What was Your First Job? What Did You Take Away From It?

McDonald's, first job, Canada

First Ever McDonald’s Store – Des Plaines, Illinois

Even though the employment market is slowly improving, the job opportunities for young people out of school remain pretty tight. Part of this is due to the economic times we live in today, and big part is due those who are supposed to be retiring aren’t retiring due to debt crisis, improper spending and lack of saving.Even high school students are having a tough time finding part time or summer jobs simply due to more supply than demand. Even with the tough times and lack of employment opportunities, far too many students aren’t taking action to prepare themselves for the job market.

That’s today’s job market and it’s student, but more than ten years ago times were different – at least for myself. My family didn’t have very many rules, but one thing that my parents wanted to instill in myself and eventually my brother was the rewards of hard work. If we wanted a car by a certain age, we could have it, but we’d have to work towards obtaining one, and pay towards keeping it on the road. That’s probably why I got my first job at the tender age of 14 flipping burgers at McDonald’s. I was the youngest person working at the store, but thanks to my aunt who happened to be the store manager and initially helped me obtain a job I learned many valuable lessons that still serve me today, and more importantly was able to save enough dough for my first car by the time I hit my 17th birthday.

Reflecting back to my first job, here are a few lessons I took away from it and the same lessons that have shaped into who I am today.

Minimum Wage Wasn’t That Bad

Back in 1999 while flipping burgers the local McDonald’s, I was earning a whopping $6.85 per hour. It doesn’t sound like a lot now, but the money was great for me at the time. Even while in school I manged to squeeze in about 30 hours of work a week and at $6.85 an hour gave me roughly around $800 before taxes. Not bad, especially for a fourteen year old kid who was still living at home with no primary expenses other than taking the girlfriend out to the movies and buying some clothes here and there.

Even a cell phone was something that was remote to myself, and very few kids had one back then, so undoubtedly expenses were at a minimum. My parents would drop me off for most shifts, and at times they couldn’t drive me I took the bus, which back then cost a whopping $1.25 per trip. Time were good back then, especially for a fourteen year old boy who had a job, spending money and more importantly was saving towards his first car. Getting a job in high-school was one of the best things I could have done. It set a routine for me, and more importantly grounded me.

There’s More to Life Than Working at McDonald’s

Despite a generous amount of over-time at my disposal and unlimited earning potential, deep down I knew that I didn’t want to be flipping burgers or working in a fast food joint for the rest of my life. It never understood then why I was only fourteen and the guy working the drive-thru was twenty eight, but I knew it didn’t make any sense. This guy was pretty hard working and intelligent, but for whatever reason was wearing the same lame uniform like myself and following extremely simple directions on how to take proper food orders.

It was people like this who motivated me to do the best I could in school and eventually make something out of myself one day. Nothing to take away from the part-time job it self, but I knew this isn’t what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and yet I was thankful for the taste of real work and the motivation it gave me to move onto something higher.

Hard Work Does Pay Off

I worked McDonald’s for three years, and eventually quit the job to move onto a slightly higher paying job at the local grocery store. The difference between the two jobs wasn’t remarkable, but instead of being driven to the job, now I was driving myself to my part-time job. Like I said, hard work does pay off and I managed to save enough money (and with a little help from my parents) to purchase my first car. All of the late shifts, long tiring days and overtime had finally paid off when I became a proud owner of a 1993 Mazda.

Disciple and the Desire to Become More

Even though this was only a part time job, it taught me a lot about discipline. Working roughly 4-5 shifts per week meant that I had to plan ahead as to how I was going to get to work, getting to work on time and more importantly leaving enough time for school work. Even tough I was never an “A” student in school, nor did I ever strive to become one, I always worked hard to be that B or B+ student. I suppose this allowed me to work as well, because maintaining high grades and working wasn’t something that comes naturally for most.

Despite being young and enjoying a comfortable income for a fourteen year old kid, I knew that I wanted to become more. School was in the back of my mind always, and I knew that I wanted to earn some sort of education in order to open doors for the future. I was also fortunate enough to work in an environment that featured different walks of life. There were those my age who are starting out like myself – young, innocent and inexperienced. Then there were those in school and working to pay for everyday life such as tuition. Finally, there were also some who had no schooling and were working two part-time jobs to put food on the table.

Deep down I knew I didn’t want to be like the last example, and always admitted to myself that this was only a part-time gig.

