March 14, 2018

Do You Remember Your First Paying Job?

For some reason, not long ago, I was thinking about my first "real" job. Technically, that would have been my paper route when I was twelve and living in Cambridge, Ohio. But, that isn't the one that came to mind. Rather it was my first job in radio, one set my path for the next 36 years. 

I was so focused on what I wanted to do with my life I was willing to take on absolutely anything to make my dream come true. Whenever I could convince my mom to give me a ride, I would visit a very small, very unsuccessful radio station that was in a two story, cinder block building, at the end of a seldom-used road about 25 minutes from our home.

It was sitting beside a small river that tended to flood every spring. Poor construction meant the radio station's lower floor flooded, too. I remember the handful of employees, in boots, and galoshes, swishing around in several inches of water. Luckily, the actual studios and transmitter, the parts with all the electricity, were up one floor, but, still...


After several pestering visits, the manager agreed to allow me to be a once-a-week janitor. This was an unpaid position, but I eagerly accepted since I could now have a reason to be there. I had just turned 15 so I could drive myself to "work"  with my learner's permit (as long as it wasn't after sunset). I was all grown up. 

Mopping floors, throwing out the trash, and running errands for the announcers occupied my time. Sometimes I had to help bail out the bottom floor or move papers and files out of the flood water's way. Eventually, my presence lead to a chance to audition for an on-air opening. I got it. I was a 16 year old untrained kid  but I was willing to work for virtually nothing after school and weekends. Since very few people actually listened to this station, there was little risk to the owner. I hung around the station even when I wasn't being paid, doing newscasts and playing taped programs.

After a few years of learning how not to embarrass myself and others, I moved on to a bigger station until college pulled me out of the area.


The river that would flood the radio station basement
Eventually, that old studio was abandoned when the station moved to another part of town, changed owners and call letters. What was left burned to the ground sometime later. 

Amazingly, I found this picture of where that little station once was. The radio tower is still standing but nothing else.

The apartment buildings were added well after my time.

All of this was over 50 years ago, yet I can still remember the people, the studio, my first real job, and the thrill of being "on the radio."

How about you? Do you remember your first paying job, the one that told the world you were here? Was it a good experience, or one you try to forget? What did you learn about yourself and the world of work?


32 comments:

  1. Fun memories! My first was at 10 or 11 selling customized engraved Christmas cards, door to door, in the summertime. I learned a lot of rejection going door to door. However, it was quite an incredible experience when someone let me into the house, sitting at their kitchen table doing a sales pitch and taking their order!

    Along the same thought line, currently in the middle of writing a book for my grandchildren about every job I've ever had. I've had 49 jobs. Hence the title: 49 Jobs

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    1. 49 jobs...wow! That should be quite a story, and a great idea for your grandkids.

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  2. Paying job? Started at eleven being a mother's helper. Babysitting was lucrative, but so was organizing neighborhood plays and puppet theater.
    Worked, part time, addressing advertisement for several neighbor's businesses. Worked as a nanny and then the jewelry or china counters at several department stores through high school and college.
    With pure joy I landed my first teaching job . First grade crop-migrant worker kids who landed in Mesa schools, in Apache Junction, nine weeks at a time. I had over 100 students on my little grade register by the end of the year. Taught most of them - and a few of their parents- how to read. (The biggest push was to teach them to read basic contracts so they could translate for their parents.) I puked almost every day because of the responsibility.
    That job set me up to become a "boy's teacher". All of my other teaching jobs I was known as the teacher who would easily take on the wiggly, non English speaking, dance around the classroom, look at things sideways, boys. Best jobs ever! Thirty years of looking at things through kid eyes.
    I come from an entrepreneurial family. I am the only one, out of our five, that ever took a "traditional" job for the government. Awww--the blessings of living in the US. Change, grow and be whoever you want to be.

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    1. Your description of young boys in a classroom is perfect: wiggly!

