I read an opinion piece this week about a woman called Kate who worked for four years at McDonald’s in her late teens and early 20s. She wrote about how initially she felt she was too ‘good’ to work there, which was frequently backed up by comments made by family and friends, until one day her opinion changed and she realised this job offered her a lot more than she realised and she began to feel proud of working there. The main point of her piece was to explain that she learnt empathy “…I started to chip away at my arrogance. I challenged the ways I dehumanized people for their job. I stopped equating dislike for big companies with dislike for their foot soldiers. I developed more empathy. And if that is supposed to be an embarrassing blip in my resume, I really don’t get it”. I thought she wrote very well (full article here) and as the comments from the public rolled in it seemed the majority agreed.
We are now officially in summer (as I write on a cold, grey and windy day in Wellington..) and there will be many students and graduates like Kate working in hospitality or retail jobs. Possibly they are feeling the way that she initially did, that it’s not good enough, they deserve better etc. I do see many students who talk to me about their work experiences and they often downplay these types of jobs as not being meaningful or relevant or offering anything of importance to show employers. Perhaps because these roles are often so readily available people feel like they are not ‘worth’ as much. Students are sometimes slightly embarrassed about the work and feel like it’s not a ‘proper’ job. Then I talk to them about transferrable skills and we discuss what these jobs have actually taught them and I see little light bulbs clicking on as they realise all the benefits those jobs have or still give them. Many figure this out on their own but I really enjoy helping them see this.
Like Kate, these students probably won’t work forever at these places, but even if they do that’s ok. I worked for 3 years at Whitcoulls – part time and full time – and even when I finished University I still worked there part time before I went travelling. I did it for my love of reading and the joy that came from helping ‘match’ someone with their own book. Sure there were some hideous moments but I have a lot of fond memories and to this day I can’t help myself when I walk into a store and often straighten some of the books or cards. Our first few jobs have a lot to offer us. One of my oldest friends still works at Whitcoulls and has done for more than 10 years. She has now progressed to a manager and frequently runs the store in her small town single handedly. Yet I still get people looking at me incredulously when they ask after her and I tell them ‘yes, she is still working at Whitcoulls’. They can’t understand why she would stay. Kate’s piece has inspired me to reply to them ‘why shouldn’t she?’ I think too often jobs can be regarded as status symbols and people equate our worth as humans with the work we do and I think that is wrong. Job satisfaction comes in many forms and it shouldn’t matter where you work or what you do so long as you are happy and healthy. Perhaps I’m simplifying things here but at its most basic level, aren’t I right?
So, to those of you working in similar jobs to Kate’s this summer and beyond, you are developing an immeasurable amount of skills, knowledge and attributes that will always stand you in good stead, career wise and life wise. Make the most of the opportunity.