What I Learned From My Old Jobs

When I was fourteen, I got my first, real, paycheck-at-the-end-of-the-week, job.  I spent the summer working on a blueberry farm in South Georgia.

The work was hard.  If memory serves, we began harvesting in June and worked through the end of July.  It was hot – but we couldn’t wear shorts or t-shirts.  We had to wear jeans and long-sleeved shirts, because of the briers and wasps that loved to live in blueberry bushes.

I worked alongside the son and grandson of the farm’s owner.  The grandson was a year younger than I, but he had grown up on the farm, so he knew the ins-and-outs of the operation.  His dad drove the massive blueberry picking machine while he and I rode on the back of the machine, hauled blueberry crates, and stacked them on the delivery truck.

If you have never seen a blueberry picking machine in operation, here’s a video of one in operation.  Note, this is from a farm in New Jersey – and the blueberry bushes are slightly smaller, and the rows a bit better kept, than the ones with which we were dealing.

I learned a lot that summer, picking blueberries.  It felt good, grown up, to earn a real check, for real work.  I can still remember the pride I felt, going to the store with my final paycheck of the summer, and buying school clothes.

By the next summer, I was 15, and we had moved to a new town. I worked a few odd jobs, mainly mowing lawns, but it wasn’t until I turned 16 that I managed to get my second, real job.

I worked as a salesperson in a major department store.  For the first time, I was required to wear a suit to work.  I worked in the Men’s Clothing section – selling suits, ties, t-shirts, and blue jeans.  I learned how to operate a computerized cash register, and had my first experience with credit.

We were “encouraged” to ask customers to sign up for the department store-branded credit card.  For some reason, probably the fact that I was just 16, and looked 12, I was good at convincing people to sign up for a card.  We received a bonus for each completed application – and there were days when I earned more through credit card applications than I did through sales commission.

My second job taught me how to interact with the public, how to problem solve, and how to work with others.  It also taught me a bit about on-the-job politics, how businesses earn a profit, and how to measure for a perfectly fitted suit.

At 18, a friend of the family offered me a really cool job.  I quit the department store – and went to work in the pharmacy at our local hospital.  I worked there for nearly two years.

I started out as a pharmacy aid.  My job was simple.  I stocked the supply room across the hall from the pharmacy – and I carried medications, on a little cart, from the pharmacy to the various nurses’ stations in the hospital.  I.V. fluids, those bags that drip, are delivered in cases to the hospital.  Those cases have to be counted, stacked, rotated, and categorized.  Each type of fluid has an expiration date, so old cases have to be properly disposed.

After a few months, one of the pharmacy technicians quit, and I transitioned into that position.  I loved that job.  I worked hand-in-hand with the pharmacist, filling prescriptions and working with medications.  I alternated days – One day, I worked as an aid, the next day, as a tech.

The job at the pharmacy was a blast.  I worked there my senior year of high school, graduated, and worked there through my first year of college.  I learned a lot – about the medical field, about being precise, and about the cost of health care.

While in college, I worked a variety of jobs.  I was a janitor, a tutor, and a furniture delivery guy.  I even worked a summer at a fast food restaurant, while on a mission trip.  Usually, I would work more than one job at a time – always looking for opportunities to earn a few extra dollars and work a few extra hours.


At the age of 21, I went in to full-time Christian ministry.  That’s what I do, today, 16 years later.  In very real ways, the jobs that I had as a teenager helped to prepare me for the career that I have now.  I learned so much – about working with the community, about taking care of details, about the value of a person’s time.  I am thankful for the opportunities to work that I had – and the many lessons that I learned.

If you managed to read this far – you rock!  Now, stop slacking off, and get back to work! : )

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8 thoughts on “What I Learned From My Old Jobs
  1. Modest Money

    Those early jobs really are so crucial in developing skills and work habits. I couldn’t imagine trying to get a job after college without any work experience. It would be such a shock and I’d do all kinds of things wrong. My first real job was working in a video rental store and it taught me a lot about interacting with customers and staying organized.

    As for the blueberry picking, that sucks that you had to wear jeans and long sleeves. I would absolutely die if I had to work in clothing like that on a hot day. Selling suits as a 16 year old sounds amusing too.

     
  2. Jon Money

    I agree that what you learn in your younger years stands in in good stead for the future. Like you I worked hard from the age of 14 and had a job delivery newspapers. It taught me the value of money and that if I wanted something I would have to work to earn money to pay for it. My parents were always supportive but learning the value of money as a child has been a huge benefit now.

     
  3. NCN

    @Modest Money – Yep, selling suits at 16 was a trip. I had to learn how to tie a tie, the first day of work, and I was selling them the next day!

    @Jon Money – No doubt! We have three kids and plan on supporting them, but also encouraging them to work part-time as older teenagers.

     
  4. Bryan@Gajizmo.com

    My parents always advised me that pulling experiences from different careers and industries is the best way to eventually build a strategy of best practices and apply it to your passion. I guess we can attribute part of the success at NCN to your past experiences in those positions.

     
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  6. Tony

    Great post! While the skills we learn when we’re young may not help us, but the life lessons we learn certainly will.

     
  7. Geoff

    It’s a great teaching tool, allowing a person to do some work when they are young. When my daughter left school and went to college she took on part-time job at a local store, even though it included some late night work till 11 pm. It gave her some income, and taught her some responsibility, and she’s never since been out of work.

     

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