It’s that time of the year when those high school and college students lucky enough to find work are toiling at a summer job. Hopefully their experience will result in more than just some extra spending money or savings for college. Many of us who remember our first summer job will find it formed habits and opinions that may still be impacting our lives at work today.
Since I spent many of my growing up years living on a farm, my summer jobs included the usual array of chores but there are three particular tasks that remain embedded in my memory as especially challenging. One was picking stone in the fields each spring after the soil had been turned and tilled. It was thankless, monotonous work, often performed in the heat of the day. Another was cutting thistles by hand in the pasture fields where they seemed to sprout as fast as we could remove them.
But the most memorable summer job on the farm involved moving irrigation pipes. It’s hard to describe the scene, but imagine a muddy corn field lined with rows of wet stalks from an overnight or early morning shower provided by the sprinklers. Because the pipes only covered a certain number of rows they were moved across the field each morning so the watering was evenly distributed for maximum effect. Unlike today’s systems that tend to be elevated on frames outfitted with wheels, everything we did involved manual labor.
The pipes were aluminum but, when filled with water, were quite heavy to lift. So each section of 16 foot long pipe was unlatched and emptied of its contents before being lifted overhead and carried through the mud and wet corn rows to the spot where it would reside when the pump was turned on again. As you might imagine by the end of this process I was soaked and muddied from head to toe and exhausted from lugging the pipes across the fields. The only benefit from this job was how cool it all felt on a hot day.
These summer jobs, regardless of how menial they now seem, taught me a number of worthwhile life lessons. I learned perseverance as those stones seemed to reappear every spring planting season, a trait that continues to serve me well when I encounter challenges in my business. I also practiced patience, as these jobs all helped me to tolerate difficult situations knowing the end result would include a level of satisfaction and a paycheck to spend or save. Finally, I experienced the joy that work brings when it is done well and shared with people you enjoy spending time with.
My experiences with summer jobs is probably not unique. Many of our initial encounters in the workplace are spent doing less than desirable tasks. I can only wish that today’s crop of young people are open to learning some life lessons through whatever challenging endeavors they will face. I wonder if they will also view their paycheck as just a bonus?