Career Lessons I Learned From My Earliest Jobs

I started babysitting when I was 10 years old. Looking back now, I’m not sure why anyone trusted me with a child at that age, but I do know I gave that job 110%.

I exuberantly sang every toddler-favorite melody.

I got on the floor and built towers that were knocked down a thousand times.

I washed every dish in the sink even if I didn’t dirty it. (Teenage sitters of 2019 please take note!)

Once I had a taste of working, making my own money and learning new skills outside of the classroom, I was hooked. From babysitting, retail, teaching, waitressing, through to television and film production work—I had jobs throughout middle school, high school and college—and looking back now, I realize I learned critical skills that helped me take leaps in my post-college career.

As I look around at teenagers today and to junior employees at organizations with whom I work—I’m seeing this practice of early job experience begin to fade away. According to Business Insider, "Almost 60% of teens in 1979 had a job, compared to 34% in 2015." The reasons behind this trend appear to be an increasing intensity in school and homework, a prioritization of academic achievement and extracurricular activities over all else and a pervasiveness of helicopter parenting that is at odds with the self-sufficient nature of having one’s own path towards independence.

From my perspective, this is a damn shame.

Here are some of the skills I learned in my early work experience that impacted my career, my life and the way I will parent my two girls:

1. Problem solving
When there’s a toddler crying in his bed because he misses his mommy, two burger specials with cheese fries that go missing or an endless line at the register during a spring sale—you need to think on your feet and do your best to figure out how you’re going to deal with it. And it’s not just about you. There are others relying on you: kids that need their sleep; businesses that need to run. The added push to do your best for someone outside of yourself will be excellent practice for how you can show up as a leader in your career and in your life.

2. Relationship building
When I was in high school, I had some great bosses. At one children’s clothing store where I worked for two years, my boss Lydia, the store manager, taught me nearly every aspect of the business. She believed in me, wanted me to learn AND was very generous with feedback. In school our relationships with teachers were one to many, where as at work—I was one of very few employees that Lydia mentored. She cared about me, but she also set boundaries so that it remained a work-focused relationship. It was an opportunity for me to get coached early, accept feedback and learn how to navigate safe, clear professional relationships.

3. Self-reliance
Because I was often employed, I walked through my early career with the knowledge that I was quite employable. I knew how to interview. I knew how to go above and beyond. I learned how to show up on time and how to juggle my responsibilities of work and school, clearly a skill that has set me up well for working parenthood! While I wasn’t earning a salary I could live on until after college, my early work experience gave me the confidence that this would be possible.

In a culture where we’re maniacally focused on our kids’ academic coursework and grades, we’re forgetting about some of the foundational skills that would make them both employable and good employees. Also, some kids who don’t excel in school, may find their groove in their jobs. I know I truly preferred my first four years of working to my four years of college. I appear to learn more efficiently when I’m doing—and I’m certain I’m not alone in that! With my girls, I will encourage them to babysit, pay them to help me with my business if they’re interested or look into ways they can jump into the world of work that speak to them. What’s important to me is that they have this opportunity to learn and grow in a way that can compliment all they’re learning in school and at home—and make some spending money in the process.