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People talk a lot about their real-world career, but sometimes it’s the part-time jobs of youth that define you as a person.

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What do you do for a living?

When you’re asked that question in “real life,” you rarely start with your current job and go all the way back to your very first part time jobs. But in a way, what you did for money as a teen, be it babysitting, lifeguarding, or cleaning out your Dad’s garage, can have a profound effect on your life.

OK, so the jobs I list below aren’t really THAT crappy (it made for a better headline), but they weren’t always glorious either. However, they did teach me some valuable life lessons.

As always, listen to the podcast for the full show. Highlights below:

The Job: Paperboy
Lesson Learned:
– Consistency (If you didn’t deliver every single day, someone was not going to be happy)
– Delayed gratification (Friends want to play baseball? Not till your route is done)
– Value of money (You mean the harder I work, the more money I’ll have for arcade video games? Ah, I get it now)
– Stay away from large German Shepherds (Seriously. I was chased and bitten several times)

The Job: Dishwasher
Lesson Learned:
I NEVER want to be a dishwasher.

Sometimes it’s just important to learn what you DON’T want to do

The Job: Working in a Warehouse (Part 1)
Lesson Learned:
There was an industrial park near my house growing up, and I had jobs packing orders. The first was for four time Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers. I learned that sometimes even fame isn’t enough (creditors showed up one day and bolted the headquarters shut), and that GoreTex was a cool invention.

*Note — in the podcast and above I imply that his business was shut down. Turns out that his Faneuil Hall Store has been open since 1977. However, something went down that day… the details are just sketchy (hey, it was 26 years ago!)

The Job: Working in a Warehouse (Part 2)
Lesson Learned:
The second job was at a place called The Gatepost. All the items we shipped were women’s clothes, they went to a women’s clothing store, and every employee was a woman. Except one: The owner Mike. He took me under his wing and taught me two important life lessons: autonomy and trust.

In the first case, noticing that I was surrounded by mountains of pink t-shirts, Guess jeans, and ESPRIT bags, he reached into his wallet, took $20 of his own money, and told me to go to the mall and buy any posters I wanted to put up in the warehouse. While I can’t remember the specifics (I’m guessing Van Halen, Larry Bird, and a Porsche 944), the freedom of controlling my workspace was exhilarating.

The second thing he did raised the bar even higher. Five of the stores were at least an hour from the warehouse, so delivery trucks brought the weekly stock to these locations. But the sixth store was just a few exits down the highway.

First, Mike taught me one of life’s greatest lessons: How to drive a 5-speed. We started out in the warehouse parking lot on his giant Isuzu Trooper II. I’d get going as quickly as I could through first, second, and third gear, slamming on the brakes as the guardrail at the end of the industrial park approached rapidly.

Next, he sat calmly in the passenger seat (no doubt suppressing his terror) and allowed me to drive the shipment to the store with him, uttering confidence-building tips as this green 17-year-old revved his engine and darted out into traffic.

Lastly, one day he just said ‘you’re ready’ and tossed me the keys, kicking me out of the nest and onto the southeast expressway at rush hour.

The Job: Cleaning the bar on campus as a freshman
Lesson Learned:
1) A little greasy, dirty, hard work never killed anyone
2) The job was at the highest payscale on campus
3) That pay could be dramatically increased when mopping up dozens of dropped items of drunk seniors – who were fond of a game called ‘quarters.’

The Job: Working in a Warehouse (Part 3)
Lesson Learned:
I learned four valuable lessons from four people.

First there was the warehouse manager Mike. One winter break I showed up to work, excited to stay on campus for the week and work there full-time. But Mike was surprised to see me, and said he never actually promised me any work. While sweating it out, he paused and said, ‘Well, I guess since you’re an Eagle Scout, I can find some stuff for you to do.’ I had forgotten that I had listed Eagle Scout on my resume, and that he told me his sons were in scouting and working their way toward the highest award. Lesson? You never know what kind of connection will help you in your career.

Next there was Don, a warehouse lifer who was always amazingly upbeat and positive. Every single day he had a new joke for me. Every. Single. Day. They weren’t always funny. They were quite often distasteful. But every company needs a Don.

Also there was Brian, which was a really interesting situation. He was a really nice guy, pretty quiet, and hard working. Picture him as your every day, middle America worker. Showed up at 9, had lunch at noon, punched out at 5, and drove down the street to the bar for a few beers before heading home. What made it interesting, was that this was a bar very close to campus, and often our paths crossed. What I learned from Brian is to be humble and treat others with respect.

Here I was at 19 years old, in the prime of my life, getting a college education, and ordering a round of shots at the bar, surrounded by drunken fraternity brothers and loud sorority girls. And I bet a lot of them were thinking, ‘Ha, look at these poor townies, what losers.’ And right next to me was Brian, keeping to himself, just wanting to enjoy his beer before going home, probably thinking, ‘look at all these spoiled rotten kids, I wish they would leave my bar and go back to their shiny dorm rooms.’

Whenever I was in this situation, I always took the time to separate from my friends and go over and talk to him, knowing how hard he worked, and showing that our age difference and situation didn’t make me any better than him.

Last but not least was Al. Also a warehouse lifer, he was the complete opposite of Don. As an energetic 19 year old, I burst into the warehouse each afternoon for my 3 hours of part time work before heading back to campus to study or catch the end of happy hour.

One day Al pulled me aside and told me, in so many words, that I was ‘working too fast.’ In other words, I was pulling the orders faster than he could pack them, which made the shipments pile up and Al look bad. It was an awkward position to be put in, but I slowed down my productivity a bit. But eventually, I couldn’t keep up the charade. Being slow and unhappy was his problem. All I could control was myself.

I learned awhile later that Al had been fired for ‘accidentally’ running over his foot with a forklift and then filing a bogus workman’s comp claim. You can’t control the ‘Al’ in your company.

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