What I Learned From My First Jobs

For whatever reason, I was thinking about the first jobs I ever had and if I learned anything relevant from them. I really couldn’t tell you why I was thinking on this recently, probably procrastinating. Ha. But I do love hearing about other people’s first jobs, what they did, if they liked it, if they hated it, if they learned anything. And so I thought I’d share my first five jobs and I’m hoping some of you will share yours?!

Babysitting – Probably a lot of people had this as their first “job” even though, at least for me, it wasn’t an official job. Like, I wasn’t on a payroll or anything formal like that. But when I was 15 and didn’t have my driver’s license yet, I babysat mostly for some neighbors on our street and then a few people from church. I don’t think I really learned anything per se from babysitting. Maybe that the time goes by much faster if you have fun at your job, whatever it is. You better believe I was the type of babysitter who played dolls, make believe, or brought craft projects that I’m sure left unintended messes. But we had fun. 🙂

Cashier at the Dollar Tree – My first official job was running the cash register, stocking, and cleaning at a Dollar Tree store for the holidays one year. Even though this was over 15 years ago, I still can’t go into a Dollar Tree without being transported back to that Christmas season when I was 16 years old. I actually had a really nice manager, but I can’t remember his name now. I mostly worked with older women, so it was very my speed. Ha. I actually don’t think I really learned anything at this job either. Mostly I just observed how people shopped. SOOOOO many people would say they came in to buy one thing and when I rang them up they’d have $50-$100 of stuff.

Papa Murphy’s Pizza – This was probably one of my favorite AND least favorite first jobs. For anyone who has worked in food service, you know it can be messy and it also tends to make your clothing smell. I had a pair of tennis shoes that were just work-only shoes for the pizza place because they smelled so much like sausage. (I know, gross, sorry.) But I had a lot of friends from school and church who I worked with, so that made the job really pretty great. Working alongside others who have a good attitude and don’t slack off is pretty key, turns out. I think if everyone I worked with there had a bad attitude and were lazy it would have been a truly miserable job. I also learned a lot about being efficient with your time, being in front of customers (even when you’re super busy), and since I worked there for almost three years I began to see how little changes could really affect the profitability of that particular location. When margins are small (like in food businesses), small changes and efficiencies make a BIG difference and this is something I still think a lot about now even though I run a very different kind of business.

Wedding Photographer – Yes, I started photographing weddings when I was pretty young. I was probably 17 or 18 when I did my first one. I almost always worked as Elsie’s second shooter on weddings, as that’s what she was doing for a living at the time and she often needed help. I learned a LOT about photography (we still shot on film cameras, it was that long ago) and editing with Adobe Photoshop. I also learned about invoicing and just generally working with clients. I also—probably very unsuccessfully—learned how to look older than I was. Ha. Honestly, this is probably the most relevant experience to what I do today, since I still use photography and editing in my work here on the blog as well as our app companies.

Substitute Teacher – Ha! My last year of college I would substitute teach on the days I didn’t have classes. I got into it mostly because my mom was a high school teacher, so once I met the other requirements I kind of had an “in” at her school. (Thanks, mom!) I think the main thing I learned was an even greater appreciation for teachers. The hardest classes for me were kindergarten through second grade and then high school. The little kids were tough because being a substitute means you’re essentially really disrupting their routine. Poor kids. Plus, you’re super outnumbered. And if one kid starts to cry (maybe they can’t figure out how to tie their shoe), it starts a chain reaction and pretty soon they are all crying. It’s tough! My hat is off to those teachers. I also found high school challenging at times, but I think mostly because I was still fairly close in age to the kids. My favorite grades were third and fourth grade, in case you’re curious.

What were your first jobs? Did you learn anything useful? xo. Emma

Credits // Author: Emma Chapman. Photo: Janae Hardy.
  • Long/funny/weird story, but I got fired from a Dollar Tree when I was 16, LOL, it was a new store that hadn’t even opened yet! Prior to that, I had worked at a shoe store in the mall that was closing, but the Dollar Tree was opening up across the hall, so I got a job there, after turning down a job offer at a clothing store also across the hall. After Dollar Tree fired me, a former co-worker from the shoe store casually mentioned to the clothing store that I had “decided not to” take the job at Dollar Tree, so the clothing store snapped me up! Ah, mall life!

