In 2019, I showed up as a fresh-faced 16-year-old to my very first job: a cashiering position at Panera Bread. However, my excitement was short-lived — I came home crying that night, and it wouldn’t be the last time I returned from a shift covered in blood, sweat, or tears. In many ways, that job introduced me to some of the worst experiences of my life.
However, I truly wouldn’t have had it any other way. Working in such a stressful service position taught me many important life lessons that shaped me into the person I am today. In fact, I strongly believe that all young adults should work a similar job before graduating college.
Firstly, working in a fast-paced, service-oriented environment helps you develop valuable skills such as time management, good communication, problem-solving, and teamwork. At one point or another during your shift, things will go wrong—your coworkers will call in sick during the lunch rush, the cash register will malfunction, and you’ll run out of an important supply or ingredient.
While the first shift may be overwhelming, you eventually figure out how to calmly and decisively handle the situation. You learn to budget your time effectively, relay information to customers and supervisors, and ask for help when needed. In my opinion, it’s true that pressure forms diamonds—being thrust into high-stress situations teaches you to trust yourself and sharpen your newfound abilities.
Your resilience and self-esteem will also increase as a result of these stressful times. Customers may insult you or snap at you for things out of your control. By now, you’ve probably seen a number of videos of so-called “Karens” tormenting food-service and retail workers by voicing obnoxious complaints, making offensive statements, or demanding to speak to a manager. As awful as these encounters are, there’s no doubt that they build character. After a while, you learn to brush off rude comments and keep your chin up despite what others say.
These interactions also increase your empathy for other workers in similar positions. When you’ve worked a service job, you know exactly what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such rude comments, and it’s easier to exercise patience and sympathy.
All these skills are extremely applicable to both your work life and your life outside of your job. Managing my time and energy has helped me balance my social and academic life in college, for example. Proper communication with authority figures has improved my relationships with certain professors and employers, as well as my parents. Developing a clear, solid sense of self has prevented me from entering potentially toxic relationships with partners or friends.
And luckily, service jobs aren’t all bad either. In fact, they are a great way to meet and bond with others. Some of my closest friends are my former coworkers from Six Flags. Getting through the same stressful moments at work—and working together to do so—allowed us to connect on a level that’s hard to achieve elsewhere. Often, I looked forward to going to work and spending time with them.
Meeting people in the professional world can also assist you in networking. Not only can supervisors provide great references for future positions, but they can introduce you to new jobs and employers once your time at their place of work comes to an end. Since my job at Six Flags was only a seasonal stint, my coworkers and bosses assisted each other in finding new opportunities after the theme park closed for the year.
Evidently, service jobs teach you far more than how to prepare fast food or process coupons; you learn about yourself and the skills you need to interact effectively with the world around you. So if you’ve been hesitating to pick up an application for a local service position, I strongly urge you to do so. As difficult as it may seem at times, it’s certainly worthwhile in order to develop the skills you’ll need in the workforce after college.