All I Know About Work, I Learned as a Paper Boy
At the age of 11, I received my first “real” job. Once a week I delivered a newspaper to about thirty homes. I was paid poorly, but it was a job and I was proud to have it. When I was in sixth grade I received a much larger paper route, delivering a daily newspaper. I had this paper route for over three years, and during this time I made a sizable sum of money for a boy my age. In the 1970’s, to earn close to $75 a month at the age of 12-14 years old immediately distinguished me from most of my friends. To be sure, though, it was hard work.
Over the years of my working life, I find myself thinking more about the impact this early work experience had on my life. I have come to realize that this experience, perhaps more than any other in my youth, provided the foundation for my attitudes and approach toward work and commitment. Upon such reflection, certain key themes come to mind that relate my experiences as a paperboy with the world of work and commitment.
1. Responsibilities are a Priority:
My paper route was a priority for me. The papers would be delivered by 3:30 p.m. each day. I would need to fold them, put a rubber band around each one to make it easier to throw, stuff them into a bag and then deliver about 90 papers by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, and Thursdays were always supplement days which meant that I had to stuff inserts into the paper before they could be folded.
This schedule and the routine became a priority. It affected what I could do after school and when I could do it. When I wanted to be with friends, it meant they helped me with the paper route before we could do something else.
Obligations with work will most often dictate the limits of one’s personal life. While work should never become the most important thing in anyone’s life, it will limit certain things you would like to do. The key to happiness in one’s work is to find the balance between a rewarding and enriching job, and a rewarding and enriching life away from work.
2. In Bad Weather Plan Accordingly:
The papers had to be delivered in the rain. On those days, they had to be placed inside the screen doors to keep them dry. If someone’s paper was wet, it was my fault not the weather’s.
Sometimes, conditions are not great. Outside factors force us to change routine. It is important to be prepared for this. These conditions will make the job more difficult and will require more time. But it doesn’t happen every day. It is always good to remind oneself that the job has its better days.
3. Be Polite When You Ask People For Things:
As the paperboy, it was my job to collect the monthly bills from those people on my route. The district manager would then collect the money from me. I had to record a list and keep track of the list’s accuracy and the money. Each month, I would knock on the doors and ask people to pay for their month’s worth of delivery. Most people gave me tips that I would keep in a separate pocket.
When asking people for money, or anything else for that matter, how one asks for it will have a great impact on how well the task is accomplished. This is true for anything, even when asking for something that you think should be expected without having to ask for it.
4. Sometimes, it is Necessary to Work at Odd Hours:
My route was an afternoon route, with the exception of Sundays when the paper came in the morning. People like to read the paper on Sunday morning, and adults tend to get up earlier than kids. Therefore, my paper route began on Sundays before sunrise, and I was usually done by 7:30 a.m.
Sometimes to get the job done and to get it done well, it is necessary to get up earlier or stay up later than I would normally like. Sleep is not the priority; the responsibilities are. Again, though, work should not compromise your long-term health. There are days that are longer than others.
5. Some People Are Nice, Others Are Not:
On my paper route, some of the customers were friendly and others were not. Some people gave me tips, some people never did. Yet, I learned that this inconsistency could have little impact on how the job needed to be completed. Some people would comment nicely on the job that I was doing, others expected the job done well as a minimum requirement. Sometimes, neither hard work nor a positive attitude on my part would prevent someone else from being rude or ungrateful.
In work, there are friendly people you will deal with and others will be less so. Some people will thank you or recognize your work, others will just expect you to get the job done and get it done well. Some people will encourage you, others will not. And, there will be some who are ungrateful and sometimes rude. Ultimately, it cannot affect your responsibilities. Often, though, consistency with effort and a positive attitude will wear down the selfishness and poor attitude of others.
