I’ve always been a quiet and reserved person, afraid to talk to people I wasn’t familiar with and terrified to speak in front of large groups. Book reports, presentations and class discussions were the absolute worst assignments. I would have done anything else as long as I didn’t have to voice my opinions to a large and unfamiliar group.
It was freshman year of high school which marked the beginning of new expectations and comparing myself to other students. It seemed as if everyone else was more intelligent than myself and the thought of publicly sharing my opinions was horrifying. I never spoke in class unless required to out of the irrational fear that I would give the wrong answer or people would think my opinion is stupid.
At the end of sophomore year, as soon as my mom graciously bought me a car after I turned 16, I got a retail job working as a cashier at Michael’s Arts and Crafts. I needed it to pay for gas and just because I wanted more financial freedom. While I was building up my bank account and collection of impulsively bought art supplies, I was simultaneously becoming a more socially confident person.
Cashiers have to be quite assertive and comfortable in social situations in order to enforce company policy as well as easily converse with customers. If I had known this before, I probably would have been more hesitant in taking a job that required these developed skills. However, I persevered and my simple job became a huge learning experience.
In the beginning, I was relatively quiet. I only asked what I needed to, if they would like a bag for five cents or if I could enter their email so they could be bombarded with daily coupons and sales. As I went on with my job, I found that having a meaningful conversation with the customer made it a better shopping experience for them and my time at work was also more enjoyable. Outside of work, I was applying my newfound conversation skills at family gatherings and conversations with my teachers in school. The flow of discussion seemed a lot more effortless which I credit this mostly to my work experience.
It also taught me a lot about responsibility and time management. Living in a household with supportive parents who provided everything for me, like many other kids in the Seattle area, there wasn’t a lot that I had to worry about growing up. When I put myself in a situation where other people depended on me to do my job, it was definitely a change. Showing up to work when asked and doing a simple job correctly doesn’t seem like a lot. However, balancing my time at work and school proved to be much more difficult that it may seem to be on the surface.
I think it’s important for every high schooler to have a job, and not just for financial reasons. Time management and conversation skills are things that are not taught in schools. That’s why it’s important for young people to get these experiences in their daily lives. I understand that schoolwork and social lives get in the way, but figuring out how to squeeze in a part-time position can be crucial for development. Jobs aren’t the only way to get this much-needed social development. Volunteer and intern opportunities can prove to be just as beneficial to young social maturity.
Everybody likes to say that high school is a transformative period where young people get to figure out who they are and grow as a person. Honestly, sitting at a desk for the majority of the day and doing more work at home or going out with friends just doesn’t sound transformative to me. And as simple as a cashiering job may be, I don’t believe that I would have experienced the self-growth that I did if I hadn’t taken up that opportunity.