I want you to close your eyes for a Labor Day thought experiment.
Okay, no. This is not a mattress sale. It’s a conversation about work, and what we learn from it.
Think back to your first job. Maybe the person you were when you earned your first paycheck.
I was in high school in Washington, DC. And I spent my swampy 17-year-old summer working at a sandwich shop and café called A.K.A. Friscos (menu items were named for different places in San Francisco).
In rapid and terrifying order, I learned to prep food, slap together sandwiches for hostile, hungry journalists (the café was across the street from the local CBS affiliate), run the cash register, and bus tables.
We were quick, we were friendly, we cored lettuce with remarkable dexterity (I can still do it).
And I picked up a few lessons that stick with me.
1) Work ethic matters. There’s simply no substitute for it. The shop’s assistant manager, Mesfin, had the most impressive work ethic I’ve ever seen. He was supporting a wife and a new baby while running the café, managing catering orders, helping open a new location, and supervising the high school kid…me.
2) Laugh. Things invariably go wrong. Really, really wrong. Like mistaking-one-spice-for-another-in-the-chili wrong. I wish I could tell my younger self to laugh at these things instead of crying over them or getting mad. Chalk that one up to a lesson perhaps only learned with time.
3) Tip. Like just about anyone who’s waited tables, I tip egregiously. In part because I was always shocked by the messes people left behind. But also because I think we don’t, as a society, place enough value on the work done in the service sector. Being on your feet and being pleasant can be hard, hard work. When I look at the growth in low wage jobs post-recession, I really worry. Hence, I continue to tip.
Just about everyone has a story or two from their first job. Love it, hate it, I bet you still carry it somewhere inside you. Come tell us about it. I’m @lizzieohreally, and the show is @marketplacewknd.
I might even make you a sandwich.