Our early experiences with work are foundational. We tend to write these jobs off as our careers progress, likely because of our age or the role. Yet, whether these occurred at 16 or 22, with a second look — there is always more there than meets the eye. While these roles may not correlate with what we do down the line, they offer opportunities to learn about people, expectations & environments. When I work with developing leaders, history is never ignored & always respected. The Core Intensive begins with exercises that explore the past, and first jobs (along with first bosses) — are often a common discussion topic. For better or worse, these experiences shape us.
The moment I turned 16, my father inquired about where I intended to work.
To be quite honest, this came completely out of the blue. We hadn’t really discussed work in any concrete fashion until that moment. We did have frequent conversations about school work, most often chemistry and my assessment that I didn’t have the brain power to pass the course (he was having none of that). Yet, the expression on his face as he posed the question, let me know that the conversation was a serious one. I needed to find a job — and pronto.
Well, I did find that job.
Luckily, a friend let me know that the floor manager of a large, local movie theater was looking for recommendations to fill a role. It was my first job interview. Mrs. Killeen was an impressive individual, apart from her title & responsibilities — as I could feel her strength and experience during the interview. She informed me of duties; ensuring that all patrons had a ticket, helping them to their seats if necessary, keeping an eye on theater doors, aisles. She also explained that from the moment my employment started I was a part of a team, a representative of that business and a part of the theater workers union. (She also explained that my parents could come anytime “on the house”. I can recall how she would greet them like visiting diplomats, letting them pass through the velvet ropes.)
At 16 of course, the importance of all of this landed completely over my head.
The job included long hours on your feet and knowing your way around a broom & dustpan. In between Saturday matinées, you spent a great deal of time picking up popcorn containers and drink cups. Saturday evenings were often sold out and busy beyond belief. I felt sorry for my co-workers in the ticket booth & behind the refreshment counter. When a new blockbuster was released, it was a absolute madhouse. We would often have to shift patrons to make room for all ticket holders in a sold-out house, which had to be carried out with respect and some measure of authority. As you can imagine, we took the brunt of complaints. (That never got easier.)
Yet — the experience held glorious moments.
We would of course, see the same movie scores of times. To help the time pass, we would memorize the dialogue and take on the roles at the back of the theater. When we screened a comedy, I never tired of hearing a packed Saturday night crowd roaring in laughter. (Sometimes people were nearly rolling in the aisles.) That fed my soul somehow and I’ll never forget how that looked & felt. (Comedies remain my favorite genre.)
I learned much in that building, about the heart of work & how bringing a bit of joy to people’s lives is a reward in itself. When I did well, I was recognized. When I made mistakes, I was put on the right track. I formed strong bonds with colleagues. When I went off to college, I would come back to work on breaks. It was a solid place to come back to. It felt like home.
Of course, with time, everything ends. I recall hearing that Mrs. Killeen had retired.
The building no longer functions as a theater.
But, as I pass it on Orchard Lake road — my mind is alive with thoughts of Saturday nights, spilled popcorn and laughter.
What was your first work experience? What did you take away from it?
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist who focuses on empowering work through the development of a strong foundation. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including the Harvard Business Review, Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.