First job.

The gray square my son filled in on our shared family Google calendar says it all: “Work, 4p-10p.”

Tomas has his first job. Well, at least the first job that involves being hired and paid to do work he doesn’t choose with hours he doesn’t decide. I am unreasonably excited by this prospect, and not just because it means he’s making (a little) money.

I’m excited about it because first jobs and all that goes with them are such an important milestone. What you learn, whom you meet, how it goes, how much money you make – it’s indelible, for all kinds of reasons.

My first job was as a lifeguard at the National Cash Register Company’s employee park, called Old River, in Dayton, Ohio, where I grew up. NCR was a pioneering tech company, and in 1938 built a lovely sprawling park for its employees that included the pool, a canoeing lagoon, miniature golf, and movies on a screen hung from trees on steamy Saturday nights. It was a great place to work, and not just because I was one of the few girl lifeguards they hired.

I don’t remember much about how I came to apply for the job, but I do remember clearly how much influence the other lifeguards – the older, cooler ones who both tortured and trained me – had on my idea of what work was supposed to be.

They taught me lessons that still guide my work today:

  • You show up on time and ready to work, even if you don’t have to punch a clock. Sauntering around a pool deck twirling a whistle might not seem like serious work, but I pulled several struggling kids out of the water every summer, and performed mouth-to-mouth once.
  • You don’t complain, no matter how awful the job. One of mine was picking old cigarette butts out of the lush grass near the pool with my fingers, and I gagged every time. Maybe that’s why I’ve never smoked.
  • You take your work seriously, even if it doesn’t involve saving someone from drowning.  
  • You have as much fun as possible, keeping in mind everything I just said.

Thank you, in advance, to the people at Tomas’s new job, for all the lessons you’ll soon be teaching him. May he be as lucky as I was.