      I did some of the baby sitting stuff too, but it was too infrequent for me to think of it as a job. I tried selling stamps to collectors for awhile. I think I was 10 or 11. The problem? I sold them for less than I paid for them. Good business lesson.

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  3. My first job was in my junior year of high school. I was a clerk and relief switchboard operator for an unemployment office in Brooklyn, New York. It was a job I was assigned to from our co-operative education program. I worked one week and went to school the following week. I didn't like the job really, but I loved the people except the director. What I learned from that job is your coworkers matter more than the job or the pay especially if it's not something you enjoy doing. The funny thing about having worked there is I've never been laid or, nor have I ever collected unemployment benefits. Maybe that job back in the 70s protected me from that fate today(?). Who knows. I also learned I am not a morning person and I need to work a flexible schedule.
    ;)

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    1. That is a good point about coworkers. This may be a generalization, but because of technology it seems like many of today's jobs are solitary: one person at one computer or one phone. I wonder if the sharing that coworkers used to engage in still happens.

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    2. It does at our company.

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  4. Started a newspaper route when I was eight. Actually it was my brother's route but he was moving on and since I was there and available, the newspaper ignored that I was underage. Between my older brother, myself, and my younger brother we kept the route in the family for many, many years.

    While I did different jobs for cash during the summer as well, I started working a real job during the summers (as well as the paper route( in the shoe factory at Endicott-Johnson in the Southern Tier of NY. I was 12 when I started that, but working papers were easy to forge back then, and i was six feet tall already so they figured I was old enough. Learned a lot from the workers there, most of whom were European immigrants from Italy and elsewhere that E-Js brought in. Interesting times that taught me a work ethic, and advanced my love for saving $.

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    1. You did begin young! I don't think I've ever known someone who worked in a shoe factory.

      I remember getting a neighborhood boy to deliver my papers on a particularly snowy day. The route started at least a mile away from my home and when it was too snowy to ride a bike I had to pull a wagon. Paying someone else to struggle through the bad weather was my first experience at delegation of unpleasant duties. I think I lost money on that arrangement but thought it was worth it.

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  5. I worked PT in the dietary & housekeeping departments at the local hospital while I was in high school which morphed into direct patient care as a ward aide. This was the catalyst to my career as a nurse/health educator. It also funded my first trip overseas to visit with my penpal in England. An income translated into personal freedom. When I was junior high age, I helped a school custodian do the major cleaning during spring break. I can still remember being in charge of a very cumbersome floor polisher. In retrospect, it was in charge of me!

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    1. Those massive, spinning floor polishers looked quite dangerous!

      You mentioned a penpal. I imagine no one born in the last 40 years has any idea what that is. I had a few European penpals over the years...well before computers, e-mails, and text! I remember getting excited when the envelope with the foreign stamp arrived at our house.

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  6. In my junior year of high school I thought I might like to be a nurse so, through a co-op program at school I was able to go to the medical ward at a senior citizen community. It didn't work out well at all. The head nurse knew my grandmother from her time at the mental hospital where my grandmother worked at. She 'assumed' I would be my grandmother's clone but boy was she wrong! The first patient I met was terminally ill with stomach cancer. She was a sweet woman with a loving family and I admired her stamina.
    There was an Irish guy who showed up one afternoon and was placed in the room at the end of a long hall. On his first day, when lunch was being served in the dining hall if you were able to eat there, he came marching down the hall with nothing but a tam on his head! It was quite a show!
    There was a woman with hair down to her knees who needed someone to braid it every day. It took forever and she squealed through it all. I tried to avoid her if possible.
    There was another woman who would take practically anything she could get her hands on and shove it in her vagina while screaming RAPE! at the top of her lungs.
    I was not enjoying this at all. But, I had become kind of close to the lady with cancer. She was so sweet and so was her family. So, when she passed away and the head nurse told me I had to prep her for the funeral director I said NO! She proceeded to drag me down the hall and force me to help her. That was my last day there and it had only been 2 weeks! I learned very quickly that nursing was NOT in my future!

