Still six months shy of reaching my sixteenth year on this earth, I would spend what at the time seemed like a very long tenure of six months bagging groceries, mopping and sweeping floors, re-stocking go-backs and secretly assisting the cooler stock crew (don’t tell the union) for what started out as a mere 12 hours a week that quickly turned into a full-time 40 hours.
While at the time the day-to-day tasks that even included shoveling broken glass out of the recycling machines into transport bins and hand-trucking pallets of product out into the parking lot and then back into the store on the Fourth of July for the big parking lot sale seemed unbearable at times, there is no single period of time in my early years that had more of an impact on my work ethic, career and life thus far.
By the time I would leave college some four years later to take my first actual full-time office job with actual benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan, I had sold baby clothes and furniture, made and sold cookies and sandwiches at a bakery, sold books and helped manage a bookstore, and amassed an entire portfolio of part-time and full-time-by-hours-but-not-by-benefits jobs that even included three simultaneous 20 hour per week jobs while attending community college full-time for a few months during what I did not realize would be the last semester I attended school.
But when I look back on the 25 years that encompass both being an employee and a small business owner, working 12 hours a week and working 100 hours a week, working for minimum wage and not-so-minimum wage, working out in the sun with a shovel and working inside a posh, high-rise corporate office with the latest and greatest in computer technology while wearing a suit, I credit that very first job with teaching me more than any school ever did.
I look back at a good, solid 25 years of never having used any of that damned algebra that gave me so much trouble. Sure, I might use a little of the geometry from time to time when I’m hanging a framed picture on a wall, but that’s just the basic third-grade stuff, not any of the geometry with little “x’s” and “y’s” that I labored year after year during my teens trying to understand. I look back at a good, solid 25 years of never having used any of that damned base-six crap, or any of the stuff I learned in all of those College Prep Honors Science classes that I barely passed.
What I have used year in and year out are the interview skills I started perfecting the day my mom drove me to all the Lucky grocery stores in town so that I could ask for job applications. What I have used year in and year out is the skill set of knowing how to work with both fantastic and horrible bosses like good ‘ol Bill, my manager at the grocery store, who managed somehow to be both all at once. What I have used year in and year out is the work ethic that I first forged by completing a bunch of mindless, labor-intensive, repetitive tasks, all the while, steeling myself in the fact that no matter what happened in life, I was going to move upward and onward and never stop building a better life for me and those around me. What I have used year in and year out is the understanding that my work is my own, my work ethic is my own, and above all, my lot in life and the success or failure of everything about it is all up to me and no one else.
Unfortunately, these are all things that I did not learn while attending school for fifteen years. I really wish that in those very, very, very long fifteen years instead of being taught what I needed to know in order to do well on standardized tests, I had been allowed to pursue my own education path, much as I did as soon as I got home from school, and much as I have done each and every day since I walked out of a state-subsidized, taxpayer-funded classroom for the last time.
I cannot imagine how my world might be even better today were I allowed to reach an agreement with schooling to concentrate on the skills I knew I would need as early on as I knew that I was going need them instead of having to still learn skills that would later prove to be as useless as I always knew they were going to be. Schooling should have let me concentrate on the skills that I knew I would be using to make a living one day instead of the skills that simply allowed me to pass a test well enough for the school to get funded for another year.