It’s Not Me, It’s You: Lessons Learned From My First Summer Job


If you’re on the hunt for entry level work, your first summer job may seem like a long time ago. Your personality changes and develops throughout your life, but it changes the most in youth and young adulthood.

It’s hard to recall experiencing this kind of change. This is where the summer job comes in, bookending different chapters of your life and providing an opportunity for self-assessment.

Through reflection, I recognized the difference between a demanding employer and one who would never be satisfied.

You may think there’s little to be learned from reflecting on the misadventures of your early-adolescent self, but it’s always important to remember where you started.

How else can you appreciate how far you’ve come, and how much further you have to go?

Begin at the beginning

My first summer job was a high-stress position in the hospitality industry. Tempers boiled over on a daily basis and the ire fell on the lowest person on the ladder – me.

I would grumble angrily to myself as I plodded home in the small hours of the morning. I knew that there existed some outcome where I didn’t make any mistakes, some magical series of events where I did everything that was expected of me at exactly the right moment.

History repeats itself

In the year after I finished university, I found myself in a similar line of work. This time, the atmosphere was unbearable. When I made mistakes, criticism was heaped on my head.

When I didn’t make mistakes, my acceptable performance was met with belittling scorn. My days off were spent dreading my next shift at work, which usually brought with it the discovery that someone else had quit on the spot, unable to take the hostility.

Looking backwards

I was confused. If I could tolerate criticism and abuse as an inexperienced teen, why couldn’t I handle it now, when I needed a job more than anything?

As time passed, I became increasingly miserable and resentful of myself. I was certain that I was riding a one-way pity train. It wasn’t until I sat down and really took my past experience to pieces that I understood what was wrong.

At my first job, I had focused on the work: how can I fulfill what is expected of me?

At this job, years later, I was focusing on myself: what is wrong with me? I was doing this because I couldn’t engage intellectually with the problems I was experiencing.

What I learned

By looking back to a point in your life where you knew nothing and had everything to learn, you can free yourself from the preconceived notions that restrain you from being honest with yourself.

Examining my first summer job helped me find conviction that I wasn’t just feeling sorry for myself or looking for an easy out from an unpleasant workplace. Through reflection, I recognized the difference between a demanding employer and one who would never be satisfied.

I quit the next morning.

Of course, every past stage of one’s life and career provides an opportunity for reflection, and some more than others.

Your first summer job might have relatively little to tell you about where you are now.

The important part is that you be willing to examine what you’ve accepted in the past in order to figure out what you don’t want to accept in the present or the future.

Photo credit: Quit Your Job by Kevin Krebs on Flickr
About the author

Elias Da Silva-Powell is a Content, Marketing and Community Specialist at TalentEgg, as well as a two-time graduate of Queen's University. An avid bow-titan, he has been trying to bring whimsical neck wear back into the mainstream since 2008. He's around on Twitter: @EDSPowell and you can check out his profile on LinkedIn, and even G+.