On paper, President Barack Obama’s story and mine don’t have that much in common. (Our daily lives are pretty different, to say the least—I can’t remember the last time I threw a dinner party for 20 of my closest world leader friends.) You may not think you and President Obama don’t have much in common, either. But both you and I would be incorrect—we all have something very important in common. Everyone, including future presidents, had to start somewhere.
In President Obama’s case (and mine!), that start was in the ice cream biz. These days, the President likely has a team of people ready to bring him ice cream whenever he wants it. But once upon a time, he was a teen looking for a foothold in the working world. Like all of us at the very beginning, he was eager for skills and experience that would lead to the next opportunity, then another and another. And while everyone’s path is different, and may not lead to the White House, there are some universal things that we all take from our early job experiences.
Work kind of sucks.
Sometimes work is great! Sometimes we love our coworkers, and have awesome days. But even in the happiest of times in the best-fitting of jobs, there will be overwhelming days, or times when we hate it. That realism is an unavoidable lesson from one’s first job. Optimism is fantastic, but should always be tempered somewhat with the pragmatic philosophy that sometimes things will be hard, and we need to learn how to power through that.
You learn something at every job you’ll ever have.
For example, after my own high school summers serving Blizzards, I learned that I was no longer interested in serving food to people. But I also learned skills like how to use a cash register, how to deal with coworkers of varying competence, and how a small business franchise operates.
I didn’t pursue a long-term career related to ice cream sales, but I developed a skill base that I can always draw on, all these years later. Even if you worked someplace for three days before quitting in horror, chances are you learned either something about the workplace in general, or something about yourself.
Time management is the key.
There are very few jobs out there that are totally unstructured. Whether you got up at 6 a.m. to work a shift, or needed to figure out how to check off your to-do list in order to get out on time at 5 p.m., those early jobs helped instill in us a sense of what time means in the professional world.
The workplace is a community.
That may sound a little “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” but it’s true—working is something all of us have in common. Any workplace is its own little community, with traditions, responsibilities, and a whole bunch of different personalities pushed together for many hours per week. And that little community fits into the broader community somehow, whether it’s providing services or filling needs.
At some point, whether in the near past or the distant past, all of us were green kids with few skills. Looking back and understanding how those early jobs helped us, no matter what path we chose after those earliest opportunities, makes us all the stronger in the future.
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