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    1. With that "introduction" to the profession, no wonder. Heavens.

      Just think, if you had stuck it out and begun to like it, you would have missed the excitement of radio and writing!

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  7. My first real job, not counting baby sitting, was calling people up and telling them they had "won" Arthur Murray studio dance lessons. Remember that, guys? Nobody liked getting those calls and I never persuaded anyone to come in for the dance lessons. After almost two months the supervisor and I agreed I was not cut out for the job.

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    1. I actually signed up with a local Arthur Murray studio when I was trying to learn to dance because Betty liked it. I lasted 2 lessons.

      So, you were an early version of a telemarketer.

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    2. Yes, and just as popular.

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  8. Oh, this is fun! My first paying job was as a cashier in the snack bar at the high school I attended. But my first real job was in the accounting department of a small local bank. I started there when I was 20 and pretty much grew up in the banking industry, working in both the accounting and human resources fields. What I loved about working at the bank was the size of the institution. It had several branches but only about 50 employees. Everyone except the tellers knew how to do at least two jobs and I was able to work with and learn from senior officers, the operations manager and the internal auditor. I remember that one of the Vice Presidents, in particular, would never hesitate to pick up an incoming call on the switchboard when the operator was on another call. That made quite an impression and I've never forgotten that lesson. We covered each other's vacations and celebrated marriages, births and special occasions together. One of the lending officers was married to a minister, so we even had an appropriate person to say grace at our beloved Christmas parties. Our bank formed an inter-bank softball league that included other local banks and several car dealerships for which we wrote auto loans. We even entered a float in the local St. Patrick's Day parade a couple of times. The knowledge I gained there led to other positions in both finance and HR later on and generated a life long focus on excellent customer service. No job before or since could top the challenges and rewards - and the team spirit - that came with working at that bank.

    And Barbara, I give you a lot of credit. I wouldn't have lasted two weeks in any medically related field. We always told our kids that, sometimes, being able to cross something off your list is just as important as confirming that a position is a good fit.

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    1. Your story is a good example of something that has been lost in too many instances in our society: businesses small enough to offer true customer service as well as foster a spirit of teaching and teamwork. With extreme specialization in most industries your experience is unlikely available today.

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  9. My first 'real' job was the summer after I graduated high school. I was hired as a bond clerk (I cut off the coupons on paper bonds, remember those?) I was paid $2 an hour (the minimum wage was $1.75 an hour that year) and sat in a cubby all day long. My gross weekly pay was $86.54 (before taxes!) My kids make that money now in about a minute or two. Took me 40 hours of drudgery and exhaustion to earn that pittance. Rising early in the morning, getting dressed in a real dress and stockings, riding a super hot subway for about an hour each way (and yes, I once got attacked on a train...some pervert put his hands up my dress while I hung on a strap hanger). One morning a co-worker and I arrived at work exactly at 9:05AM. We were 5 minutes late. My co-worker, a guy headed to college in the fall was immediately fired and sent home. I was given a warning (because they thought I was going to be a long term employee, I wasn't sure yet if I was going to college).
    That event set my whole life long concept of work.
    How, I asked myself, could anyone depend on a job for their livelihood, if they could be fired just like that? What security was there in life?
    I swore right there and then, at the age of 17 to make myself as financially independent as soon as possible and NEVER ever depend on 'the man' for my livelihood.
    I'd rather stick needles in my eyes than ever hold a job.
    Been a successful entrepreneur ever since. And yes, I went to college that September. I didn't just "go" to college. I RAN there!

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    1. Great life lesson.

      I remember paper bonds but didn't know there a job just for cutting off the coupons!

      Being in business for yourself creates its own problems, but you don't ever risk firing yourself because you are late. There are an increasing number of retirees who are starting their own business just because they want to do things their own way, after years of performing for "the man."

