Thursday, May 28, 2009

First jobs - seeking meaning in the ordinary

Steve Boese wrote a fabulous blog on his first job and all the hilarity that went along with learning a new job and new culture. I read this post several times and with each read, still laugh outloud. That blog sparked conversation among my circle of friends and colleagues and we reflected on our 'first jobs' and some of the lessons learned.

My first job was with a low end fast food restaurant. I was 15 1/2 and that was the best I could at the time. I lasted only a few weeks. Partially because I kept spilling liquids on guests. Mostly because I hated the work and and the manager(s). They would call me in and then have me wait to punch in, so they wouldn't have to pay me. When I complained, they didn't need me anymore.

I worked in a local dry cleaner through high school and most of college. It was such interesting work. I met the best (and sometimes) worst people. I found fascinating things in pockets - sex toys, money, drugs, and jewelry. I found $900 in a person's pocket and called them to return it. It was money belonging to grandparents who were taking their grand kids to Disney World. I found a bag of jewelry in a local jeweler's clothes and called his wife to return the jewelry. In return, they insisted on giving me my choice of bracelet. It didn't occur to me to ever keep the jewelry or the money.

I found 5 large viles of cocaine in a person's pocket. (I can't imagine how much it was worth). Not being a person who used drugs, I flushed it down the toilet. When the owner sheepishly asked if anything had been found in his pockets, I said yes indeed - the contents got flushed but would you like the holders back? He face went pale and he left. I don't think he ever came back to our store.

One event that has stayed with me started with pulling a class ring from a man's suit pocket. He was a younger man, probably at his first job too. I tried all week to contact him about the ring and couldn't reach him. I happened to be working when he arrived to pick it up and said to him - oh I have been trying to reach you all week - I found your class ring. I picked it up from the storage bin and handed it to him . His hands shook as he opened the envelope. And the reaction from him I could not have predicted in a million years. In front of a lobby full of people and all the staff, he started to cry. Not a quiet, personal cry but sobbing, gasping cry. Everyone froze as he told me his story. It went something like this - he was the first in his family to go college and the first to graduate. During his time away at college, his parents died. He older sister kept encouraging him to finish, and while raising her own children, helped him too. The class ring was her gift to him when he graduated. He wouldn't leave until I would accept something from him - I wouldn't take money so we compromised on a donation to a veteran's group.

I will never forget that day.

In the end I think I learned more from the events surrounding the job than the actual work itself. Many of my early jobs weren't very glamorous or sexy. But in reflecting on the events, I realize how much they shaped me into who I am today. Some jobs aren't exciting, terribly by all accounts but they are all meaningful. Seek out that meaning.


Steve Boese said...

Wow, those are some great stories, I never would have thought that working in a dry cleaner could be so interesting, but after you explained some of the items you found, it really makes sense. Thanks for sharing some of those tales, and also for mentioning my little 'first job' story. Fantastic post once again.

Laurie said...

This is a great post!

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deirdre said...

Steve, there were plenty of things I didn't write about, things that make you go ...eeeewwweeee.... Thanks for the inspiration. We had a lot of fun reliving first jobs.

Laurie, thanks for stopping by!

Mark Stelzner said...

Terrific post Dee, truly! Might have inspired me to write about my own first few jobs. Thanks to you (and Steve) for setting this idea in motion.

Chris Havrilla said...

What an awesome post!! You and Steve both have made me reflect on my first few jobs as well. There really are plenty of those moments that make you think about how they played a role in who we have become -- as well as provide some eye rolls and belly laughs :)

Ted said...

First jobs don't always make a lot of sense, but they certainly generate some amazing stories. I love what Steve Jobs said: "it's easy to connect the dots looking back on life." Cool blog, this is my first time here - I'll be reading.