Karen Osborne

I wasn’t always a writer. When I was a teenager, I held down a series of low-paying retail and food service jobs. I was a checkout girl, I stocked books, and I worked at a fast-food joint, where every Friday night I was stuck scrubbing the gross fry machine until it was cleaner than anything I’d cleaned before (not fun at all).

In school, I learned a lot about what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to write. Why did I want to waste time at a retail job? But these jobs we sometimes snub are great training. They teach us how people work and what makes them happy, which is valuable in any career.

Many jobs for teens put young workers in contact with the public. As a cashier, fry cook, supermarket bagger or concession stand worker, you will meet a diverse crowd, and you’ll be meeting adults, not as a student but as a worker with responsibilities.

It sometimes involves negative experiences, and sometimes these first jobs are boring. But you can learn (as I did) a lot from operating the cash register.


I discovered that each customer offered a way for me to work on patience and kindness. Many people I met were harried, disgruntled or sad. Sometimes a person just needed a smile to make his or her day better.

You’ll meet people from different cultural backgrounds and ages. You’ll learn to deal with adult bosses who are very different from teachers. You’ll learn to be kind even when someone might not be kind back. That is something everyone can agree on as a core Christian value.

A first job also is a great place to work on your poker face with difficult people. If you’re rude to a customer, you might get canned.

Many first jobs teach teens strategies for dealing with people. Likewise, don’t be the difficult person in question. At the restaurant, I hated to clean the fry machine, but I pitched in anyway. It’s easy to roll your eyes at corporate-speak like “team player,” but the better you are at being on a team and managing complex tasks when you’re young, the more prepared you will be for leadership in the future.

Your first job can also be a way to figure out whether you want a job that puts you in contact with the public. If that doesn’t suit you, you may want to start a business, but the experience will give you a working window into what goes into the daily life of a successful firm or store.

It will tell you what kind of people you get along with, what kind of boss you like or dislike, and what kind of working environment makes you happy, all of which will count a lot more once you take your first professional job.

Teens with big dreams can dismiss a first job as dumb, boring, easy or beneath them. That’s not the case. My time behind the cash register made me a better person. You’ll rarely find an adult who thinks differently.

And besides the learning experience, the extra money can be pretty cool, too.