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  10. My first job was between my junior and senior years of high school - I worked in the kitchen of a psychiatric hospital, serving meals, cleaning up (i.e. washing pots and pans), cleaning tables and the dining room, etc. I got the job courtesy of my sister's boyfriend's dad, who was the administrator. The patients were nice for the most part, and I had no contact with those in the "locked ward." I'm pretty sure I only made minimum wage, but after getting 25 cents an hour for babysitting for years that seemed like a fortune to me! I worked with some "interesting" people: the cook had no teeth, and often kept a big tumbler of orange juice and vodka in the fridge, but his food was good; the dishwasher had long, lanky greasy hair but was interesting to talk with, and the other kitchen assistant had recently moved from rural Texas and was morbidly obese, a rarity in those days. They were unlike anyone I had ever met in my up-to-then sheltered life, but they were all kind, and had interesting stories - we all got along well. The job taught me a lifelong lesson about respecting difference, and not judging people immediately by their appearance, or education, or life story. I sometimes think about my co-workers that summer, and how little they made and wonder now how they got by on so little, although I guess you could then. None of them had nor needed a second job, but I doubt any of them had it easy.

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    1. I find it fascinating all of us can remember these first job experiences in such detail, but what we had for dinner last night...a mystery.

      The description of your coworkers is a vivid picture that makes the scene come alive. I can "see" each of these characters in my mind. Words (and memories) are so powerful.

      Thanks, Laura.

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  11. What a wonderful thought provoking question. As with others I started with babysitting and yes "bean walking"-walking up and down rows in soybean field and pulling or hoeing out weeds.

    However, I was so excited when I landed a job at the local drug store and got to do it all. I work the food counter, assist the pharmacist-counting, mixing, deliveries to the hospital, and did the retail stocking, inventory, and cash register (yes-the type where you pulled levels for dollars and cents-took money-and had to count money backwards to the customer)
    I learned work ethic, customer service, and how to be polite in public. I had great role models in the pharmacists who all were co-owners and coached/encouraged me to go into pharmacy. However, I felt drawn to adult education and just finished a 33 year career in non-profit. In a small rural community I was so fortunate to have had that experience. The owners were so generous, I would work whenever I was home from college and make extra money. I will forever remember getting a Christmas bonus even when I was away at college.

    A part-time job is good for young teens/college students. My grown children worked summers, and a while attending college. It helped them to appreciate valuable resources and better manage their time.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share-Oh and by the way my 3 younger siblings also worked at that Drug Store. When one left for college the next in age got the job. Good Memories from 40 years ago.

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    1. Just like Laura's description, you have such powerful memories and vivid pictures in your mind of something that happened 40 years ago.

      Today, teenagers and college students are less likely to find the small, welcoming, supportive environment that we did. Asking if you want fries with that, restocking the aisles at Home Depot, or delivering Papa Johns pizza doesn't allow for the same type of growth opportunities. Sure, the people you work with may be memorable or able to give you the basics of how to keep a job, but the personal level of concern is missing. You are not likely to meet and work closely with the business owner.

      Even so, working while still a student is important. It is probably one of the few ways to learn basic financial control and subjecting one's needs to the group's needs before starting a real career path.

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  12. My first job was at a clothing boutique. I folded sweaters on table and made sure hanging clothing was in correct size and all buttons were buttoned, zippers zipped, and belts belted and buckles closed. Then, I got to help people find sizes and such and bring more clothes to the dressing room. However, I was shown a code on the backs of tags. I got 25 or 50 cents for selling these as they had been in the store too long. I silently rebelled against telling people these looked best on them. I was honest about how clothing looked, even telling women which skirt or dress or pants made their butts look bigger. Yes, I sold lots of clothing. Eventually, the owner asked me why people came in and asked for me. I never told him, just remained clueless. I learned a soft sell that has stood me in good stead when I started my own business. I did not stay there for long. We were a bad fit and I left.

