My parents–well, really my father — would not allow me to work, other than babysitting, before I was an adult. ‘Adult’ was apparently something my father thought he could proclaim when the time came and not necessarily on my 21st birthday. My babysitting money got me through adolescence.
You see, my Dad was raised during the Depression, and to him it was a sign of success and his hard work that allowed him to support a family in which HIS wife and daughters did not have to work. It also meant that we were dependent on him. As luck would have it, Mom was one of the original Feminists, and SHE thought that women should have knowledge and self-sufficiency, so she quietly supported me and my sister in our efforts to gain some freedom from Dad’s purse strings. She was very cool that way.
But working…having a job and a boss and having to be on time and responsible…that stuff somehow was incomprehensible to me. I was a horrid employee when I started working. Not because I didn’t know the work, or the score, or what I should do, but because I had never been responsible for anything, ever. So I learned the hard way, and I learned by feeling like an idiot most of the time until I wasn’t one anymore. I really, really hated feeling like an idiot. I knew that I was capable of more, but I had never had to demonstrate it.
My first job ever was working the midnight shift in a plastics factory which made small molded toys and parts such as GI Joe figures, the top button covers of seatbelt buckles, and other small items. It was Hell as far as I was concerned. I learned two very important things: I did not like someone assuming that I would not follow rules, and I cannot survive without human interaction. Upon my arrival on the first day, I stood listening to a woman who shouted the rules of engagement: NO talking with coworkers, NO bathroom breaks unless I asked the foreman, NO extra breaks of any kind, NO asking anyone anything unless it was the shift foreman…..I was terrified. What must those who worked in such jobs felt, decades before I was ever born? I remember thinking that if they survived THAT, then I surely could survive with ….wait. No, I could not. Because I DID NOT HAVE TO. It was an eye-opener, and I have never forgot it. Perspective hurts sometimes, but it’s critical to insight.,
After five days, I quit that job. I fled. think I may have never gone back for my meager paycheck. I don’t remember. Then I got a job as a waitress which got me through college for the next four years. That job involved talking with people, and the rules didn’t seem so authoritarian. I could think and smile and talk. And I could follow rules with which I was familiar.
I was grateful for every paycheck, every tip, I was grateful for what I learned about people, I learned to stand up for myself, and I am STILL grateful for the independence I earned. When I was employed in my first professional job, I was stunned that my paycheck actually paid bills. I learned that working not only earns a living but also a life: gratitude, gratification, pride, capability, strength, responsibility, and insight. All things that have carried me through life. I wish that for everyone. I am humbled.
Grew up in Royal Oak, MI, graduated 1971 from RODHS, graduated 1975 from Oakland University (Rochester, MI), married a wonderful man in 1975 in MI and haven't lived there since. Lived in Ohio for 25 years, during which time I got my MSSA (masters in social science application) from Case Western Reserve University, had two beautiful sons, and moved to Columbia, SC in 2000.