Working a Non-glamorous Job Instilled in Me 3 Specific Life Lessons.

My first job was as a paperboy. I learned quite a few lessons about money and life from that experience. You can read more about that job here. My next job, which was more like a real job, was as a dietary worker in our town’s hospital kitchen. Basically, I was a dishwasher/server in a place where no one thinks about food. I started when I was a senior in high school making roughly $7.25 an hour.

Making that kind of money in high school was great. It gave me enough for gas and other incidentals, and it gave me something to do in the evenings to keep me busy. It also allowed me to save for college.

My responsibilities were simple. Help to load up all the dinner trays for all the patients in the hospital. Then deliver them to the various floors and serve them to the patients. Then when the patients were finished eating, collect all the trays and clean everything up in the kitchen.

Lesson #1: Low Wage / Menial Labor is Important.

Every night was the same. I was on the coffee/tea station. I would make coffee and give each tray either a cup of tea or coffee and load it into the cart. Then I would take the cart to the appropriate floor and start handing out dinners. No one really liked hospital food, but it was better than nothing.

Everyone is in the hospital for a reason. And most times it’s unpleasant. No one wants to be there. Having someone come in and deliver food with a smile was an encouragement to many people who might have been suffering in one way or another. Even if they didn’t really like the food, service with a smile was appreciated.

I only made something around $20 per night (for 3 hours work), and yet people going through trying times counted on me and my co-workers to provide a meal for them every night. You think they would have noticed if we decided that our jobs weren’t important? Or if we decided to quit because of the low pay?

You bet they would have noticed! But we knew what our responsibilities were and what we agreed to in terms of compensation. Fulfilling your obligations whether you like it or not is a sign of a mature adult. And I learned that through working at the hospital kitchen.

Lesson #2: Education is Valued. . . Sometimes more than Experience.

After I completed my 6 month probationary period, I was granted a $0.50 per hour raise. While it wasn’t much, it was more. I was grateful and continued to work.

When I graduated from high school after only a year on the job, my hourly rate was raised to around $11 per hour. It completely surprised me when I opened my paycheck and saw the increase. I was doing the same job as before and now my pay was almost doubled!! And I hadn’t even been on the job for a year yet!!

I went to my supervisor and asked about the increase. She simply asked, “You graduated from high school, didn’t you? You did graduate, right?” Of course I said yes.

Finishing high school, and receiving that diploma meant something. It had more value than I understood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but to me it meant about $4 more an hour. Of course there were other benefits too. I couldn’t attend college without first graduating from high school.

Generally, higher education means higher wages. Someone who graduates from high school makes more on average than those who don’t. And those with a college degree on average command a higher salary than those with just a high school diploma.

Experience matters, but with a higher education degree, you start at a higher compensation level in your field. That’s just the way it works.

Lesson #3: A Low Wage Job is Not Necessarily a Career.

I worked in the hospital kitchen all through my first two years in college. And I earned enough money to offset most of the costs of college by working days in the summer, and nights when I could. I was still making somewhere around $11-$12 per hour.

If I would have decided to make that my career, I would have probably topped out somewhere around $14-$15 per hour. That equates to around $30k per year. While that’s certainly respectable, and for some that may be all you can do. There’s certainly no shame in that. But for me, I knew I could do more. I was studying mechanical engineering in college, and I was hoping to land that engineering job upon graduation.

So in the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college I quit working at the hospital kitchen. I decided to take an internship at a local manufacturing company doing more engineering related work.

It only paid $10 per hour. But it was in an industry directly related to my chosen field. I took a pay cut in order to further my options once I graduated. In other words, I quit a dead-end job in order to get my foot in the door of a much more lucrative field. It was a career move that was focused on the future instead of the now.

I quit a dead-end job, and took a pay cut to get my foot in the door of much more lucrative field. Click To Tweet

The hospital would been better in the short term if you looked at it in terms of a paycheck. But I learned quickly that it’s not always just about the paycheck. Networking and getting your name in front of the right people can mean more in your career. It can open doors that would otherwise be closed tightly. Sometimes it is about who you know.

Final Thoughts

Working at the hospital kitchen was a great experience. I learned that education is valuable, and that hard work matters. A college degree is important. If you obtain a useful college degree and can land a job in that field it’s even more valuable.

I also learned that I didn’t want to work in that kitchen for the rest of my life. To that end, I had to take the right steps in order to enable future success. I couldn’t think short term, and you can’t either. Think about your decisions in terms of the consequences 5, 10, and 20 years from now. Where will you be then? For me, if I had stayed at the hospital I would been making $15 per hour and miserable. I thank God that he opened the doors for me to be where I am today.

How about you? Do you agree with these “lessons”? Do you have any to add from your first jobs?

Let me know in the comments and as always thanks for reading and sharing.


Chris is the original Cash Dad. He's a father of 3 and a mechanical engineer by trade.

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