I was fifteen when I got my first summer job. I applied to a few places, and landed one in a local restaurant in the small city where I grew up. It was a family style pizza and pasta joint and well known for having great food and as a small kid, it was one of my favourite places to go when my family decided to splurge on a meal out. That was around thirty years ago and now my own daughter is fifteen and determined to secure her first job.
Even though that was the better part of three decades ago, I still remember my working experience pretty well. And that’s why I’ve been discouraging my teenage daughter from getting a job this summer.
The restaurant seemed like it would be a great place to work, since I was already familiar with it. Like any 15 year-old girl, I was dying for some pocket money to spend on my favourite clothes, trinkets and other things that my parents wouldn’t buy for me.
The job consisted of clearing tables and seating guests. Given that this was a local family restaurant, the training protocols were slim-to-none. I remember the manager flying me through the job expectations, then handing me a tray saying, “Go to it!” While my parents weren’t the overprotective, sheltering types, I still felt like I was being thrown to the wolves. I tried to keep my cool but inside I was freaking out. “Holy crap, what do I do here?” I repeated over in my mind while I rushed around the busy restaurant, trying to keep up. The summer turned into the new school year and I stuck with it.
A few weeks into my employment there, one of the managers called me into his office to talk. He sat me down and started talking to me about my ‘performance’. He said that it looked like I didn’t want to be there, and that some of the waiters and waitresses were complaining that I wasn’t clearing their tables fast enough.
I was dumb-founded.
Truthfully, I was a hard worker. I was a skinny 15-year-old girl doing a grueling job. At this family restaurant, everyone came at once, and therefore left at the same time, leaving behind a huge mess to clean up. I still sped around, filling heavy bus-tubs with dirty dishes and hauling them to the dish pit as fast as my skinny legs could go. The measly tips I made on top of the $4.25 an hour, hardly made it worth it. But I really did think that I was doing a good job.
What I learned is that even though I was working hard, perhaps it still wasn’t enough – the restaurant manager called me into his office a few times, to say that I wasn’t working fast enough, and the servers were complaining. Maybe the fact that I wasn’t really enjoying it showed on my face. Restaurant jobs are a revolving door, and looking back, I would guess that my manager was just doing his best because I probably wasn’t hustling at a fast enough pace. I wasn’t prepared for the challenge, and I learned a valuable lesson – doing something that you aren’t passionate about can be hard to do.
Once the Fall came around, it became a lot to balance with school. My shifts were usually 5-9pm at least two nights a week, plus one or two weekend days. It was a lot for a high school kid to handle and my grades were definitely suffering. The little bit of spending money was hardly worth cleaning up spilled spaghetti and getting hassled for not doing it quick enough.
I am not afraid of my kids doing hard work and I encourage them to make a little of their own spending money. But I think the smartest approach is to be more focused in order to cultivate and hustle up some kind of money-making venture that plays to your strengths. For my daughter, tutoring other students or being a teacher’s assistant at her dance studio is something that is much more rewarding for her. Perhaps I am over-cautious, but I would rather see my kids doing something they love part-time than doing some crummy full-time summer job.
While there are always lessons to be learned at any job, it doesn’t necessarily have to start while you are in high school. And so this past summer, I encouraged her to be a kid and to not get a summer job. As I have told my daughter, you have the rest of your life to work and most the time you don’t have a choice. So I hope by encouraging her to create her own side job, she’ll have more choices in the long run.