I Learned More From My "Sh*tty" College Jobs Than I Ever Did in Class

POPSUGAR Photography | Brinton Parker
POPSUGAR Photography | Brinton Parker

I got my first "unglamorous" job when I was 16, when I was more than happy to strap on roller skates and skate around Sonic Drive-In for $6.25 an hour. I was incredibly proud when I got hired, relishing my sore legs and dirty apron after a long day of delivering burgers and milkshakes to customers. It wasn't until a classmate asked me when I was "quitting that crappy job" that I ever felt self-conscious . . . all that mattered to me was being able to buy my first car, an ancient stick shift older than I was, in cash.

POPSUGAR Photography | Brinton Parker

My second "unglamorous" job came when I was 18, during my freshman year at college. I began working the morning shift at the local coffee shop, which required me to wake up daily around 4 a.m. and start baking pastries, scrubbing toilets, and churning out double espressos before a full day of classes. I also juggled two unpaid internships during the same year, essentially trading sleep for work experience and good grades.

My third (paid) unglamorous job, this time at a local thrift clothing store where people regularly tried to sell me dirty underwear, followed after two years at the coffee shop. There were also countless other unpaid internships and freelance writing gigs along the way.

When I had to bow out of social events because of my demanding work schedule, many school friends expressed sympathy for how "sh*tty" it was, but I rarely agreed. While everyone else was recovering from the latest frat party, I was waking up at 4 a.m. to make $7 per hour . . . and that was how I liked it.

POPSUGAR Photography | Brinton Parker

Lessons My "Sh*tty" Jobs Taught Me

Instead of relying on my parents to pay for my groceries, cell phone bill, and rent, I was able to do these things on my own, maintaining my grades and even graduating a year early to avoid unnecessary student debt. Because of my "sh*tty" jobs, I had a full résumé before graduation and a healthy attitude toward working hard to achieve my goals. I learned perspective, self-sufficiency, and financial responsibility at an early age. Sure, I smelled like french fries, had coffee grounds in all of my shoes, and wore secondhand clothes because I got an employee discount, but I wouldn't change those things for the world.

Though many students try their hardest to avoid working in school, the lessons you learn from first jobs (no matter how "crappy" they are) are invaluable.

  • Budgeting: When you start seeing dollar amounts in hours it takes to pay for them, it becomes a lot easier to skip a Frappuccino that costs an hour of work to earn.
  • Time management: When you've got a shift at 5 a.m., you can't rely on your parents or roommates to wake you up. You learn how to go to bed on time, set alarms, and get out the door without anybody else motivating you.
  • How to say "no": Working in college is a great exercise in standing your ground. You learn to say "no" to co-workers who need their shift covered during your mandatory attendance lecture, and you have to put your foot down if your manager asks you to stay late on the day of your final exam.
  • Perspective: When you get a new job, you might quickly learn that it's not for you. This will help you set goals for achieving a career that suits your needs and desires, molding your perspective about what you want in life.
  • Playing nice: Some people don't ever learn how to handle workplace drama, but it certainly helps when you start working young. Whether it's observing disastrous teenage flings between co-workers or having to spend eight hours in a drive-through next to somebody you don't enjoy spending time with, these "crappy" jobs teach you the art of the poker face and an undramatic disposition.
  • Making friends: Working exposes you to many people you might not have met otherwise and gives ample opportunity to diversify your circle of friends. It's a privilege to come into contact with so many people of different ages, backgrounds, and life experiences!
  • Respect: The ultimate lesson to be learned from working hard is respecting others who do the same. After working in a coffee shop, you'll think twice about complaining when the baristas take more than 30 seconds to whip up your drink; after scrubbing toilets, you'll be more courteous to those who clean up after you. This is the sort of thing that can't be taught in a classroom!