How young is too young to begin working? I would imagine it would be beneficial to be potty-trained before entering the workforce, however, it is all about the individual. All the members of my family had different businesses, so I assisted in everything from wiping Windex on showcases to framing pictures. For me at age 15, I needed to work for strangers. It was an emergency in that a child never wants their family members bossing them around. So, I fibbed about my age and during a jungle-hot Monday morning in August. I arrived at F. W. Woolworth’s, hoping to be hired as a cashier. I visualized myself so glamorous and independent and was giddy upon arrival. I spotted a tiny, curly-haired graying woman with thick glasses and a Cajun accent working behind the post-card counter and my new independent life began.
Youth employment does have an impact on the world. Young people are energetic, they develop social skills and responsibility, even if it is mowing lawns or picking up garbage. Yes, even garbage teaches us why to do everything well, no matter the task. Enter self-esteem and diversity so a young person can learn to work and accept all types of people, no matter what gender, age, or race. It’s called growing manners in the professional world of work. That is what the modern workplace is all about. Of course, the biggest motivation is money for young people, even those wanting to cash in on a lemonade stand. Thus, I choose to work with strangers.
A paycheck is indeed a great thing. When beginning a job, without realizing it, the gears start grinding in the minds of a young worker, and various skills sprout. Solving problems, managing time, understanding deadlines, teamwork and communication. No matter what career the young person decides on, these skills are applicable to almost every job in life. You can become a doctor or ditch digger, or in my case, a cashier at F. W. Woolworth’s in New Orleans.
“I’m 16,” I said lying through my 14-year-old teeth to the manager. “And I’m very good at retail,” I said during my interview. “Would you be interested in any particular shift? We have a spot in the popcorn department right now, but you could possibly advance to cosmetics in time,” Miss Inez, the manager, said looking at my application. Aside from the smells of popcorn, I learned skills that would carry me to retirement. I had to be on time, communicate with the public, had to be in charge of money and be nice, regardless of if a customer was rude as a snake.
My first eight-hour workday was spent with a tall, wiry-looking woman who had forty-years of service under her belt as a Woolworth employee. She took her job very seriously as manager of the popcorn department. “The name’s Stella” she said outstretching her liver-spotted hand with a sturdy handshake “I was yer age when I started here and Woolworth’s done been real good to me. I got myself a good pension. If you do as yer told, it all works out. Before you know it, you’re getting ready to retire, just like me.” So, this is where I started to learn how to co-exist in the working world. Without warning, I was exposed to so many different types of people and had to develop my own style of communication, even if it meant being nice while burning my hands on popcorn grease.
Working with the public adds so much to personal development and how to handle situations that require teamwork. A child may learn something to do the easy way, or a shortcut and it fails. That is a great life lesson in that it teaches one to do the task right and make it satisfactory. One must learn life lessons through experience and not reading about them. A child should always try to learn and not worry about challenging situations. Failure never feels good, but I can guarantee that when a customer would say to me, “Thank you so much,” I felt terrific. I felt I should always try to improve as an employee to receive those accolades. The key is to always work hard, and you will be surprised how this will flow over into your life.
My first summer of working was spent becoming independent and other than the torture of wearing a wrap-around school skirt and painfully tight penny loafers, my summer months at F. W. Woolworth’s morphed into a great memory. I’ve had many jobs since those days and learned where I fit in and what to do with my life. I learned that stagnation at a job is not healthy, and it is totally fine to move on to a more challenging position. We change, we grow, and we make connecting with other people a priority in life. Trust in the power of failure and take risks, even if it is wearing hot popcorn grease.