Caregiver playing with baby

Ah, summer employment. Those heady teenage years when you worked from June through August, doing what no adult in their right mind would do, for a wage no adult would agree to, all the while hoping to meet the boy of your dreams. Heaven, right?

Well, not exactly. Even with the rosy glow of nostalgia attached, I still remember many of my summer jobs as just plain hard work.

  • Babysitting from the age of 13: I learned it is a lot more work to take care of a child during the day than it is at night (because at night they go to BED and you can watch “Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island” in peace).
  • Camp counselor from 16 to 18: I learned it is a huge responsibility to be entrusted with other people’s children in the middle of the forest, and also that all the girls were inevitably in love with the one cute boy counselor.
  • Retail sales clerk in a local department store from 16-18: I learned that if you make suggestions to people, they often will take your advice, resulting in more sales. It’s all about the presentation and the engagement.
  • Cocktail waitress at a blue-collar bar from 18-20: I learned that you need to be able to move fast and keep your balance no matter what — and that most people, when giving you a dollar for a 95-cent long-neck Bud, well, most folks want that stinking nickel back. But keep smiling. Always keep smiling.

WWLD? (What Would Lloyd Do?)

My summer jobs from ages 13 to 22 pretty much taught me what I didn’t want to do with the rest of my life, and that’s a good thing. As Lloyd Dobler once said in the 1989 movie “Say Anything…”

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”

It was all invaluable experience. But teens today aren’t getting that same experience, according to a recent article in MarketWatch:

“The number of jobs that people ages 16 to 19 secured in May — the start of the summer hiring surge — was just 156,000, down 14% from last year, according to an analysis of government data by career outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas released (in early July). And last year, the number of teens who got summer jobs was nearly 11% lower than the year prior.”

This is a downward trend that has been occurring since the 1970s, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center study. While more than half of teenagers worked summer jobs in the 1970s and 1980s, these days fewer than one in three do, the survey found. Some of that is less opportunity, but a lot of it is that teens these days are spending their summers volunteering, taking classes, or working on bulking up that college resume with community activities.


Related: Your teen’s summer jobs could be their first million


Lessons from that first job

I think that’s too bad. I loved all my summer jobs (at least in retrospect): I made some amazing friends and learned some important life lessons. I asked some of my friends to share their first summer job and what their take-aways were. Here are some of their answers:

  • Waitressing – It taught me to be a generous tipper. (There were lots of “amens” to that.)
  • Berkshire Rehab Center Occupational Therapy Aide – I learned adaptability and how to assist others to become able. It became the foundation of my being an occupational therapist.
  • Counter help at a state beach concession stand – When a counter accommodates four persons across and all lines extend as far as the eye can see, don’t make the mistake of thinking you know who’s next. Ask the crowd, “Who’s next?” Let them fight it out amongst themselves.
  • Teaching tennis to a bunch of kids – Do what you know and do what you love and parents will pay surprisingly large sums for you to take their kids off their hands in the middle of summer.
  • Waitressing, bussing, dishwashing, cooking and cleaning cabins/rooms (at a couple of Colorado mountain resorts growing up starting at age 13 or 14) — I learned how to work hard and do whatever it takes to get the job done. I also learned that there are many people who don’t have a good work ethic.
  • Beach attendant at Pequot Beach in New London – I had to set up chairs and umbrellas for members and rake the beach every day. I learned that people are creatures of habit and that by simply paying attention, I quickly learned their schedules and would have their gear set up before they even arrived. Every time. This led to quality end of summer tips. I also learned that dating the ice cream guy leads to free ice cream.
  • Cashier/floor clerk at FYE in the Trumbull Mall starting in 2003 – I learned to gauge every cost in my life by the number of hours it would take me, at $7/hour, to earn it.
  • Top of water slide at Lake Compounce – When one person cleared a certain distance on the slide (enough distance to avoid a collision), I was the one who told the next person it was OK to go. Lesson: Timing is everything.
  • Burger King — I learned what it took to be a supportive co-worker and teammate. Even working in a fast-food restaurant, you could feel proud of doing a good job and getting that order up in 90 seconds. I also learned that I really love microphones! I was the queen of the drive thru window!!

How about you? What was your first summer job, and what life, business or finance lessons did you learn? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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