Learning lessons for life in dead-end jobs
Getting paid is nice; and doing nothing sucks
“A fast-food restaurant is an excellent finishing school. It has succeeded in areas where 18 years of liberal parenting and seven years of hugely expensive private education have made little impression.”
One evening last week I was in the kitchen fixing myself a cup of tea when my son put his head around the door. I have hardly seen him since he left school last summer as he spends his days working in a sandwich shop and nights taking orders in a fast-food takeaway.
How’s it going?, I asked.
Good, he replied.
These jobs of yours, I said. Have they taught you anything interesting yet about or work, or life – or anything?
Yeah, he said. They’ve taught me I like getting paid.
My question was prompted by a recent Harvard Business Review blog arguing that humble jobs teach young people more about work than any amount of poncing around as an unpaid intern in a film production company. The author, who is now a law school professor, was once a busboy and a cleaner – jobs which he says taught him lessons that have come in handy ever since.
Already I was seeing the sense in his general argument. My son’s first key takeaway from the takeaway restaurant was spot on:
l Getting paid really is nice. It is a pity most of us get so used to it that we forget to be pleased when payday comes around.
So what else had it taught him? He said he’d think about it and tell me later: he had to go or he’d be late for his evening shift. This led to the second revelation:
l If you are earning £7 an hour, you need to work longer than an investment banker to make any money at all.
And that, in turn, led to the third:
l Earning the minimum wage makes you grateful to live at home where there is a warm bed and full (ish) fridge. For everyone else, it is a game of survival and he doesn’t understand how they manage.
Later that evening I got a text from him saying the restaurant was quiet and that we could talk. So I went over to find the place entirely empty apart from my son, who was loafing around by the till. This led to his fourth revelation:
l Doing nothing sucks. It’s the worst thing there is. It makes you so lethargic that when things get busier you can hardly bring yourself to budge.
Isn’t he also learning how to be professional, I asked – leading the witness outrageously.
Obvs, he replied. And then came lesson number five: