If I wasn’t whipped so hard during my first job out of college, I never would have saved over 50% of my after-tax income every year for 13 years in a row. I probably would’ve blown the majority of my income on fancy cars, late nights at the clubs with bottle service, and frequent weekend trips to Atlantic City or Vegas.
At age 22, I already had the penchant for the good life having finally landed a plum job in finance. Going from making hardly anything to making a tidy sum very quickly is a very dangerous situation (think lottery winners). When your peers are recklessly spending money every weekend, it’s very hard not to follow. But I didn’t follow because of the jobs I once had.
Getting in at 5:30am and often leaving after 8pm was NO FUN. I gained 15 pounds, was constantly sick, and became a stress case. I also worked most weekends for the first two years because I was a dumbass who needed to learn more about finance if I was to sound remotely intelligent with clients. Each minute I worked past the 12 hour mark was a reminder to keep on saving money. There was no way I could last for more than three years in this cutthroat business I remember telling myself.
Before the post college lashes, there were three other jobs that helped me prepare for the real world. I hope to never do any of these jobs again, but never say never when you’re unemployed. What I realize today is that adversity builds character. The following three jobs helped prepare me to navigate workplace politics, resolve conflicts with employees, endure marathon work hours, produce consistent work and appreciate the value of a hard earned dollar.
CRAPTASTIC JOBS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE FOR THE BETTER
My parents were squarely middle class. We lived in a cozy three bedroom townhouse while I was in high school and we rocked a seven year old Toyota Camry which my father bought second hand. I think I got $10-$15 a week in allowance or something, but I can’t remember because it wasn’t enough to buy anything memorable.
When you have no money, receiving any amount of money is awesome. I’d always look forward to my birthday or Christmas because my grandparents would always be so kind as to send me some crispy cash. I was embarrassed to ask my parents for money, so I rarely ever did except for the time when I wanted to upgrade my 386 computer.
As a freshman in high school I needed money because I liked this girl. I wanted to have at least $30 bucks so I could take her out for dinner and a movie. I decided to get a job. Oh, the things you do for love!
Three Jobs I Will Cherish Forever
1) Greasy Burger Flipper. Getting up at 5:30am on a Saturday as a high school student is probably one of the least enjoyable things to do. I walked five blocks in the dark to McDonald’s so I could open up shop by 6am. There was something very calming about walking the misty suburban streets with nobody around. Perhaps I enjoyed the seven minutes of quiet so much because I knew chaos was about to ensue.
My McDonald’s colleagues were fantastic. A veteran colleague named Pedro became my mentor, teaching me how to make Egg McMuffins, clean the grill, work the cash register, and assemble Big Macs. Pedro also gave me the inside scoop about work place politics by telling me who to avoid and how to please our over eager manager.
Over time I became adept at cracking eggs with one hand and assembling the best quarter pounders with cheese. I was proud of how far I came and made food production a game so I’d forget I was only making $3.5-$4.25 an hour. I also reminded myself about the great benefit of all you can eat apple pies. Yum!
Things were going well until one day, the manager started yelling at us for speaking Spanish to each other at the cash register. “How many times do I have to tell you to stop speaking Spanish in front of the customers?!” he raged. “They’ll think you’re speaking bad about them!” It wasn’t just speaking Spanish at the cash register, but even while we were making apple pies in the back, minding our own business. He’d dish out racial stereotypes which left us dumbfounded.
We despised him for telling us what we could and could not say. Now that I write this post, a part of me wants to see if he’s still a manager at a McDonald’s so I can go buy the particular restaurant and fire his ass. We felt like prisoners making $20-$30 a day. I swore I would never return to fast food again.
* There is magic to getting up early.
* The physical heat of a blazing grill doesn’t get easier to endure over time.
* Consistent production leads to progress.
* Racism, subtle or direct feels worse in a work setting because of the needed money.
* Following orders is necessary when you’re at the bottom of the totem pole.
* Appreciate every single person who decides to take a minimum wage fast food job rather than complain.
* Why I love this Yakezie Writing Contest essay so much: El Aguacate.
2) Envelop stuffer. Despite the unfun times at McDonald’s, I became enthralled with being able to make my own money and not depend on my parents. I decided to apply to a temp agency to see if I could land myself a more work friendly office job. Computers were my forte and I could also type well over 120 words a minute by sophomore year.
