It seemed a lot simpler then…

The First Job.

I read an article by Ken Whiting on LinkedIn this week about the experience of our first job – Everyone Can Peel Bananas.  To quote his opening:

We all had our “first job”. It was either a nightmare, a tremendous success… or somewhere in between. It may have had nothing to do with career aspirations, or it could have been perfectly aligned with where you saw your future going. No matter how it turned out, it became the start of your lifetime of work experience.

It was likely your first taste of having a boss, co-workers, needing to be on time, in proper dress code, being responsible, and even earning a paycheck….and then you probably asked your first question about… taxes!

Well, in the mid-60s there weren’t so many options for girls.  I immediately thought of two jobs I held in the summer I was 15 and a year later when I was 16.  But the first job was actually volunteer office work at a Family Services Center, and the second was bagging at a Commissary on an Air Force Base where we earned tips but no salary.  I also had a job at age 14 as a teacher’s assistant in a primary school during the summer, but there I earned high school credits and no money.

So the lessons about being on time, responsible, etc, applied, just not the paycheck part.

Then I had a “d’oh” moment and realised that I had begun to work even before all that.  Because when I was 12, I began to babysit.  Mostly around the neighbourhood at first, then my client base began to grow citywide, including people from a larger circle of friends and acquaintances.  It was an important source of pocket money for me in those days!  And  (*cough cough*) not taxed…

At first, when I just started (and let’s face it, 12 is pretty young to start having that much responsibility), I had a back-up.  My folks had portable intercoms that plugged in to any outlet, and we used them around the house instead of shouting up and down the stairs.  So when I babysat in the neighbourhood, I took along one of the intercom sets and if I had a question or a problem I could “buzz” my mom and ask.

Once I had a 2-yr-old who refused to go to sleep, and just sat in bed and cried, no matter what stories I told him or songs I sang.  After over an hour of his wailing, I finally buzzed my mom on the intercom and asked in desperation what to do.  The kid shut up and stared wide-eyed at the little box as my mother’s voice told him to go to sleep now!  He asked me in a hushed voice “You got your mom in that thing?”  I said “Yep.”   He looked at me for a minute…and he rolled over and went to sleep!

I took it all very seriously.  My mother got hold of a book for me – The Baby Sitter’s Guide, by Mary Furlong Moore.  Published in 1953.

babysitter guide cover

Hm.  What does it mean that I still have the book?  Yes, I had to dig a little in an old cupboard with children’s books, but I found it.  Some pages are loose, some at the back are missing, but I’ve got it.

I followed the author’s advice and made a babysitting binder.  (That I no longer have…)  With a page for each family.  Address, phone number, names of parents and kids (plus number of kids and their ages).  Each day, date and time I was expected to babysit.  Any special instructions from the parents.  How to reach them each time if necessary.  How things work in their house that I would need to know about. Kids’ special likes or hobbies.  TV rules.

Again following the author’s suggestion I had a little brightly coloured babysitting “suitcase”.  With lots of basic toys and games and crafting things.  Yes, most of the kids had those things themselves, but they loved to play with my stuff because it was new and different.  I carried it along to each job.

The book told me what questions to ask, how to approach the kids, activities to plan, and more.  Just check out the contents:

babysitter guide contents

Lots and lots of common sense advice and guidance.   Rereading it now, I’m quite amazed by its practicality and simplicity.

And it’s quite striking how much it prepared me for teaching, not to mention parenthood.  You would think that a book written over 60 years ago would be dated in its advice and approach.  Well, a few things are, but most are not.

It made my first paying job a lot easier.  And taught me some invaluable lessons about responsibility.

My first jobs are not on my resume.  Employers usually ask about the last places we worked, not the first.  Even though those first jobs we held may have shaped who we are as employees.

Do you remember your first job?  What did you learn from it?



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