It did not feel like Christmas morning, or even a birthday, the late afternoon that I received the offer of my first job. It was 1974, I was 13, and before the end of that year I was paying Social Security taxes. I didn’t entirely understand what FICA was until a few years and jobs later, but I did get, in my early gigs, that Uncle Sam and others were always going to take a piece of whatever I earned. Like many of my era, working as a teenager was considered a right of passage. There were the kid jobs, paper route, selling greeting cards and Christmas paper, mowing lawns... and then later jobs with a paycheck.
I was fortunate to host a local TV talk show aimed at teens for WSB-TV before I aged out with braces and pimples at 17... but at the same time I had “real” jobs. My mother returned from a trip to the dry cleaners during my bicycle transportation years to tell me that the Bike/Lawn Mower Repair shop next to the dry cleaner was expecting me to show up Saturday morning and to become an “apprentice mechanic.” Handy or mechanically-inclined are two phrases never used to describe me, but the owner was patient, I think a bit lonely for company, and he paid me to tighten brake and gear cables on bicycles and occasionally rebuild gunked up Briggs & Stratton lawn mower engines.
In the years that followed I would clean gutters, wait more tables and work in catering and fine dining restaurants, put in long hours at Winn-Dixie on every imaginable assignment, from stock clerk and cashier, to cleaning restrooms and tossing old produce, bread and dairy products at the end of each shift. Several summers were also spent in the family newspaper business, initially as copy boy, then back-issues archivist and errand runner and finally as a courier, running ad copy and proofs back and forth to advertising clients across a five-county service territory. I learned lessons of life with each of these gigs, though easily waiting tables was the profession that taught me the most about dealing with the various types of people in this world. And for many of those summers I had two jobs at the same time.
Now as I resume domestic travel, I see “We’re Hiring” signs and bonus offers EVERYWHERE. McDonald’s locations spent millions installing kiosks during the pandemic to reduce their need for counter help (as well as their payroll). But it has been nearing a year that when I walk into a McDonald’s with those kiosks installed that they appear to be in working order. Maybe the kiosks came from the same vendor who gave them their McFlurry machines...
But employment and the experiences that follow are still a gift from any employer. They don’t have to hire you, or anyone for that matter.
It is now time to accept this gift, and take a job, and there are literally millions to choose from. The federal benefits pandemic assistance gravy train is soon ending. The moratorium against evictions and bans on foreclosure for non-rent payment have ended or been lifted. It is time to put that nose back to the grindstone, or if you are unfamiliar with that saying, to simply begin again expending effort toward funding the roof over your head, the car at the curb and the mobile phone always at arm’s reach.
I also worked for quite a few jerks along the way. And it is from some of them you often learn the best lessons. One particularly self-important assistant manager during the Winn-Dixie years was dressing me down over some trivial shortcoming on that day. He looked me square in the eyes, and said, “You can do anything you want, anywhere you want, with anyone you want... this is America. Or you can be here, get paid well and work for me. If you are here, you are going to do it the way I tell you to do it, or you won’t be here. We clear?”
Yes, he was a jackass, but he also reminded me, in an at-will employment state, even if I know a better way, unless I’m the boss, I still need to follow the manual, and take direction. That is part of real life. Those lessons don’t always come from home and Mom and Dad or even school anymore; they come from working and the school of life. Go get a job and get schooled.