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First Job Series: Ron Smeltzer

First Job Series: Ron Smeltzer

First job:

General Laborer | Small Kansas farm town drugstore/sundries shop

Age 14 | $1.25/hr


It was a part-time job, 2-3 hours a day, mostly cleaning, taking out trash, washing dishes, stocking shelves. Every once in a while I’d fill in to serve some ice cream, make a cherry coke or ring somebody out at the register.

Why this Job?

Well, let’s see. I was 14, with no experience, skills or educational strengths. I was clearly not very marketable! But I was willing to work and they were willing to hire me. It was less of a choice than about my only option.

Memorable Experience

The man who owned the place was definitely not Mr. Congeniality. If anybody broke or spilled anything accidentally, regardless of circumstances, he made you pay for it. Retail! I remember one day being told to wash a sink full of dishes. There were several knives in bottom of the sink, and there were a few wire basket coffee filters in there, too. Somehow those coffee filters got a hole or two poked in them, and he made me pay for it. I wasn’t even aware that I had done anything. I remember it cost me most of my week’s pay.

Life Lesson

I became very aware that when you step out into the business world it is a no nonsense, performance-based environment. Nobody is going to give you a ribbon for showing up or a gold star to protect your self-esteem. No excuses. Get it done. Looking back on it, I think I came to understand that the environment in which you work and the people you work with will generally mean at least as much as your specific job, pay rate, hours, etc. Never stay in a miserable environment.

Teen Advice

Nobody owes you anything. When you ask for a job and someone agrees to hire you at a certain pay rate, performing specific duties under certain terms and conditions, you have accepted a responsibility. You’re not doing anyone a favor. Exercise that responsibility in a way that gives your employer a little more than he or she expected, do a little more than you have to do, strive to do it better than anyone else and earn the respect that comes with that. You’re always being observed, you’re always making contacts, you’re always creating a reputation. Make it a great one and it will pay off for you in ways you can’t imagine.

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