My first job at Nathan's Famous taught me great life lessons

Our ‘First Job Stories’ Can Teach Us Important Lessons About Ourselves

Do you remember your first real job? What was it? What important lessons did you learn from it?

 I walked past an aging Nathan’s Famous Restaurant when I visited Coney Island last weekend.

Nathan’s Famous is a 105-year-old restaurant company that was started with one hot dog cart and grew to 200 hundred stores globally.

The business is an example of a New York immigrant’s entrepreneurial can-do. But that’s not the only reason that holds special significance for me.

Nathan’s Famous was the job that I had working with the public. When I was a senior in high school, I worked in the Rego Park, Queens, New York location. This job introduced me to the world of timecards, co-workers, and customers.

So, on Saturday, I thought about what I learned in that role as I watched the customers line up to order their food:

 1.     Customer Service – My store sat at one of the busiest corners in Queens, and an endless stream of customers would emerge from the subway and the nearby mall. So, I spent every shift dispensing a non-stop mantra of greetings and acknowledgments as I rang up orders, bagged hamburgers, fries, and sodas. And the job was an exercise in smiling and patience, as I dealt with every type of personality and a United Nation’s array of nationalities and languages

2.     Endurance – Anyone who has ever worked in food service can tell you, there is the middle of the summer hot, and there is working next to the fryers while manning the registers in the middle of the summer hot. I survived and got to reference this situation years later in HR interviews when I was asked “Tell me of a time when you had to deal with a heated situation”  It was my warm-up comment.

  3.     Fortitude and Composure – The heavy three-piece thick polyester uniform blocked airflow while trapping every drop of sweat. Plus, it retained the smell of fried food and cooking oil no matter what I did to get rid of it. This lingering aroma contributed to many interesting commuting experiences, which taught me that sometimes people experience me much differently than I would like!

4.     Optimism – Each workday was like a mad theatre production of odd characters and unpredictable events, but I knew that somehow, I would get through the shift without too much drama or splattered oil.

5.     Appreciation – I gained confidence and had earned enough money for my prom and some school expenses. I also knew that this was the first step forward to something better (pronounced – bettah).

Yes, I was just slinging fries and making change as quickly as I could, but that job ultimately impacted how I recruited talent and have coached professionals.  While current titles and accomplishments communicate a lot about an individual, it’s the backstories about what they had to do to get to where they are that matter most.     

Back Story Questions – What did you learn from your first real job? How did it affect how you approached your work in later roles?

Creating a story from a professional experience can help us identify and view our skills and personal qualities with a fresh eye. We can then use these insights to reappreciate our talents and personal styles. Use this knowledge to reenergize your professional development and engage with others as you create positive opportunities for learning from and engaging with others.

 Julienne B. Ryan is the author of The Learned-It-In-Queens Communications Playbook – Winning Against Digital Distraction” and an applied, narrative storyteller, speaker, trainer, and coach. She is on a mission to improve how we communicate with each other, one authentic conversation at a time.  Click on this link to learn more about her services.   

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