    Then, I got two jobs at one time--Sears and TG&Y. I worked 12 hours a day during those two jobs at Christmas. For years anywhere I lived as a sahm, I could always get a seasonal job at Sears. I learned very good customer service skills there. At TG&Y I was taught to do every job in the store by the manager who had me follow him most days. We talked as he taught me how to cut glass and lay out little bins for merchandise. He taught me to cut window shades, make keys, and to weigh and price candy from the candy bin. Believe it or not, I was the only person to master everything in the store. One day, I told the manager I needed a raise. I did not ask. He asked me what made me think I should get a raise. Thinking on my feet, I told him I could do everything in the store that he could, and I was the only employee who could. He gave me the raise next paycheck and I then made $2/hour. He tried to get me to work in the office, but I was not going to be responsible for counting money even though I did it every day at the cash register. He said I was never over 2 cents off, so I suppose I was doing fine.

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    1. Eventually, I was made the official trainer of checkers. He watched me train someone for a whole day. Then, he told me to work with the new person for two more days, allowing her to work while I watched. Teaching a skill is something I do well because I do not skip steps and do not breathe down a person's neck and criticize, making them a bundle of nerves. I am very patient, encouraging, and speak in a soft manner, nothing sharp. I remember the people who trained me well and tried to emulate them. I also remember how sharp tones and criticism rattled my nerves. I could get off any time I pleased because I rarely asked, unlike all the other employees.

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    2. Your story is one of customer service. You put the customers' needs first and that paid off for you. That is a lesson every business needs to master.

      You made yourself invaluable by learning every skill and being good at them. That is another important lesson for anyone just starting a career or life of employment. The people who get raises and promotions are those that put in the effort. Especially for a sahm (stay at home mom), becoming versatile and dependable are key skills in the job market.

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    3. A few years later, my two sisters recounted their tales of learning every job and never turning down anything different at their respective jobs. One was successful restaurant manager and the other climbed the corporate ladder. Neither of us considered ourselves a "specialist."

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  13. These stories are great. I grew up in a small town and was the oldest of six, so people knew I babysat. But the first job i remember outside that realm was washing windows. An older woman lived a few houses down and had a newer home with windows that required an outside step ladder to reach them, and neither she nor her husband felt safe climbing that high. So my mom agreed I could do it. I can still remember trying to position that ladder in the grass so it didn't tip as I climbed it, then washing the windows carefully so I didn't fall off while moving my arms. It was precarious but paid pretty well for a kid. I think she paid me $5 whenever I did it, which was huge for a 12 year old at that time.
    --Hope

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  14. I had an entrepreneurial bent, so earned money in a variety of ways from a young age: koolaid stand, door-to-door sales of greeting cards, babystitting, lawn mowing. One family that I babysat for had two very energetic and rather naughty little boys. However, as I was used to looking after my own little brothers, I played with them and made friends with them, and then was able to get them to obey (go to bed, etc.). I became the regular babysitter for the family, and later learned that these two little rascals had chased away several previous babysitters through their disobedient behaviour. That babysitting job led to my first formal job. The father of the boys was the manager of a grocery store, and he invited me to apply for a job as a clerk there. The lesson that I learned — do your best in a difficult situation and you will be rewarded.

    Jude

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  15. My first jobs were babysitting jobs of various sorts that I started about age 12. I don't think the earliest ones (shepherding younger children safely to the school bus stop on a busy street several blocks from our house) were paid; I think my parents just thought that taking on these responsibilities would be good for me. However, it was made clear to me that when I turned 16, I needed to get a real job and my driver's license so that I could drive myself to work. Right around my 16th birthday, I went to the local unemployment office to look at the job files and quickly found a job as a cashier in an about-to-open supermarket. After training, I began my first shift at 4 p.m. on opening day of this new store. The store was mobbed with customers. When my first customer handed me a coupon for 500 extra Gold Bond stamps, I got so flustered that I gave her 5000 instead! Fortunately, I survived the first day trial by fire and came to be good at the work, especially the customer interaction part. I loved that job and worked at it through high school and during summers after I went away to college. -Jean

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