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Employment benefits

April 13th, 2004 · No Comments

A couple weeks ago I found myself driving through Bellevue, taking the kids to a park. On the way we drove past where I had my first job, working at an independent burger joint, on an intersection of NE 8th Street, not too far from downtown. I was 15 at the time and my work for the summer was making milkshakes while wearing teal green shirt and black pants. My responsibilities included measuring ingredients such as peanut butter and bananas and using a blender. It wasn’t a job I planned to keep forever, but it gave me some money and a little work experience. Good thing I didn’t plan to make a career out of running the milkshake machine or even running the joint, because now it has disappeared completely, replaced by a lamp store, no sign of milkshakes or fries. But I think what I learned lasted longer than the burger joint.

In Worthwhile magazine last week, Kevin Salwen wrote what can be learned from a first job:

I think you learn some amazing life lessons from a first job:
— How to show up when you may not feel like it.
— How to ask people for a sale.
— How sometimes work pays well and sometimes it doesn’t, even when you put in the same amount of effort. (Who says life is fair?)

I’m not sure I learned much about asking for a sale since I was mostly working behind the counter, sight unseen. I probably did learn about work paying well or not, in some sense: I remember some times being busier than others. Showing up when I didn’t feel like it is a major lesson. I had to learn how to get myself to work on time. How to be responsible for my schedule. As a first born, I was responsible anyway, but a job is another way to learn to pay attention to time.

Ariel Meadow Stallings last week described how her job at Disney ten years ago has still stayed with her: she learned how to fold:

It became second nature — hold the shirt against my chest. Fold it laterally on one side, tucking the sleeve. Fold it laterally on the other side, tucking the sleeve. Then hold one hand and let gravity help you crease it in thirds — Why hello! Welcome to the Disney Store! What’s your favorite Lion King song? Wow, I like Hakuna Matata too!

To share her skills, Ariel generously wrote and illustrated instructions so anyone can do the DisneyFold.

Skills are a definite take-home benefit of a job. I learned how to mix milkshakes. I’ve learned a few other things too, ones that I couldn’t reproduce at home. Like how to make an Orange Julius (my second job) – without the special powder it doesn’t taste the same. I had a friend who learned how to wrap presents at her holiday-temp job: a helpful skill I envied.

Probably the skill set I’ve used the most since leaving the job has been my techniques from the laboratory where I worked. I like to label. I’ve toned down a bit, but if I wanted to do so, I could write detailed labels on all our items in the house. I could keep a notebook log too if I was so motivated. In the lab I learned sterile technique which I could probably remember without much effort. However, all these microbiology methods have been less than helpful when applied to motherhood…just watching my child lick her fingers or suck on a toy….

I learned facts and information from my jobs: the way things work in life. I learned the ingredients of various fast food items. I learned how cells grow in lab flasks. How groceries fit best into paper bags (boxes on the sides, cans in the middle). I learned a few things about FoxBase. I learned how income-qualified housing programs are administered by cities. How mice reproduce. How mice escape from cages.

Last week also, Jeff Jarvis summarized his years at People magazine:

I was lucky enough to become a TV critic (thanks to Travers) during what I said was the real Golden Age of TV, when competition from cable forced executives to try something daring: quality.
The original Cosby show (before it got smarmy and sermony) proved that sitcoms weren’t dead (they’re writing sitcoms’ obits again these days, aren’t they?) and quality could make a fortune. I’ve often said that Cosby made having a family look like fun. Thanks to him — and Travers’ infant son — I lost my fear of children and later had a few.


More important, more enjoyable, more wonderful than anything that happened to me as a writer at People, something else quite magnificent happened there: I met my wife, Tammy.

While principles, skills and facts are important, I think it is the people you meet who make a job worthwhile. For me at the hamburger joint, mixing milkshakes, it was what I learned about getting along with others that was probably most important to me. At most organizations where I’ve been employed, my co-workers have been a bit different from me. We’ve been on separate paths that happened to converge for a moment at the place we were each collecting a paycheck. Learning how to work with others from different cultures and educational experiences, different goals and joys, people who play Rush Limbaugh or NPR as background sound, people older than me, younger than me, moms, grandmas, grandpas, orphans, single, married, various income levels and homes, has been more valuable to me than the work itself. When I think about the jobs I’ve had, I think about the people I’ve met.

The benefits Jeff Jarvis got at People are the best: A job where you lose your fear of children and meet your wife – wow! – what a place to work…

Tags: culture