable experiences for me to grow, not just as an employee, but really as a person. All of these jobs put me in a team with other people in order to achieve a common goal. And looking back, maybe that is the toughest part of any job.
I remember back in elementary school and every day at recess most of the boys, and even a few of the girls, would play football. Each game began with the time tested ritual of choosing teams. The kid who had the ball picked another kid and you had your team choosers. The two kids would go back and forth choosing their teams, based loosely on athletic talents, overall intelligence and whether you could actually get along with the other kids on the team. I mean, it was all well and good if you could run like the wind and catch anything that came your way, but if you weren’t going to play nice, you weren’t going to get picked. At least not early.
Those early career jobs were a bit like that, except you were the only one being chosen. The rest of the team you worked with was already in place. You quickly had to learn to read your co-workers, the rules and the culture if you were going to be successful. The fascinating thing is those lessons I learned at the ripe young age at 16, still apply a quarter-century later. It doesn’t matter what team you are on, you still have to navigate human relationships and organizational culture if you are going to do a good job.
And those aren’t always easy lessons to learn. The straight-laced culture of an amusement park, where you were issued uniforms, had a haircut every three weeks and were told when you could use the restroom, was a lot different than working down in Georgia, where I was encouraged to take the city truck to the local fishing hole for the afternoon; “That’s why we keep those fishing poles behind the seat, son,” my supervisor told me on more than one occasion.
I bring this up because the world of work is important. It can give people an amazing record of accomplishment, a sense of purpose and a never ending source of valuable lessons that can be applied for a lifetime. I also tend to believe that the younger people are exposed to the world of work, the more likely they are to understand what it means to be responsible and how to handle complicated and complex situations in a real world atmosphere.
The world of work provides you with so many different tools to learn about the world, to learn about others and most importantly, to learn about yourself.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.