LESSONS I LEARNED AT WORK
With each and every job we have over the course of our working life, we will gain a myriad of skills. But there are some more esoteric lessons I’ve learned, lessons that have influenced my life. Here are a few.
At sixteen, I got my first “real” job as a cashier and bagger at the local supermarket. I felt excited and nervous but then became scared after learning I would be working with “scary” twin sisters who attended the same high school as I did. They were tall, almost emaciated, blondes who relied heavily on makeup, cigarettes, and at tough attitude. Walking through the school halls, I was intimidated by them and would keep as far away as possible. But once I started the job and couldn’t avoid the twins, I realized that they weren’t as frightening as I believed. Oh, they were still taciturn and tough, and we never became friends. But that didn’t preclude us from being civil and working well together. I realized you didn’t have to like others to be able to work well. You just needed to be respectful and open to another person’s ideas and feelings. This lesson has served me well.
With my first “official job” at the supermarket, I also learned about official withholding for taxes. Receiving that first paycheck, my shocked reaction echoed Rachel’s on Friends who cried, “Who is FICA and why is he getting all my money?” It also made me more fiscally conscious (some might call it cheap).
My next job was painting flowers, fruit, and vegetables on metal bookshelves, mailboxes, and switch-plates. I always wished to paint the larger elements like the flower petals or the carrots, asparagus, and strawberries. But I didn’t have that kind of brush control. The handle was too thick for my small, pudgy fingers. I was ashamed about this shortcoming until I became aware that the other girls I worked with didn’t have the brush control I had with the thin paint brushes. I could collect three colors of paint on the brush and make perfect strawberry seeds or carrot fronds. My strokes were thin and delicate. They had dimension while the other painters’ efforts looked messy and one-dimensional. This might seem like a small feat, but it made me realize that we all have our individual talents and we shouldn’t underrate them.
Working for a couple of insurance/financial services companies, I appreciated the importance of saving for retirement and beginning to save for it early. Later, I would encourage my co-workers at other companies to make sure they contributed as much as possible to the company 401k. One friend told me that she didn’t earn enough money to contribute. But every morning, she purchased a Starbucks drink. I’m not saying we aren’t allowed to treat ourselves (I’m a big Starbucks fan), but the phrase “Pay yourself first” is one of the most important lessons to learn with savings and money management.
Working at a Thrift and Loan, I met many people with extremely poor credit hoping to get a new mortgage or a refinance. Making copies of their credit reports, as well as their credit-card and current mortgage made me determined to keep my credit good. But an incident occurred where I realized that anyone could fall into a desperate position. One couple wrote how the husband obtained a really good job, making good money, and they decided it was finally time to start a family. They had a beautiful son, purchased a house, and decided to have another child. The next line in their letter I’ve never forgotten, saying, “Then my boss was arrested, convicted, and sentenced for murder.” Through no fault of their own, their American dream became a nightmare. We should always remember compassion when we learn about the tough times others are going through. Because we never know when it could happen to us.