6. Hard Work and a Good Attitude Is Often, but Not Always Rewarded:
I learned quickly that while some people may never be grateful for thoroughness and hard work, others were very appreciative. I also learned that these people often showed their appreciation through tips and Christmas bonuses. At Christmas time, for example, I usually collected over $200 in bonus money alone. I learned quickly that while some people may not recognize hard work, others will and it will often be rewarded.
With a job, there is never an immediate correlation between hard work and tangible rewards. In fact, often the immediate rewards of hard work and accomplishments results in being given more responsibilities and higher expectations. Hard work and a positive attitude that is sustained over time and that meets the challenges imposed by increased responsibilities often is recognized in the form of promotions and a salary increase. Yet, this type of recognition does not happen every time you do something extra. It is the result of hard work and a positive attitude that is maintained over time. Remember, though, that just because there is not always a “thank you” does not mean that the hard work is not recognized.
7. Choose Short Cuts Wisely:
On the paper route, people would get really annoyed with me if I cut across their lawn on my bike. Taking short cuts is an essential part of a paper route. Yet, I learned that you had to determine which short cut was worth taking and which created more problems than they solved.
There are opportunities for short cuts in any job. Sometimes they will help you get the job done more efficiently. In many cases, though, short cuts can create other problems. People will be offended if your short cut impacts them. When this happens, the time you save is not worth the problem you have created. Often, short cuts can lead to more time being spent to solve the other problems that have been created due to the short cut that was taken.
8. Delegate Wisely:
There were times when I could not deliver the papers. I would get sick or a family vacation took me away from the route for a period of time. In the summer, I often left for a month. During this time I had to find a substitute for the papers or risk losing the route all together. One time, I came close to having the substitute lose the job for me. When I returned from my month away, the district manager informed me that the substitute had done such a poor job that he had found someone else to take the route. I pleaded my case because I did not want to lose the position. I remember clearly the manager telling me that even though I was not the one who had been directly irresponsible, I had been the one who entrusted this responsibility to the person who did not care about doing the job well. I got the route back, but it was after much begging on my part.
In work, delegation is important. It empowers others and allows you to be more efficient and not be overwhelmed by what you have to do. However, delegation done poorly will create problems that come back to rest on your shoulders. If you give something important to someone else to do and they blow it, no one wants to hear the excuse that “it was the other person’s fault.” Delegate work to people you trust because their actions will reflect on you.
9. Beware of Dogs and Remember Where They Are:
There were many dogs on the route. Some were always friendly, some barked ferociously, but once they got to know me they became friendly. But there was always one dog that would bark and bite.
In every work environment, people can be like these dogs. It is important to know each dog’s temperament. To those who are always friendly, be friendly in return. To those whose bark is worse than their bite, know that they are testing you. Be yourself, as that is what they are looking to test. When facing those who bite, use caution but never be intimidated or afraid of them. Stand your ground if it is appropriate. Walk away if it is a battle that is not worth fighting or one you can’t win at that moment.
10. Saving Money Allows You to Buy Things You Want:
I earned a lot of money on this paper route. I spent a fair amount of it, but I also saved much of it. By saving the money, I could work toward a big purchase. I bought more than one bicycle with this money. I also bought a stereo and began my obsession with record collecting with money saved from my paper route.
To work towards ownership of big-ticket items such as a car, a home, a vacation, a stereo it is important to save and budget for them. Credit cards will bring much purchasing power to you, but you need the steady income of a job to pay the bills.
Of course, when I was young, I didn’t think of these aspects of my daily job. It was a job. I had to do it. Sometimes I wished I did not have to do it because it interfered with other things I liked to do. But, at the end of the month I was paid and I was reminded that it was nice to get the money.
As I have grown older, I am increasingly more aware of and grateful for the opportunities I had to learn from the experiences of my youth. As an educator, I often challenge students to remember that their futures are being forged by what they are doing today and what they have done yesterday. The joy and the blessing to be found in these continuities in life, is the powerful role that learning plays in adding meaning and growth to these experiences.
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