    • Ha! When I got the job at Papa Murphy’s after the Dollar Tree it was in the same parking lot, so I just walked over to my interview. That was kind of part of the appeal to me, since my parent’s (where I lived in high school and most of college) lived just outside of town so I didn’t want a super long drive to work. 🙂

  • My first job was also babysitting. I was 11. this was back in the mid 80’s. I babysat for my cousins who lived down the street first. Then later lots of different kids. I learned a lot. First off, was patience. Kids will test and test. But I think it was easier the younger was, because I still loved to play myself.

    My first “real” job was at The Gap in 11th grade. I learned more patience here since i would get done folding a stack of shirts, and some jerk would immediately toss the pile to find their size, and then throw it back. But it taught me the value of a work ethic. How to work with others, even if you didn’t like them. And most important, not to buy out the store with you discount and then not actually make an money in the end.

    Once in college, I worked in a bar/restaurant as a server. On weekends I worked a beer tap outside. I LOVED this job! It was super hard work. Disgusting at times, and I learned most importantly, how to deal with assholes in a nice way. I believe everyone should have to work in a restaurant. Taught me so many life lessons along the way.

    I worked as a Para in an elementary school for a year. Hoping to get in as a teacher at this particular school. But I realized after the year, that I just didn’t see myself now teaching for the rest of my life.

    I now have an adult office job. Not where I thought I would end up. But I do like it, it has amazing benefits, and pays VERY well. So I am grateful! But I am also extremely grateful for all the jobs I’ve had that have lead me to this point. So many life lessons learned along the way.

    • Yes, I totally agree about some jobs teaching you I guess how to behave in certain environments. Like, I always think about how much I messing up merchandise when I’m in a store, like The Gap, because even though I didn’t work there I had to straighten so much at the Dollar Tree and it wasn’t a big deal (I was getting paid after all) but I still think about it and try not to be ‘that customer’ you know?

      And I swear I can tell when I’m at a restaurant and some has never worked as a server or in food. I think things should be clean and service should be good, but I also think treating servers like HUMANS is just missing for some people and it’s just crazy to me. If you don’t have the extra funds to tip generously I can understand that, but just being kind and not overly demanding or straight up rude anyone can do so it’s shocking when I see people who choose not to behave that way. Very strange choice IMO

  • My first job was at my dad’s company in the back office. I learnt that it may be challenging to work with family members despite a great connection. My second job was at the cosmetic shop Lush, as a Christmas staff member. I was working hard 14 hours shifts but thought me how to communicate better. Later next to my studies I carried on working here part-time. Later they wanted me to be the county’s marketing manager. Despite I was not that good in this position, tried my best so I got a new position in the headquarter of Lush in Poole. On the way I met a guy and did not move to the UK 🤣. Moved to Switzerland to my guy and realized I can profit a lot of my previous experiences and worked for a fair trade company as a shop manager (in German what I learnt meanwhile). Currently I’m a SAHM and enjoying my days with my toddler girl. 🙂

