Last summer, I worked as an intern in the IT department of an ophthalmic device company. I copy and pasted screen-grabbed photos into Word documents to record the permissions of hundreds of users that summer… AND I even learned how to spell ophthalmic. When I wasn’t doing that, I was an accounting intern at a financial services company; I filed, searched archaic computer files for external auditors, and spent a lot of time eating Cookie Monstah. I also thought that it would be a good idea to get a job at a large furniture/home decor company, so at one point in time, I was working three jobs and seven days a week… needless to say, it was a bad idea.
The summer before that, I hostessed at a large restaurant (with incredibly high turnover) in downtown Boston while interning at Invest in Girls, which was at that time, a teeny-tiny startup.
Over the dinner table this past weekend, I spoke with friends about the importance of The Crappy Summer Job. I sincerely hope you all know what I’m talking about. You know, the job that pays too little, forces you to interact with people you probably don’t like very much, has you on your feet/in a chair too long during the day, schedules terribly, tests your patience, makes you long to call out every single day… the list goes on. If you’ve never had one yourself, I imagine you’ve heard about the phenomenon from your parents; my dad worked at Howard Johnson’s, my aunt worked at the floral section of a grocery store, “we woke up at 4 am to serve the breakfast shift” and “we walked five miles uphill in the sand on the Jersey Shore to…” etcetera, etcetera.
Looking back at it, I wasn’t necessarily dying to get a summer job when I turned 16. It seemed unnecessary; I was told while growing up to enjoy my childhood, and yet I was being pushed off into this strange world of I-9s and W-4’s and how many allowances do I give myself? and what even are allowances? and Shoot… what’s my social security number again? Do you mind if I call my mom right now? I think she has it memorized.
This summer, I’m interning at TripAdvisor. There are free snacks everywhere and sparkling water fountains and free lunch every day of the week. There’s a fitness center with free classes and locker rooms with wood benches in the showers. While I’m not doing anything related to my passions or major, it’s completely bearable, and I’m paid well.
Most importantly, I’m now seeing the fruits of my underpaid/miserable/mind-numbing labor of summer’s past. The Crappy Summer Job teaches you hard work, yes, and it teaches you the value of a dollar – especially when feel that you’re receiving way too few of them. The Crappy Summer Job is more than that, though; the Crappy Summer Job is a rite of passage that gives you the right to gripe just like everyone else about taxes and the federal government. It allows you to join the leagues of complaining adults around you… and to realize that you’re maybe, just maybe, one of them now.
I was effectively cut-off from spending money at the age of 17. I had to pay for my T pass into downtown Boston every day, and whatever food I wanted to buy; I had to support my “innocent” stops into Madewell on Newbury street and J Crew’s flash online deals. Speaking to adults about this now, it seems completely odd that I would be given money when I could be working for it; unfortunately, I have a habit of looking down on anyone my age who isn’t working. Sorry in advance.
Even if I had emerged from my first two summer’s working without a semblance of understanding regarding the value of a dollar or the value of my time, it would be worthwhile to understand this: the Crappy Summer Job is more than earning money. The Crappy Summer Job, in all of its bitterly-tinged glory, is about earning the right to NOT have a crappy summer job. It’s about appreciating every job you have that isn’t crappy. It’s about remembering, fondly, a time when you only worked three months of the year, and it’s about saddling your high horse and telling your grandchildren some day about the time you sold furniture you knew nothing about and stuffed pillows or those three months I worked in an office with three older men disassembling computers or that summer I sat families with screaming children into greasy tables for twelve hours straight… If anything, at least you’ve got that. (Because if you’re making minimum wage all summer… you’re probably going to want a little something else.)