Odd Jobs Lead to Lifelong Lessons

The older I get, the more I appreciate the ‘you are the sum of your parts’ theory.

“I remember working at my father’s meat market,” said a friend. “The sawdust covering the floor, the smell of the meat, the noises.” He talked about the long hours, the hard work, and the low – if any – wages.

The ddd jobs of our youth, believe it or not, help shape us into the people we are today.

My dad loves to tell the story of how as a teenager he’d haul blocks of heavy ice from a horse-drawn cart, up flights of stairs, and then deliver into the icebox of a customer’s home. Not glamorous, but by doing so he learned the discipline of hard work and return of a modest wage for his efforts.

I believe we all share similar experiences like my friend and dad – experiences that changed us if only by the smallest of margins. Learning to work is as important as the compensation we get for our time and efforts. And many times, it is these very moments that shape our lives going forward.

Personally, I’ve made more pizzas than I could ever eat in my lifetime, dropped enough fried chicken into a boiling fryer to fill a small dumpster, and mopped enough floor tiles to cover an aircraft carrier. But I also learned to never stand still – to always be busy.

“If you’ve time to lean, you’ve time to clean”, was the mantra regardless of the name on the sign outside. And while the phrase literally encouraged us to always keep the kitchens clean, the bigger point was to instill the habit of always being on the lookout for something productive to be doing with our time.

Every once in a while these days I’ll find myself with a few friends and the conversation comes up about our worst jobs growing up. But the odd thing is, when we start talking about odd jobs, you’d swear we missed them. Our stories are told like we’ve lost old friends or survived terrible battles. Believe it or not, these stories are generally told with an odd romantic overtone – one of a time gone but not forgotten.

To never experience the baptism of working odd jobs while young is to have missed one of the great opportunities in life.

I’m sure most of us can honestly look at ourselves today and admit we are better off because of something we taken from odd jobs – and I’m not talking about money. For some of us, our work ethic might have been sparked while standing knee deep in mud with a shovel in our hands. For others, it might be as simple as learning to get up with an alarm clock each day. But with each odd job, we took something not reflected on our pay stub.

Sometimes I hear people refer work to as a dirty four-letter word. But the truth is, the feeling of belonging, learning to work towards a goal, to understand the value you have to others, is something much more valuable than a paycheck will ever be. And to learning to do it well will pay dividends for a lifetime.

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