  • My first job was not really a job. I was sitting on my porch at 13 and the contractor building a house across from ours asked if I wanted to just sit in the house on open house days and hand out the info pamphlet to people who came in. There was a lot of new families in the neighbourhood with young children and a lot of the moms ended up visiting that house out of curiosity. That’s where they found me, the only teenager on the street ;p I began baby sitting all the kids on my street at 20$ an hour and extra when all the moms were going to the same party and leaving 3 to 6 kids with me for the night. My mom was my secretary and I had a schedule on the fridge (I would babysit about 3 to 6 times a week, all year, from 13 to 19 years old). During the summers from 14 to 18 yo I worked for the city as a day camp counselor and worked on the golf course on which I lived (the neighbourhood was build on the golf course and the 18th hole was just past my backyard) mowing greens (this was a crazy time because I would get up at 4:45 am and start mowing at 5:00 because the first putting was at 6 am and then I would go home and shower, hop on my bike and get to the camp at 6:30 to open up the place and receive the first kids arriving at 7 am and I would work until 6 pm when the last kids would leave (sometimes later when a parent would take their sweet time getting there) and be home for dinner at 6:30 pm). I also did one winter at a corner store when I was 18 (it’s the legal age to drink in my Canadian province so you can also sell alcohol at that point) and this taught me about making small sacrifices as I was working on Christmas eve that winter and couldn’t go party with my family. At 19, I had 10 000$ in the bank and bought my first car cash with my own money and moved out of the family home (never went back, never asked help with money for rent, gas, insurance, food or anything, I was fully independent and could take care of myself like a champ!). At that point I had a job in a hobby store where I broke an expensive piece of machinery by shear foolishness for which I was promptly fired. And that’s when I got a job in the federal government and slowly climbed the ladder to where I am today, a specialist in my field, coordinator of the section and supervisor to multiple employees. My first jobs paved the way to where I am today and I wouldn’t change the experience for anything. Every single one of those jobs taught me something valuable. Trust in the process.

  • I have been in the adult working world now for almost 25 years. I’m looking to leave a job I recently started because the environment is very unprofessional in a way I have never seen before.

    What I have been thinking about lately is how valuable a good cohesive working environment is, especially the older you get. Be respectful of your coworkers and their roles. Be willing to stand up to behaviors that are not supportive of a professional working atmosphere. Doing nothing is failing to acknowledge that behavior is inappropriate.

    A good team is the very best benefit you can have, and if you are happy with that dynamic, everything else is gravy. Think twice before “trading up”, it just might not be worth it!!!

  • My first jobs were playing my trumpet at military funerals and babysitting. My uncle is a funeral director, so that’s how I got involved in that. I’m a mom now, I think I would cry at every funeral if I had to do that now. At the time, it just felt like another gig that I had to do because I played a lot then. After playing, I’d always be invited to the VFW to have lunch with the other veterans, and I always enjoyed that (mostly because I’m an old soul and have always enjoyed the company of elders). It taught me a lot about how resilient and tough these old guys are/were. It’s sad to think now that most of those guys have probably passed on by now.

  • My first ever job was a summer job when I was 11 or 12. We had a church family of candle makers who hired people to help with their candle business. All the preteens and teens piled into the den to be wick trimmers and make a meager $5 or so. I got curious and walked into the garage the second day and found people pouring wax and taking shaped candles out of molds. I became a mold remover that day and went from $5 to $8/hr. It shaped me greatly because even though I didn’t quite understand the impact back then, I was able to look back and see the implications; following the crowd and settling can be comfortable, but looking beyond and trying something out of your comfort zone might be rewarding career wise.

  • The comment about your clothes smelling from working at the pizza place is SO true! My first job was at Pizza Hut and my sisters always made fun of me for coming home from work smelling of pizza, it would even permeate my hair haha.

    After Pizza Hut I worked at a retirement home on the dining staff. It was a pretty awful job, the boss was a misogynist and paid the men almost $2 more per hour than the women. For the most part, I enjoyed interacting with the elderly residents, but there were some who were kind of awful and others were so depressing I wanted to cry.

    My favorite jobs were while I was in college, I spent two years at Victoria’s Secret. It was at this job that I learned the value in female friendships, before that, I didn’t have many female friends. While there I met one of my best friends and I’m still in contact with a lot of my old co-workers. After that I was a behavioral health aide at an elementary school, I was lucky enough to work with some of my best friends and it taught me some serious patience.

  • My first job was as a cashier in a grocery store. I learned a lot. I learned patience, how to nicely deal with rude customers and the importance of a boss to treat their employees well.

  • I love this post! My first job was at Mickey D’s, lol. It feels like a million years ago. I learned that I never want to work in the fast-food industry again and I later in life became a vegan. My latest job is blogging and it’s much more my wheelhouse. I guess I’ve always needed a job where I can be more. I seem to need a lot of creative freedom and flexibility so there you go! It’s cool how many different hats we wear in life.

