Hello, new friends! I’m very excited to be able to share a story of mine today on Budget Blonde, because Cat’s blog was the very first personal finance blog I started reading.
Like Cat, I absolutely love to write and learn new ideas to share with anyone who happens upon my blog.
Because I love to be creative and I went to college for four years, it might surprise you to learn that the best job I’ve ever had was the summer that I worked on an assembly line at a factory in my hometown.
Now, by “best” I don’t mean it was necessarily a fun job (most of the time it wasn’t) but as one of my first real jobs, it taught me so many useful life lessons for the road that lay ahead of me at the tender age of 19.
After my freshman year in college, I landed a job as an insulation layer at an air conditioning factory where my parents had worked for over 30 years. It was a summer program the factory offered to the college-aged children of current employees. My brother and I both got in, and we were able to work during our time off of school over the course of the summer. The pay was $10.00 an hour and as a broke college student, taking this job was like walking into a gold mine.
I was sure to be rich!
Obviously, I now know that I was more than a little misguided in that assumption, and it was actually the non-monetary gains I received from the factory that became the most valuable to me, namely the realization that I did not want to work in a factory for the rest of my life.
The Value of Money
I know I’m taking the risk of sounding crotchety here, but working on an assembly line really did teach me the value of earning a dollar. Working in a factory is tough work. It’s manual labor and you end up dirty and sweaty, especially if you have to wear a bunch of gear. My job was to cut giant pieces of itchy, yellow insulation and spray them with volcanic-hot glue through an industrial-sized glue gun onto giant sheets of metal. It wasn’t a pretty or delicate job. I had to wear goggles and thick rubber gloves that were routinely burned through, and everyday I came home covered in a fine dusting of insulation, which contains finely cut glass shards so small that they can be inhaled. I was itchy and exhausted after every work day, so I did not have much a social life that summer.
How to Work With Others (and pretend to be an adult)
As one of my first “grown up” jobs, working at the factory taught me how to work with others and have a boss. This was valuable information to learn since I was probably one of the youngest workers there. I was surrounded by adults and had to act like one.
Since we were on an assembly line, if I got behind in my job, then everyone else behind me was behind too (and mad!) My first sticky situation came when I had a partner who was supposed to help me with half of our work. He was a grown man while I was the little newbie pip squeak, but after I learned the job, he began to wander off when the boss wasn’t around, leaving me to do all of our work.
I was not pleased.
I was busting my tail but still falling behind in my job due to the lack of help by my partner, and I didn’t want the workers down the line to become unsatisfied with my speed and report me to management. I had to take matters into my own hands and talk to my boss. I didn’t want to sound like I was whining, and I could tell my boss did not want to be there listening to me, but after I told him about my issue, my partner started working again (thought we didn’t speak much afterwards.) It was good practice for speaking to my future bosses about work related problems and dealing with tough coworkers.
The Importance of an Advanced Education
I was always a good student in college, but sometimes I felt like I might not make it. (Like 2 years of required collegiate level French. Turns out a southern accent doesn’t mesh well with the French language.) I realized that I didn’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life, so the experience made me work harder in school.
Although you can leave your factory work at work and you don’t have to worry about getting behind if you are out sick, they can always find someone else to do your job, which means you are replaceable, and I didn’t want to feel like I was replaceable. (In fact, they ended up closing down the factory shortly thereafter and shipping the work down to Mexico, leaving 2,000 employees, including my parents, out of a job.)
I wanted to give my future employers my best so that I would be irreplaceable, and to do that, I knew I would need a college degree. My classes could be challenging at times, but I knew it would pay off in the long run.
Unexpected Family Time
Ironically, working at the factory created some special family time for us as well. Since our parents already worked there, the four of us chose to ride to work together and eat lunch as a family in the factory’s cafeteria. At the time, I never thought I would look back on our time together commuting or eating in the cafeteria as quality family time, but I now look back at that time with fondness.
Now that my father has passed away, I am grateful to have solid memories of both of my parents’ lives at work– the work friends they had and their individual challenges with their jobs– that a lot of children don’t get to experience. I was proud to see what their lives were like outside of our home, and it showed me how hard they had worked for our family over the years.
Recognizing the Need for Career Fulfillment
My parents made a good living at that factory, and I don’t remember wanting for much in my happy childhood. Clearly it served them well, as far as providing a paycheck.
What I don’t think it gave them was fulfillment, even after they had worked their way up the ladder.
I knew they wanted more for me when they urged me to go to college, because they had not chosen to go themselves. After seeing their experience with factory life and then experiencing it myself, I decided that I didn’t want a job that makes me feel complacent and unappreciated. I want to work on my own terms, not someone else’s, and I definitely don’t want to work my tail off to make someone else a profit. I want to work for my own benefit in a job that utilizes my creativity and talents, a job that offers me a chance at fulfillment.
In the end, I made $5,000 that summer, the most money I had ever earned at the time. Do you know how much I had left when I started college again that August? 500 bucks. Yes, I blew all of my hard-earned money, but I did walk away with a new appreciation of learning how to budget your money, which, coincidentally, has led me here. Somehow I think it was all worth it.
Robin chronicles her financial missteps and victories at The Thrifty Peach. When not chasing around her toddler, she likes to poke fun at herself and figures there can be humor in any financial hardship she has overcome. Please stop by and share her journey.
Photo via Flickr