Much of Port Orange knows me as the friendly neighborhood Chipotle worker who scoops guac, rolls burritos, and tries to smile through some of the annoying and rude customers that I deal with every night. Okay, so maybe not so friendly…sorry guys, but if you walk in at 9:00 p.m. and I’m ready to go home, I probably will roll my eyes when you ask for four side tortillas.
I’m completely unsure as to why I wanted a job so badly when my sixteenth birthday came into view. About a month off of the big day I decided that the day before I turned sixteen, I was going to be the proud new owner of a part-time job. This goal was not an easy one to achieve, especially when you had to explain to the places where you interviewed that you “almost have a license and can’t work for the next month.” My current boss laughed at me when I told her that; she took me over the 26-year-old interviewing next to me, though, and I have been grateful (for the most part) every day since.
Working through high school is not for the faint of heart. I started my job with an average 25-28 hour work week while simultaneously dragging my way through IB junior year. If that wasn’t enough, my only two days off (Wed. and Thurs.) were both taken up by dance classes, an attempt to hold on to my stress reliever even if I didn’t have the time for it. Eventually, I decided to choose dual enrollment over IB, a decision that I’m sure will later be the topic of some of my writing, but regardless: I had a lot on my plate. Despite nearly pulling my hair out with stress during my first year working, I managed to stick with the company. People don’t realize just how beneficial it is to work when you’re young. You’re exposed to a world that you don’t get to see within the four walls of a high school or most suburban homes. Would I recommend working through your teens? Absolutely. Why? Good question.
1. You learn to see people differently.
One of the most humbling experiences I’ve had while working is learning to change my perspective of people. As a crew member, I get to interview most people that end up working alongside me. This privilege is one that I take very seriously and one that I have always looked forward to, but I’ve seen quite a few interesting people interview with us. One man, let’s call him John, changed the way I see people and judge them forever. He came in on the day of his interview with probably about 6 people as competitors (often we interview in groups of 4-10) and I was completely put off by him. He wore tattered clothing and his dark hair was long, dreaded and messy. He looked as though he hadn’t shaved in several weeks and he had bags under his eyes that seemed permanently placed. All I could think was, “Why would anyone think that look is ‘professional’?” He was extremely quiet through his first interview and was overshadowed by the enthusiastic prospects surrounding him. To my initial relief, we all agreed he was not right for the store.
The funny thing was he reappeared at the interview process the very next week. Same clothes, same hair. He just snuck in with the people, he knew he had been denied. Poor John had thought maybe he’d get another chance. My boss went out to turn him away and apparently, something he said to her hit home. She came back and told me he’d be interviewed again. Same result, he wasn’t very enthusiastic and the way he mumbled made it almost impossible to make out anything he said. We sent him away once again.
My boss apparently got a phone call from him later that day. He begged for the job, explained his family and monetary situation, and told her that he’d be one of the hardest workers that she’d ever seen. She told him to return for yet another interview.
The next week, I got my lunch and went to go sit with the week’s interviewees. A man sat next to me with a cleanly shaven face, a freshly done haircut, a nice polo, dress pants and a smile stretching from one ear to another. It was John again and when I tell you he did not shut up the entire interview, I am not joking. He was funny, he was polite, and you could feel the enthusiasm seeping out of his words. We all agreed that this was the man to hire and he was one of the hardest workers I have met in my entire life.
Although my prejudice has not completely disappeared (one of my many faults), it has decreased more than I can possibly say. You can have gold teeth, dirty hair, bare feet, two sleeves of tattoos, I don’t care. If you are a good person, it does not matter what is on the outside. I found that out thanks to John and several of the people I’ve gotten to know at my job.
2. You learn that age, gender, race, and life experience shouldn’t matter in the real world.
I was the youngest worker at Chipotle for about 9 months out of the year and a half that I have been there. To this day, I am the most senior crew member (I’ve been there the longest) and I am probably the third or fourth youngest at the store. I’ve trained about twenty-five people, maybe more. I have dozens of people who ask me questions and who look to me for advice.
Age. Doesn’t. Matter.
I’ve had managers that were young, I’ve had managers that were old. I’ve had them with tattoos, black, white, Hispanic, female, male, 4’9’’, 6’5’’. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like. If you are good at what you do, if you know what you are talking about, and if you give people the same respect that you expect from them, you will excel in this company (as you should in all companies, but we all know that’s not always the case). Although I decided a long time ago to not pursue management, I have never been held back from moving up despite my current status as a minor. I am grateful for the lack of prejudice at my job. I am grateful that my middle-aged coworkers respect me enough to follow my advice and do what I ask to be done.
I am grateful for the respect I am given, despite my age, my gender, and my appearance.
3. You learn to be polite.
I can’t tell you the amount of people that I have to deal with yelling at me on a weekly basis. 85% of the customers in the food industry are awful people. You’re going to talk on the phone the entire time that you order? Great. You’re going to order seven sides even though I have six more people in line and I’m the only one to serve them at the moment? Sure! You accidentally asked for sour cream on your son’s bowl even though he told you no, so now you want me to start over while you glare at me and your phone? Absolutely, have a great day!
If you think that food worker “skimped you on meat” because he or she thought it would be funny, you’re so wrong. They gave you the four ounces that is mandated by company policy because their manager is standing to the left of them and they really want to keep this job. So before you roll your eyes and ask for a manager because the girl accidentally gave you chips instead of bread, why not try politely explaining the problem to the worker? Maybe you thought they were a little hostile when they spoke to you. Have you ever thought what it’d be like to stand on an assembly line or behind a kitchen door or drive-thru window doing the exact same thing for hours on end? No?
Working in the food, service or retail industries teaches you to be a better person to the workers you encounter in your everyday life. Say thank you to that janitor that picked up the soda you spilled at school. Actually tip the Starbucks barista that serves you every day (yes, there is a tip jar!) Smile at the food workers, I promise they’re willing to give you a little extra chicken.
Be polite. Give the world respect and it will make its way back to you.
I could list hundreds of things that I have gotten out of putting on an apron every day and scooping food for hours on end. It’s changed how I see almost everything and I would recommend it to every single upcoming teen or young adult. It’s a humbling experience that will give you a skill set you cannot learn in a classroom. Plus, helloooo, money?!
Mellinger is a contributor for The Millennial Times.