“Nothing will work, unless you do.” -Maya Angelou
Work. It is important to have a good work ethic, but how young is too young to start working? Does that work always need to be for money?
My parents both came from large pastor’s families where they were on their own financially, so they entered the work force as soon as they could. During college they met while working at a fast food restaurant and eventually quit college to continue working there. While they did not want me to continue in their footsteps, they held onto the idea of being financially independent as soon as possible.
I started an actual summer job when I was ten, helping a grandmother watch and care for a one year old and four year old for a whole forty dollars a week. I don’t even remember where that money or the little bit of babysitting money I made before I was sixteen, went. When I was sixteen it was apparent my parents had made no plans toward my future education, so if I didn’t start working now there was no way I could pay for college. My parents fully supported me, but the rules were only during the summers and no fast food. Eventually I would break both of these.
The library was a second home of mine from a young age, so after my sophomore year I wrote a letter to the head librarian describing this as my dream job. Apparently, that didn’t happen too often so I was quickly hired on and started working 12 hours a week. Shortly after, I encountered a different viewpoint on working for the first time in my short life. I was very active in everything band related and was part of a camp to prepare for a big downtown parade. I had to miss a bit of this camp for my new job and upon returning, I found out the director had switched the color of shoes we were to wear, after I had just bought the other color the night before. When I complained, he told me if I hadn’t been working I would have known. I was so hurt that my work to pay for college was considered a bad thing when the band had been my life, I had to leave before I started sobbing in the band room. I went home thinking my parents were already gone to work, but there they were. I wanted to handle things on my own, but when my parents heard what happened they stormed down to tell my band director off. That then set a few of my friends against me and all of this because I had committed to a job for only 12 hours a week. I would keep this in mind when I was later the band director with working students.
When school started, I didn’t stop working because my parents felt I should hold onto this not to demanding job and eventually my friends all had jobs as well. One of them even worked at the library with me! We were able to still participate in band, but looking back there were things I gave up. For instance, being in any of the plays or musicals because they had to practice every day after school. I still managed to take off tech week and work sound, but it’s not the same. For my friends who worked as cooks or waitresses they gave up even more, as I watched their grades slip and their exhaustion set in.
Of course, there were benefits as well. I adored helping with the summer reading programs and am still extremely proud of my first real initiative towards the end of my senior year. I suggested to the head librarian that she let me put on a monthly coffeehouse in the basement. I decorated the basement with beanbag chairs, white Christmas lights and soft lamps. Then I bought all the materials, made a coffee menu, and put my espresso maker to use! My friends and family and a few others were enough to fill the place as we had bands come, a poetry night, and even an open mic night. It died off when I went to college, but I am still proud of my little accomplishment.
Once college started I had to find summer jobs with more hours to raise more revenue, including cleaning people’s houses, being a cook at Steak N Shake, and eventually I became a day care teacher, which was along the lines of my later work. I did work study during the school year, which usually allowed me to get homework done or was directly related to my later career.
Wole comes at work from a very different point of view. Jobs are not the easiest to come by in Nigeria and minimum wage isn’t really a thing, so when Wole saw a teenager work force here, he was in amazement. Why would teenagers be doing a job that a grown man could use? Beyond that Wole was raised in the upper-echelon of middle class in Nigeria (I joke with him that we would not have been friends), while my family was just above having our house foreclosed on.
With our varying experiences and upbringing, deciding on the best course for our kids has caused a lot of discussion. My high school job only minimally kept me from other school activities and gave me a chance to accomplish things I never would have in classes. It also allowed me to pay for my entire first year of college without having to take out a single loan. However, we have already ensured our daughters will not have to be completely financially independent at eighteen. Our usual coming together point is looking for internships and maybe even overseas experiences for our kids as they hit the high school years and help them balance a work/play schedule. Hopefully that will allow our children to have a good work ethic, while not having to give up the extra-curricular experiences high school and college have to offer!