10 Things You Learn Working Your First (Real) Summer Job

The Social Network
The Social Network

1. Money goes quickly.

For those lucky enough to stay with their parents after their first summer of college, this one may not apply. When I signed onto my job at a factory, I was pulling about 400 to 600 USD per week. Compared to my college job, where I pulled a measly 250 USD per month, I thought I would be absolutely rolling in cash. I planned to get a motorcycle, go to tons of cool events, and generally have a blast.

Then I realized that, in fact, I would not be having the best summer of my life. I had to pay for living, groceries, Burger King and Dominoes, taxes, and then things like glasses, a trip to the ER and a doctor’s appointment, and eventually one realizes that in the real world, money usually leaves your wallet as fast (if not faster) than it comes in.

2. Free time is an illusion.

I ended up working eight to twelve hour night shifts at a factory to make ends meet. I got a weekend off every now and again, and I figured that I would have plenty of time to mess around during the day. As it turns out, that was false. I ended up sleeping most of my day, and the time I had off was spent either trying to recover from the constant dread of actually having to go back to work the next shift. Between sleeping, working, and microwaving my ramen noodles, me-time became about two hours a day.

3. College really is awesome.

Think about it. You get to wake up during the day, sit in a classroom, and talk about awesome stuff. You get to see people and meet your crush after class for coffee and discuss how “hard” homework is. There are social events to attend, and stuff your university puts up so you’re not bored out of your mind. Most importantly though, you get free time between classes. Actual free time, where you can meet people, or go to that musical recital. You don’t have a supervisor breathing down your back to increase your production or work faster and better. You have the world open to you, and you won’t be stuck in that dead-end job, working at a factory or waiting tables.

4. Work is work.

During your first couple weeks, unless you have an awesome internship or job you love, you’ll hate it. You’ll hate dealing with the mindless zombies that can barely count to two, and you’ll hate being on your feet for twelve straight hours. You’ll bring that frustration home with you, and let it boil and simmer until you either figure out that it’s pointless to bring your work issues home, or your fuse blows and you yell at the idiot messing up your pallets and making you look bad.

5. You have to make an effort to make friends.

In high school, and even more so in college, making friends is really easy. You and a bunch of people your age are crammed together in close proximity, and you see them on almost a daily basis. When they all leave for the summer, though, and you end up having to get a job, you find that you really do have to make an effort to find and make friends. I work with a thirty year old guy with two kids, a sixty year old man that’s my operator who’s kind of an asshole, and a bumbling idiot in his late twenties that can’t count to two and do a job a monkey could. I’m eighteen. Not much to work with there.

6. Independence.

While work can suck, you are perpetually broke, and you have no free time, you do learn an invaluable skill: how to be independent. You learn that even being thrown in the fire, you can support yourself. There comes a certain pride with being able to pay your own bills (for the most part, let’s not kid ourselves, Mom and Dad are still paying for your second year of college come September) and being able to allocate your own time, and make your own budget. Even though you might be living in a tiny apartment or hotel on the wrong side of town, you were able to pay for it, using your own sweat and time.

7. Maturity.

This ties into independence. Along with paying your own bills and managing your own budget and time, you gain some maturity. Think about what you were like when you left high school, fresh-faced and uncertain what lay ahead in the world, or how to even live and survive. Now think about yourself now. You still may not know what lies ahead or how to get to where you want, or even what your dreams are, but that’s okay. Most adults don’t. What’s important, though, is that you know you can survive. You can support yourself and feed yourself if need be. Knowing that you can gives a unique sense of maturity that most don’t get until they’re out and living on their own. Be careful though, because people will think you are older. I’ve mentioned that I’m eighteen at the moment, and I’ve had people tell me that they thought I was nearly thirty. Not a good look to have.

8. There is a better way.

Providing you have the drive and the want to seize what you want out of life, seeing the plant managers or the restaurant owners puts things a little bit in perspective for you. You’re young, and you still have the world open to you. If you play your cards right, you could be in their position, with a nice office, driving a sweet car, and not working your tail off to barely make ends meet. All you have to do is use your mind, and the world can be your oyster.

9. You’re not alone.

Everybody starts somewhere. Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, started out as a junior chemical engineer at GE making 10,000 USD per year in 1960. That equates to about five dollars an hour, assuming a forty hour work week. When he retired as CEO in 2001, his severance package was worth over 400 million dollars. Look at the world around you. You might be working a shitty job now, but in forty or fifty years you could be a multi-millionaire if you put your mind to it.

10. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

Come the fall, you’ll still move back to college, and be able to learn work and better your mind. The dead-end job you’re doing isn’t for forever, and at the end of it, you’ll be able to surround yourself with college kids and professors, and your time working in the blue collar force will have made you a better person. TC mark

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