I had several ‘first’ jobs. All character building when you are between the ages of 14 – 18.
I started cleaning for my Mum’s friend on a Saturday morning when I was about 14. It was the start of learning the discipline of turning up to work regularly and on time. The home owners were heavy smokers. Even then I couldn’t stand the smell. Regardless of how many windows I opened, the smell lingered, and penetrated my clothes. Urgh. It was my first experience of cleaning other people’s toilets too. You only have to do it once, and your respect for those who do this for a living is immeasurable.
I also worked in an old people’s care home. I was only 16 or 17 and found it way harder than expected. I was involved in changing beds, washing and dressing clients, emptying commodes. It was hard physical work, but it was worse witnessing the deterioration of the residents and it was my first experience of death (apart from my pets). I never forget the look in the eyes of the lady we had to turn because her bed sores were starting to rot, despite the regular change of dressings. She could no longer speak, but her eyes said everything you needed to know – sadness, humiliation, pain.
I also cleaned my school as a teenager. It was a role you could apply for once you had reached the 6th form (Year 12 & 13 these days). I remember it was good money at that age and I took pride in my work. We were paid by cheque every two weeks. A cheque? Teenagers now probably wouldn’t know what that is, would they?
Then there was the washing up in the kitchen of a small restaurant. Kitchen’s get very hot. I worked for the Gordon Ramsey of the 1980s. He would get SO ANGRY when food wasn’t cooked correctly (bear in mind he was doing the cooking!), staff really had to stay out of his way. I remember fresh steaks – a luxury to my family – being slammed onto the floor because he’d slightly overcooked them. Most of the time I had my hands in the sink of hot, soapy water, head down, trying to keep out of sight and out of range of his fury.
Then I spent one summer – well, one week – working at Royal Ascot. In the kitchens. That previous washing up job stood me in good stead, as there was plenty of it! Although the women and men in the Royal Enclosure were dressed to the nines, there was no glamour down below stairs. The waste of food was appalling. Being a naïve 18-year-old I had never witnessed such beautiful food being thrown away for seemingly no reason. Some people older than me, packed it in after 48 hours. I stuck it out until the end of the seven days. It was not an experience I repeated .
All these ‘first jobs’ were character building and stood me in good stead for future employment. I turned up on time, was able to follow instructions, not complain (at least not on the job), be diligent (those plates and glasses had to be sparkling clean. There was no automatic dishwasher back then!). Show empathy (with the elderly residents), good manners, kindness. You forget how important these early working experiences shape you.
Interestingly, each job in it’s own way was people orientated – and that’s where my career has remained.
What did your first jobs teach you?