the most important jobs I’ve had

Growing up, I focused on sports and academics. Well, my parents would tell you that I maybe focused on sports, but certainly didn’t focus enough on the academic part. But the point is, I didn’t get a job until the summer before my first year of college.

I worked second shift in a factory that manufactured tents. It was kind of crazy work; hauling around massive sheets of canvas and welding them together using heat. I worked from 1pm to 2:30am four days a week, sported terrible mutton chops, and absolutely hated it.

A minor mistake in timing or attention meant a totally ruined tent, loss of material, and starting over. Working with heat meant it was always hot, and we listened to 80s music what seemed like every day.

So what did I learn? I learned that manual labor, or “unskilled labor,” requires a lot of skill. The individuals doing that work are smart, hard-working people who weren’t paid well, and I wasn’t cut out for manual labor.

The summer before my senior year of college at Ohio State, I failed to land an internship at a cult (maybe because I called it a cult) and decided to fill a hole in my professional resume: I’d work in the service industry.

I took bartending classes, sported a terrible faux-hawk, and landed jobs as a bartender and server for the summer.

For the rest of my life, I will recommend someone gain experience in the service industry if they haven’t already. My kids, students, my peers – everyone. A serving or bartending job is a masterclass in empathy. You have no choice but to learn how to better interact with people and your surroundings.

Like “unskilled labor,” these jobs are often not given the respect they deserve. Worse, the individuals in those positions are frequently treated rudely or under-appreciated.

For several years in college and through present day, I’ve held jobs and internships that have taught me a lot of skills and industries. But no job taught me about the world or about people the way that labor and service industry jobs did.

PS: Related advice – find a good barber.


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