    ~Laurali Star
    https://www.everydaylauralistar.com/

  • My first job was at a movie theater in San Diego. It was the 90’s and it was an up and coming area with a 12 screen theater. I worked in the snack bar and will never get the smell of fake popcorn butter out of my nostrils. Free movie tickets were a huge perk as well as working around my school schedule.

    • I would take free movie tickets for the price of the fake smell of popcorn. Ha. But I know what you mean-I still can’t walk into a Papa Murphy’s pizza without the smelling kind of transporting me. Don’t get me wrong, I love pizza, but it’s just something about it being a little TOO MUCH for many years. Ha

  • One of my favorite jobs ever was when I worked as a waitress. I absolutely loved working around the public in the restaurant setting. However, this job also taught me how much I hate working on weekends and for someone else. So you can definitely say this job helped me learn how much I wanted to be an entrepreneur!!

    -Kate
    https://daysofkate.com/

  • My first job was also babysitting when I was 11. 50 cents an hour to babysit four small children and and usually a waiting to be adopted newborn, which is why I loved it so much. I spent a lot of time trying not to eat all the snickerdoodles that were in the cookie jar.
    My next job was camp counselor, started as a counselor in training (love the CIT song from Meatballs). I loved this job. So much.
    Then in high school I had a job at the “European Health Spa”. I had to wear a little mini dress and my manager dressed up like a Greek goddess. I led the ladies through their routines among all the fake Greek columns and statues. It was basically hilarious.
    Seriously though, I wish I was still a camp counselor.

  • I worked at Dollar Tree too! It motivated me to take school seriously because I wanted more for my life than that. I didn’t have the best managers and customers were not always pleasant… But I got some weird stories out of it!

    • Ha. Yeah, probably dollar stores do attract characters (of course I still shop at them sometimes too so I’m not making fun, I just totally get it)

      🙂

  • Thanks for sharing all of your jobs – I actually LOVE hearing about what other people do for work haha, idk why. Like even down to the little mundane tasks. It’s fascinating to me!

    My first job was working at a pool in the summer when I was 14 & 15! I was a swim teacher assistant and helped watch the kids while the teachers were busy with another. Then I worked at a preschool the summer I was 16, helping watch the kids, and then Hollister for 6 months during the school year (that was AWFUL.) I had a stint working at Michael’s Arts & Crafts for a year and then worked at my school’s info desk in college. The only job I really HATED was Hollister (mainly due to bad management, though). All these jobs really taught me how to interact with people, and to take initiative and step up when things got busy (i.e. Michael’s during Christmas – that was something else!!)

  • My first job was working for my dad’s bakery. I started out small with putting prices on bags, moved on to helping with the chocolate chip cookies and graduated to driving a van and delivering bread! At the time, I wished I could be more like my friends and work at the ‘cool’ jobs like waitressing or at the different stores in town. But, years later, I realized I was the one with the unique experience! Being able to drive around on my own, listening to music with the windows down and meeting new people was something I’ll always remember and the lessons learned have stayed with me ever since!

  • Not my first job, but I worked at a coffee shop at some point in college, and it taught me the importance of everyday kindness. Smile at your barista. Tip if you can afford to. Look up from your phone. I now work in public affairs consulting but I still think back to that job when deadlines are looming. I usually try to remember two lessons: 1) We’re all just doing the best we can. 2) it’s so much easier if we appreciate the work/hours everyone is putting in rather than only focusing on flaws/to dos. Life is hard enough!

  • My first job was washing dishes at a super quaint little tea room overlooking the river. It was owned by this tough-as-nails old lady who didn’t take any crap! It was a bit of a shock to the system for me and I didn’t last long there before running with my tail between my legs to work for a fish and chip shop instead! But looking back she was a good business owner who ran a tight ship and simply didn’t tolerate people messing her around. The original girl boss! Haha.

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