Rite of Passage: That First Job

DISHROOMLast week my daughter received her first paycheck.  There’s just something extraordinary about seeing your name on that first check; it validates one’s worth, in a way, and the experience of that first job seems to stay with you for a lifetime, more so than that piece of paper.  (Well, it has for me anyway.)

Over the past two weeks, I’ve enjoyed listening to my daughter, Grace, talk about her co-workers and patrons at the restaurant for where she’s a hostess. And I can’t help but wonder where this first job—those experiences will take her later on, in her much older life.  Possibly, “the characters” she’s been encountering will be found on the pages of that great novel she’s destined to write, one day. Who knows. But, I do know that my first job has definitely shaped the person—the professional I am today.

Back in the Mid-80s, in my small town, you could obtain a work permit at thirteen-and-a-half years of age.   I counted down the days until I hit that golden age. Once I received that glorious piece of paper permitting me to work, I applied for a position at The College of Wooster in the food service division. My first job was washing dishes and to this day is one of my favorite jobs, because of the experiences and the people I worked with, not due to the $3.35 hourly rage I was given.

The assembly-line dishroom was hot and humid and not exactly a glamorous environment or job.  The majority of my co-workers were foreigners on a work study program at the college and I idolized them. Whether I was racking the glasses or salad plates or sorting the silverware, I’d eavesdrop on the places they had lived, the courses they were taking and the books they were currently reading, and often times they’d bitch about  certain professors, in their various accents that were hard to decipher above the noise of machines, combined with the banging of dishware.  I desperately wanted to be a part of that “high-brow” dishroom chatter, but I was just some “townie” kid, to them. So, I decided to start reading the books they’d recommend to one another and I’d refer to maps during my free-time to find out exactly where Laos, and the like, was located. And I decided to wear make-up to work, trying to look much older and sophisticated, to them. Now, wearing make-up to wash dishes in a boiling room wasn’t exactly my brightest decision, and reading books penned by Camus was way too heavy for me to comprehend at 13-ish, to say the least. Still, I continued to do so, hoping one day I’d be invited to partake in all of that glorious, Worldly repartee swirling above the noise of clanking dishware.

Then, I had a lucky break of sorts. The College of Wooster has an orchestra and at the time they didn’t have enough students to compose a full string section, so they opened auditions to the townspeople.   I auditioned and was given a spot in the 2nd violin section. One of my dishroom co-workers noticed my name on the orchestra roster, and started talking to me one day at work—about classical music. I was in! I continued to wear make-up that melted down my face for some reason, but now my dishroom companions started recommending books that I should read, famous paintings I should look at and places I should definitely travel to when I was of age to do so. They had become my mentors of the Globe. I downloaded it all for nearly four years.

Twenty-eight years later, it is not lost on me that I can decipher broken English, easily, and that the majority of my clients in real estate are non-US citizens.  I credit my first job, washing dishes at the College of Wooster, for my successes today.

Therefore, I can’t wait to see how Grace’s first job, as a hostess, enhances her journey throughout life.

How has your first job enhanced who you are, today?







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