Final Thoughts

Getting a job in high-school was one of the best things I could have done. It gave me a taste for what I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life. More importantly it taught me the value of money, saving money, discipline and that through hard work anything is achievable. Five years later, my brother followed my footsteps and started his working career in the same fast food joint, flipping the same burgers and worked with nearly 60% of the same staff that I worked with five years earlier. Some things never changed, but my first job changed who I am and allowed me to become who I am today.

Today, I find it funny when parent’s don’t allow their teens to work or protect them from work with the lame excuses such as, ‘They’re still in school.’ I was in school and still worked, all through high school and through college. Getting into the workforce early allowed me more freedom, and it pushed me to grow up faster than the rest of my peers. More importantly, it gave me responsibility. Today’s generation I find is lacking responsibilities, and is full of excuses. Being involved in anything extra curricular (especially something that pays in return) will keep anyone (including teenagers) busy, give them a sense of responsibility and ease the financial situation on any parent.

Readers, what was your first job? and what did you take away from it?



  1. Good post. My first job was at 14 as well and I worked at a local grocery store. I had many of the same takeaways and learned quickly that not everything was just given to me, that it actually required work. Some of those lessons I still carry today and are invaluable in many ways.
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  2. My first job was also my only other job. I was a retail manager for young women’s clothing. I loved the discount, it looked great on my resume, and I met all of my close friends there.
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  3. I was a door to door salesman. I was a commissioned sales person and I learned how to perform and was paid fairly well. Minimum wage was $1.10 at the time and I averaged $5-7 per hour. More importantly, it was my spending money in college. I learned to live on a budget that year and still use some of those skills. It also taught me to overcome obstacles.
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  4. My first job was as a waitress and it sucked. I learned that I didn’t want to work in food service as an adult. It was a thankless job and my income depended on the generosity of strangers. No thank you!
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  5. My first job was summer work in high school; I worked for a construction company installed voice/data/fiber optic cables in commercial buildings (mostly schools, hospitals, and court houses). I learned that I wanted to always be in buildings that had air conditioning – many of the jobs we worked on were new construction so there was no A/C yet. I also learned how hard those guys work and how difficult of a job they have.
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  6. My first job was working at a pizza chain. I worked there for 8 months. Taught me the importance of getting an education so I could earn more than minimum wage.

  7. Just getting my first job was a daunting experience, I didn’t even know what was involved in getting one! Like many people at the time, my first job was doing telemarketing. It was aweful, I think I lasted one or MAYBE two weeks at that place. They would hand us pages that had been pulled out of a phone book, I remember getting one lead during my time there.

    There were some people with interesting last names that I called, the most memorable being the “Death” family. Maybe it’s pronounced Deeth? True story!
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  8. My first job was a paper boy and I love it. It was the first time I got to make my own money and I learned responsibility. I saved my money and never wanted to spend it. Probably why I am the way I am today only paying cash and saving for what I want to buy. My mum used to laugh when we would come home from vacation and I hadn’t spent any money. I learned that money when you put it in a bank account grows and I enjoyed seeing the money grow. I learned that in order to buy something you needed to have the cash and that my parents weren’t going ot give it to me and I had to earn it. Great post. Eddie, Mr.CBB
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  9. I’ve worked hard all my life and had jobs through high school too. I, too, appreciate the value of work. Perhaps because I’m at least two decades older, though, I have a more tolerant attitude towards others than you appear to have in this post.

    Things ARE different than they were 10 years ago. Jobs are not so plentiful and the workplace, especially in urban environments is not what it once was for young people. It can be a dangerous place and not all parents are able to drive their kids to and from their jobs at all hours of the day and night in order to keep them both safe and employed.

    Further, there are many reasons beside poor planning that are keeping elders in the job market. The economic crisis of 2008 caused many to lose the funds they invested towards retirement. Many more are staying working because the interaction helps to keep their minds sharp and to keep them involved socially.

    You make many good points here, and i agree with much of what you say. I’m just asking, please, that you be a little less judgemental in your statements.
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  10. My first real job was at the local movie theater when I was 15. I definitely agree that I took away a sense of discipline and structure from it, as well as learning the value of a dollar!
    I held on alot tighter to those bucks once they were mine and not my parents! LOL:)

  11. I’m agree that starting to work early is good. Almost all successful people started in selling lemonade or garage stuff.

    My first job was washing cars in summer during my high school time. It was hard and wet but I managed to make my first money and realize how it hard to get.
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