After only about a week of waiting, I was deployed to my first office job. Sweet! Finally, I got to go to an environment where there’s no grease splashing all over the place and impatient customers waiting in line for their heart attack sandos. It was a Saturday morning when I arrived at the company at 8am. The place was desserted except for a grumpy worker whose task was to let me in and tell me what to do.
The worker escorted me into conference room where I saw a mountain of envelopes and papers. My job was to spend the next eight hours folding papers, stuffing envelopes, and sealing envelopes. She brought me a radio to keep me company and told me she’d check back in four hours for lunch.
For the first hour I didn’t mind because I was now making $5 an hour, equivalent to a 30% raise! I didn’t have to look out for a Spanish language hating manager either. By the third hour I was bored out of my mind. The woman came back after two hours to inspect my work. Instead of saying “great job,” she scolded me for not making perfect folds and told me to redo over 200 stuffed envelopes!
F*CK! I did what I was told and meticulously refolded every single paper and stuffed them right back in. I ended up stuffing envelopes for three days before the task was done. Never again! At least I was $120 richer.
* Working in solitude is terrible.
* How to forge through nonstop mindless work.
* Attention to detail is critical.
* Doing things right the first time is more important than doing things quickly.
* Realizing freedom is better than having lots of money.
3) Mover. My final craptastic job was moving hundreds of boxes for a small family business to a bigger space office space. My buddy asked if I wanted to join him for a weekend and I said sure. Anything was better than sitting in a dark room alone stuffing envelopes!
My friend was a pretty big guy for a 16 year old at 6′ 3″ and 200 lbs. He could bench 350 pounds without a problem. Here I was five inches shorter, 40 lbs lighter, and benching 205 lbs on my best day, trying to hoist the same amount of boxes. After about four hours of moving I felt my lower back give out so I decided to lay on the floor and stretch. The lower back is crucial for serving, and I wanted to prevent potential long term injury as a starter on the varsity tennis team. My buddy was still going strong so he started making fun of me for “sleeping on the job.” Sleep? Damn, that’s all I wanted to do. Sleep on a nice massage table and have a lovely lady knead out my knots!
I could barely get out of bed the next day. There were aching muscles I didn’t even know I had. I walked around the house hunchbacked like an 80 year old man wondering whether to return. I wasn’t going to let my buddy or my employer down so I got back to work at 8am on a Sunday and we moved boxes until 6pm. Our employers each gave us a $100 dollar bill and thanked us for our time. I swore never to move anything for a living again.
* Pain can be overcome through the mind.
* To always follow through on a commitment.
* Cash is a nice way to get paid.
* Manual labor is brutal and not for me.
* Everything is relative. I’d rather stuff envelopes with a friend.
* If only I could find a job that used my mind more.
* A body breaks down, but the mind can last for a much longer time.
WORKING TOUGH JOBS BUILDS CHARACTER
Whenever I got yelled at by a client or boss or had to travel thousands of miles for a one hour long meeting, I’d remember back to my high school days and smile. I had this immense fear that if I did not do well in school, I would end up flipping burgers in the morning, stuffing envelopes in the afternoon, and moving boxes at night for a living. Thanks to fear, I studied my heart out so I could at least have a chance at a better life.
So many of my colleagues from Wall Street quit after two or three years because they couldn’t take the long hours and immense pressure. Many went complete 180s by joining non-profits, the government, or going back to school in fields totally unrelated to finance. Good for them. I probably would have been out by age 25 if it wasn’t for my job experiences in high school and a move to the more balanced city of San Francisco after my second year.
Nowadays, writing three to four times a week online is a piece of cake compared to all jobs I’ve held prior. Whenever I start to feel burnt out or sorry for myself, I laugh at how silly I am and think, “How the hell can you get burnt out sitting in the hot tub writing a post? Don’t you remember your past? Stop complaining!” I sometimes get lazy and need all the motivation I can get to carry on.
I encourage everyone to work a minimum wage job growing up or find a job you might feel is beneath you at some point in your life. Once you experience craptasticity, you will not only appreciate everyone who currently works such jobs, you’ll also become much more appreciative of what you have.
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