The Value of a Part Time Job (Part 1)

We’re in the middle of Labor Day weekend and Unions use this event to remind us that if it weren’t for them, we’d have to work this coming Monday.  But instead of dedicating another post providing evidence how Unions are destroying business, I am going to use this holiday to show how my part time work experience while in high school and college laid the foundation for my future professional success.

It was early in 1985, I was a sophomore in high school and I had a big week.  I started my first part-time job at a local Wal-Mart assembling bicycles and later in the week I was going to try out for the school baseball team.  At the time, this week didn’t seem like a point in time that I would point to 25 years later as a major turning point in my life but as you will soon see, it most definitely was.

Baseball was my sport.  I loved to play it, I collected baseball cards, I watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals on TV any chance I could get and I knew that I’d always play it and maybe, if I was lucky, would get paid to play baseball one day.  As a pre-teen, my dad taught me how to keep official score of baseball games and not only did I do that while watching the games at home but I even got a part time job in middle school keeping the score and announcing batters for a local adult baseball league.  As fate would have it, I had some injuries in 8th grade that prevented me from trying out for the high school team my freshman year and I opted to play recreation league ball to rehab and thought I was ready my sophomore year to impress the coaches in a tryout and make the team. 

But days prior to the tryout I applied for and got a job at a local Wal-Mart assembling bicycles in the stock room.  The first week was hard work since I really didn’t know what I was doing and it was slow going just reading the instructions, not to mention avoiding rats that were in the area.  I left work each night sweaty and pissed that my parents made me get a job and it didn’t help that I had not even received a pay check yet!  Driving home the night before the baseball tryouts, I made the decision that I could convince my parents to let me quit my job during baseball season because the demands of playing a high school sport would not allow me to hold a steady job. 

So this was the decision point.  If I made the team, I’d quit work but if I didn’t make the team, I’d stick with Wal-Mart for a little while longer.

Based on the title of this blog, you probably have guessed that I didn’t make the team.  As a 16 year old whose worldview was severely limited, I was crushed but little did I know that this was one of the best things to ever happen to me. 

After a few weeks of assembling bicycles, the store management noticed that I was setting records for number of bikes assembled per day and I was doing such a good job that I ran out of work (I was assembling them faster than new deliveries were coming in).  To my surprise, I got a call one day from a manager who told me I needed to wear a tie to work because I was being promoted to sales clerk in the sporting goods/automotive department!

I worked at that same position through high school and the first two years at a community college (once I transferred to an out-of-town 4-year college I had to quit) and I’d like to use the next three blog posts to tell you what I learned from that part time job.

I learned about taxes

I still recall in vivid detail my reaction to my check when I opened it up.  Being pretty good with math, I had calculated what my gross pay should have been and while I knew taxes would be taken out, I had no idea how much would be deducted.  Who was this Fica person?  Why did my dad insist that I have money deducted for employee stock purchase?  (More on that later)  The state takes my hard earned money too?  I didn’t understand debt to GDP ratios, entitlement programs or how much our government spends on an annual basis but I knew that I didn’t like having so much of my money siphoned off.   

Unless you have a job or have had a job in the past, you really can’t comprehend this feeling and I fear that we are raising a generation that might never look at a paycheck and see how much money goes to the government because they are on the receiving end of the government handouts.

I learned that hard work pays off

Unless you worked in retail before the 24 hour stores came into existence, you probably didn’t realize that once the store closed, the associates stayed behind for at least an hour to straighten up the aisles and clean up the store.  This was the worst part of my job because after working all night and seeing the customers leave, the last thing you wanted to do was stick around and clean up on a Friday night when you knew your buddies were out partying.  

It was early in my employment at Wal-Mart (less than a year) and one night, the store manager closed the store and for Wal-Mart, that was unusual because normally one of the assistant mangers closed up.  On that night there was an aisle display of panties that was a mess and on several occasions the store manager came over the intercom and asked for those who were finished in their areas to hit that table.  After I finished cleaning my area, I wondered to the panty display to see if it still needed help and after walking past several groups of people idling chatting, I saw the table was still a mess.  Sorting panties was not something a 16 year old thinks about unless they are being worn by some classmates but I heard the manager say he needed help so I dove in, so to speak.  The store manager came by, saw me working on the table and commented something to the effect “Well, if nobody else will do it, then you will eh?”  It’s odd that I can still recall that memory in such detail but you’ll understand why in a minute.

A week later, it was announced that there would be cost cutting measures and some people would be laid off.  We were told that when the next monthly schedule was posted in the break room, you should look for your name and if it wasn’t listed then you knew you were laid off.  Being a new hire, I went into work the day of the schedule posting thinking I wouldn’t be listed on the schedule but to my surprise, my name was on the schedule and a person who had worked there for 5 years in my same department was not.

Needless to say, that person was pissed and he even made the point to tell people in the break room that he was shocked that his name was gone but my name (he pointed to me) was there. 

That evening the store manager got everyone together to explain why this lay off happened but he also explained the decision process they used to decide who stayed and who was terminated.  He used the example of the panties display and stated how most employees were only concerned with their areas and were unwilling to work in other areas that needed help.  He didn’t mention me by name but I knew that the little extra effort I port forth that fateful evening caused the management to keep me employed even though I had the lowest seniority.  

Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.

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2 Responses to The Value of a Part Time Job (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: The Value of a Part Time Job (part 2) | cosmoscon

  2. Pingback: The Value of a Part Time Job (part 3) | cosmoscon

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