Yea right – like your stupid minimum wage summer job is going to be the most important job you ever had. Right! Call me crazy — but I said it. And I mean it. The job you have this summer may very well be the most important job you ever have in your life! Just hear me out.
The summer after my freshman year in high school (I was 15), I took a summer job cleaning windows. My mom was friends with a friend of one of the owners. It was offered to me and I took it. I made minimum wage – a whopping $3.35 an hour – $135 a week before taxes. The money was nothing special – it was spending money for a teenager – but I did learn how to clean windows. So what? Unless I was going to clean windows for the rest of my life, this was just another summer job. At the age of 15 I had no idea what my future held. I knew that I wanted to go to college. I think I wanted to be an architect and like most 15 year olds, my life was consumed with music, sports, friends, girls, and whatever was shiny that day.
I would begrudgingly get up in the morning, get to work 1 minute before I was supposed to be there and fill up my bucket. The boss would hand out clipboards in crews of two and we were off to clean some glass. I always liked the summer mornings, the days always started off cool then by noon it was hot. I had an amazing tan, I mean I was working out in the sun all day- you can’t beat that! I was outside, I was moving from window to window, job site to job site. Window cleaning wasn’t the hardest “labor” job out there. There is definitely a skill to it, a precision actually, but its not nearly as physically taxing as roofing or hanging drywall. I would clean windows all day, go home afterward and do what every 15 year old does in the summer after work. Hang out with friends, play frisbee and try to get girls to notice my amazing tan. Sounds like the most important job I have ever had in my life, right??
In the course of those days cleaning glass that summer I learned a lot…but I didn’t realize it at the time. Call it oblivion, call it being 15, call it what you want, but I learned a ton. Learning a skill (like window cleaning) that you can use for the rest of your life is NEVER a bad thing. I learned that showing up to work on time is more than important. I witnessed what the boss went through when guys showed up late and screwed up the day. I worked with guys who had to support a family on that same $3.35 an hour. From that I learned that I never ever wanted to work for minimum wage or anything close to it again.
Every job site had a customer. Learning how to treat those customers is a crucial aspect of any business, regardless of what it is. I learned that many people have a crappy work ethic. On the other hand many people have a fantastic work ethic. I also saw that benefits and satisfaction that comes from working hard. There were times I hated cleaning windows, hated a labor job, and hated the guys I worked with. Yet on other days I really enjoyed cleaning windows, getting to move around and exercise all day and some of those guys were really great guys and I’m a better person for knowing them. I also learned how something as simple as being in a bad mood can swing that perspective like a pendulum. I learned at least 100 other things at that summer job… but you get the point.
So why would I say that my summer job making $3.35 and hour cleaning windows when I was 15 is the most important job I ever had? Because it was. Today all of my income hinges on that one summer job. I never would have predicted it back then but now I own a window cleaning company. I don’t clean glass all day now, but I do enjoy the cool summer mornings as I hand out the clipboards. After they are handed out I write. I could have never written Lemonade Stand Economics without that summer job leading to me working for myself as a teenager earning far more than minimum wage and paying for college on my own.
So when you take that summer job this year, pay attention. It may be the most important job you will ever have in your life.