Everyone remembers their first job. On the day I turned 16 years old, my mom told me to go out there and get a job. She said I was old enough to earn my own living. I should be making my own money, washing my own dishes, doing my own laundry — and that I should be doing everything on my own except living out on my own.
Like most teenagers, I didn’t get it. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized the logic behind most of what my parents told me all my growing up years. So in May of 1998, I went out to look for that first job, and almost on the spot, I was hired at the local Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I enjoyed working in the fast-food industry. It was fast-paced and I was always on my feet. Just when you thought you could take a break from the long lines, the shift manager would ask why I was standing around. There was always something to do. If there were no customers, there was stocking of supplies. If the supplies were stocked, there was wiping down of tables. If the tables were wiped, there was cleaning of the bathrooms.
When you’re 16 years old and working at your first job, you do what you’re told, get paid what you get paid, and you keep going shift after shift. I was a vegetarian, and I went home each night smelling like fried chicken. I loved it.
Minimum wage-paying, fast food jobs make for a great foundation of what to appreciate at the beginning of careers. You learn customer service and multi-tasking. You realize that mistakes are made and you learn to apologize. You make kids smile and you see families after church, all dressed up and enjoying a bucket of thighs and legs, mashed potatoes, and biscuits all crammed together in one table.
You don’t realize it at the time, but in some ways you are making a difference in the great, complex economic machinery of our country. Later on, after you quit and move on to the next job, you are better and faster. You’re a quick thinker and a more sophisticated decision-maker. It’s what the fast-food experience does to you.