One of my fondest childhood memories was riding my BMX bike to work when I was 16 years old. Back then, I rode my BMX bike everywhere because I didn’t have a car. I’m not so sure why it was a fond memory because I had to ride almost 10 miles each way though the sweltering heat in one of the smoggiest places in California. Maybe, it was the feeling of independence I had on that bike and the anticipation of buying a car that kept me going.
My Humble Beginnings
My first job was working for a company who pumped out cesspools and chemicals from local factories. My paychecks said Inland Empire Waste, but the company was more commonly known as Stinky Inc. They even had a logo of a skunk holding a flower on their trucks. I’m not joking. I couldn’t make this stuff up. Anyway, I was only 16, so I wasn’t allowed to work near any chemicals or feces. Basically, I was the “Yard Dog”. I washed the trucks, trimmed the trees, assisted the mechanic and cleaned up after the Rottweiler Hercules. On weekends, I would dig up cesspools. The truck driver would find the lid on the box and I would dig it up. As soon as I cleared the dirt off the lid, I would jump out of the hole and start digging on the next one while the driver drained the box.
For all of my hard work I made $3 per hour. On a good day, I rode 20 miles and worked for eight hours to make $24 before taxes. Even way back in 1980 this wasn’t a lot of money. Most kids today wouldn’t clean their room for twenty bucks. Back then, we hustled for every dollar we got. Even though I realized it would take forever to get a car at the rate I was going, I didn’t care. I knew it would happen and I was on my way. Little did I know I was about to get laid off. Work got slow and I was the low man on the totem pole. The effort I put out made no difference. It was a business decision to them, but it was very personal to me.
What I learned
Choose Jobs Wisely – One thing I figured out while I was digging holes for $3 per hour was that some jobs were much better than others. So, for my next job I chose a union supermarket and showed up twice a week until they hired me. I spent six months trying to get that job but it was worth it. By the time I left five years later, I was making $12.35 per hour with full benefits. That was a lot of money back in 1985.
Loyalty Works Both Ways - Getting laid off was a slap in the face to me. I was very naive and I thought the company would appreciate all of my hard work. It was a big eye-opener to realize it was all about profit and had very little to do with loyalty. Most companies feel they can get someone else to do your job and they are usually right. On the other hand, employees can usually get a better job, if the company doesn’t take care of them. It works both ways.
Look for Opportunity – One good thing about manual labor is that it gives you plenty of time to think. While I was digging holes, I realized I didn’t want to become a Pump Truck Driver. Although I was happy to be employed, I knew it was a dead-end job and I didn’t see any future there. Today, I read about a man in Ohio that started out working as a janitor in a factory and ended up owning the company. Keep an open mind and always look for opportunity. But, be realistic about your chances.
Protect Your Health – It’s one thing to be overworked, underpaid and unappreciated. It’s quite another to get sick or injured on the job. The drivers ran a heavy risk of catching hepatitis and other illnesses from pumping the waste. They also worked around some very nasty chemicals. Two drivers were killed in a crash on a mountain road when I worked there. There is risk in everything, but the high risks at some jobs aren’t worth the paycheck.
Times have Changed
One thing I have noticed after working for the past 31 years is people seem less enthusiastic about employment. From the kids who would rather play with their cell phones than help a customer, to the adults who would rather live on food stamps than punch a clock, people don’t seem as interested in getting and keeping a job. At the same time, a lot of good paying jobs are disappearing and being replaced by low paying part-time jobs.
Here is what I see today:
- Teenagers seem apathetic towards working
- Young adults don’t feel obligated to pay their way
- Millions are happy to live on public assistance
- Working parents are burnt-out and lacking sleep
- The career path is no longer stable, even for Professionals
On a more positive note, people are paying much more attention to the work-life balance. They don’t want to work long hours to climb the ladder or blindly move wherever the company transfers them. Most kids have seen their parents overworked and then downsized a couple of times. They don’t believe in loyalty to a company, because companies are no longer loyal to employees. I know a number of people who were transferred across the country and then laid off. Some of them had sold their houses. I know a guy who moved across the state and his job was eliminated by the time he got there. He had to pay all of his own moving expenses both ways.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that employment no longer offers any guarantees. You effort towards success can turn a job into a dead-end or an opportunity. Your attitude towards work can turn a job into drudgery or a blessing.
“The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.”
Elbert Hubbard – American Writer and Philosopher
This post was featured on the Carnival of Personal Finance over at Sense to Save. If you aren’t familiar with the Carnival of Personal Finance, you need to check it out. It’s full of fascinating stories and great advice.