Summer break is here, and parents of teenage or college-age kids are presented with a hefty, but a worthwhile challenge – to motivate these young scholars to do something we all did as kids. And that’s to get a job.
I remember all of my summer jobs. No matter how simple, menial, or dirty the job was, they all taught me important life lessons. In fact, I still carry many of them with me today.
You may not think there’s much to be learned from mucking stalls or cleaning kennels or working construction, but I can attest that there is. Beyond the (nasty) job at hand, doing this work taught me how to put in a full day, do my best, take feedback from a boss, and manage an income. Later, at jobs I held in the restaurant industry, I learned how to handle conflict, dress for my job, and communicate more effectively.
Here’s my short list of tough jobs that can impart a ton of wisdom. I could be biased here because I’ve done almost every single one on the list. But I believe each of these positions holds more teaching opportunities than meets the eye.
1. Server – Oh, the joys of working in a restaurant. On any given day, you could be short-staffed, or “get in the weeds” (aka be too busy to handle your section). The kitchen could get behind, or the chef could yell at you. Still, I believe working in the food service industry is a must-do job for everyone.
This type of job teaches you loads about time management, multitasking, and taking criticism without blowing your top (hopefully). You get so much exposure to navigating different personalities with your guests and how to deliver on customer satisfaction. While some days will be better than others, no doubt you’ll learn valuable life lessons every day. And these experiences help develop transferable skills that will be useful in jobs to come.
2. Dishwasher – While we’re on the topic of restaurants, let’s not forget about the back of the house. Working as a dishwasher is the gateway position to other aspects of the line – be it prep chef or line cook. You have to cut your teeth somewhere in this industry.
While washing towers of pots, pans and plates may not seem like a particularly enlightening endeavor, it provides lessons on work ethic, doing a job right, putting in the hours, and, let’s be honest, making the best of a dirty job. It’s no cakewalk to be stuck in a hot kitchen in front of a steaming pile of half-eaten food, but it builds character. Trust me.
3. Lawn care or Babysitting – Whether your preference is to groom lawns in the hot sun or watch rambunctious kids, you’ll grow as a person. These jobs teach the value of a dollar and again reinforce the idea of doing a job well. If you mow zig-zag halfway across the lawn, or if you let the kids watch HBO while you Instagram, my guess is you won’t land that job again.
4. Recycling Sorter or Garbage Collector – I’m serious here. These are gritty jobs for sure, but they’re also good avenues to building resilience and learning how to be a team player. And while these jobs may seem menial even to a high-schooler, they can instill real gratitude and appreciation for hard-earned money when payday comes.
5. Mucking Stalls – I remember when I did this job. Oh, how I hated it at first. But that didn’t stop me from doing a good job and feeling a sense of pride when the day was done. I learned that a job is what you make it. The pay I received was also a great affirmation that, if I worked hard, I could earn money to spend any way I chose, which was an early lesson on determination and money management.
Check Out: 5 Ways To Raise An Entrepreneur
6. Cleaning Kennels – These days, the job has a fancier title: Kennel Technician. No matter what you call it, you’re doing the same dirty job of cleaning waste from animals’ kennels. Period. Just like mucking stalls, cleaning kennels taught me the value of a job well done and gave me the same pride when my shift was through.
7. Retail – This is the end all, be all of customer service work, especially if you take a retail gig during the holiday season. Perhaps more than any other job on this list, this one teaches you the importance of dressing the part for your position, being a team player, how to effectively communicate, and how to skillfully handle interpersonal conflict.
8. Cashier or Bagger – Here’s another one that puts your customer service skills to the test. And it’s a job that requires you to work quickly, efficiently, and accurately. It’s a drag to have your cash register be off at the end of a shift, so this is a real exercise in doing a job right. For baggers, you have to be aware, too – no one wants their raw chicken bagged on top of the grapes. These jobs taught me how to pay attention to the details, and again, how to navigate conflict.
9. Construction – Not only will your body appreciate the exercise of this challenging work, but your mind will benefit, too. Talk about developing a work ethic. Through all the sweat, you’ll come out more resilient and mentally tougher for other challenges that will pop up later in your work life. And the perk of the pay is greater here, as you’ll likely earn more money than you would in other jobs on our list, which will likely have you more thoughtful about money management.
10. House Painter – What’s better than lying poolside all summer? Painting houses out in the blazing sun, of course! In all seriousness, this gig is a hotbed for life lessons – the importance of doing a job well and doing it efficiently, how to suit up and show up, how to take instruction and feedback, and what it means to put in a full day of work.
11. Production Assistants (PAs) – Okay, so this one may not seem so crappy on the surface. (You might get to catch a glimpse of the cast of The Walking Dead.) Still, it’s not easy stuff. Depending on the day, you may be tasked with assisting different crews, helping out with the set construction, keeping wardrobes in order, or performing general office duties. Talk about multi-tasking. In this job, you also learn the importance of time management. And you also learn valuable lessons about taking direction and working with others.
Looking back, my summer jobs and part-time jobs during the school year imparted lessons that I didn’t even know I was learning at the time. Much more than just cleaning out horse waste or hauling building materials or bringing diners their food, I was learning that no job is too menial and that work is what you make of it. Along the way, these experiences also helped carve my educational path towards a job that I wanted, because I better knew what I didn’t want.
So, my advice to parents is to pry kids away from the TV or their phones and send them out into the world to get a taste of what it means to make a living. They may love or hate the job they land, but either way, they’ll earn so much more than minimum wage. And you can’t put a dollar amount on experience, discipline and wisdom.