My 16 year old son started his first job this week. It's a big step to go from no job to a full time job and he's really doing well. I had my doubts he would even make it a week and I'm glad he proved me wrong.
That being said, if he starts slacking, I hope his boss makes it perfectly clear he's doing a bad job. For the first time in his life, he's doing the job of an adult. It's in his best interest to be treated like one - for good or bad.
I landed my first summer job at a local sub sandwich shop that opened that year. I was part of the original crew. As a typical 17 year old, I had all the answers and knew everything. My parents were dolts and just about everything I laid my eyes on was lame, stupid, boring, or a word that rhymed with say (hey, it was the 90s before political correctness).
The job at the sub shop was just...ok. I liked getting a paycheck, but I didn't really like the work very much. It was beneath me. Sure, it wasn't quite as bad as flipping burgers at McDonald's, (no offense, Mcworkers) but still, I was destined for greatness. And making subs wasn't so great. I was also getting annoyed at the decrease in hours I was getting every week when the schedule was released.
After a couple of months on the job, the owner and the assistant manager pulled me aside and wanted to talk to me for a minute. We went out the back door and stood in the little alley behind the building next to the dumpsters. I had no idea what they could have wanted. Maybe they wanted some dirt on a fellow employee. Maybe they wanted my input on a new secret sandwich recipe. Who knows, maybe they heard of my plans of going to art school and wanted me to help out with some advertising designs.
It's been over twenty years since that day in the alley, so I don't remember the conversation word for word. Basically, the owner made it very clear if I didn't step up, work faster, take pride in my work, and display a sense of urgency when the shop was busy, I would be out of a job very soon. That was the reason for my decrease in hours lately. Simply put - I was a bad employee and they wanted to fire me. For whatever reason, they gave me one chance to turn things around. And quickly.
I felt like he slugged me in the gut. I fought back tears. How could this be? How could I, Robert M Brumm Jr., be on the brink of getting fired? I was completely taken by surprise.
I apologized to the both of them and muttered I would do better. They accepted that for now and we went back into the restaurant. I headed back to work in a daze. My head swimming.
The way I see it, there are two ways for a person to act in a situation like this. Here were my options:
Screw those guys. They were just a couple of dicks who were picking on me. They were being totally unreasonable. Purely out of spite, I would make no changes because there was no way I would admit they were right and I was wrong. I wouldn't give them the satisfaction. Another option would have been to simply toss my apron on the floor and quit. There were plenty of other places that would gladly hire me.
Swallow my pride, do exactly what they said, and be the best employee I could be.
I'm proud to say the seventeen year old version of me chose option two. I really did swallow my pride, went back to my workstation with my tail between my legs, and got to work. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It hurt, because I knew they were 100% correct. Suddenly, I realized I had been slacking, but I didn't realize it until they threw it in my face. The truth hurts.
I knew one thing. I never, ever, wanted to have that discussion with the owner again. Not only that, I vowed to never have a conversation like that with any boss, no matter what the job. Twenty-two years later, I still haven't.
Over the next couple of shifts, I worked like a man possessed. I could feel the managers watching me out of the corner of their eyes. I worked hard and I showed enthusiasm. I accepted every task without hesitation, and I looked for every opportunity to go above and beyond whatever I was working on.
A strange thing started to happen. It didn't take long for me to stop making an effort of making an effort, because it turned into my default behavior. I started enjoying my job. I took pride in my work. I strived to make every sub I created to be perfect - worthy of an advertising photo-shoot. I remember the first time a customer walked up to the counter and complimented me on the sandwich they just finished. It felt like they gave me a thousand dollar bonus check.
A few weeks later, I nervously sat down to my first performance review with the owner. I was relieved as he told me how impressed he was with my transformation after our little talk in the alley. He actually told me I was one of his best employees. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. Not only that, I walked out of the store that day with a whopping 35 cents an hour raise. The largest available, according to the budget. I was on top of the world.
I think back on that experience quite often because I feel it was a turning point in my life. It helped shape me into the person I am today. People often talk about teachers they had that made an impact on them as a child. I had a few good teachers I suppose, but they never came close to teaching me a lesson about myself like Charlie did that day in 1991. I don't even remember his last name or what became of him. The shop changed hands years ago. Wherever you are Charlie, thank you.
We need to stop giving kids a trophy simply for showing up. We need to keep score. We need to have losers even more than we need winners. We need to stop telling kids they're special until they actually do something that makes them special.
It worries me that we're so focused on building kid's self-esteem these days. I wonder if we're producing egomaniac adults that feel like the world owes them something before they do anything to earn it. Before you know it, they'll be occupying...well, that's another post.
I could have turned out to be one of those people. I'm my glad my boss Charlie worried more about his business than my self-esteem. We both came out better for it.
I told my son this afternoon he earned my respect this week. I truly meant that because to tell you the truth, I got him that job, and I wasn't sure if he'd be up to the challenge. He's only working as a summer intern because I pulled some strings at my company. My wife and I must have done something right, because he's working his butt off and isn't waiting for a trophy simply because he showed up.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you need to constantly berate your child on a daily basis and tell him he's no good. That's not my point. All I know is, everybody needs to get beaten up once and a while.
The question is, will you choose option A or option B?