Summer jobs…

imgresI was talking to someone the other night about the importance of seeing the world from many angles.  After high school he started out sweeping the floors of construction sites.  Fast forward he owns his own company that does everything from construction management of residential and commercial properties to actually manning his own team to build.

This conversation led to summer jobs.  When you are young and not really sure what you want to do, it is those summer jobs that open your eyes to what you like, what you don’t like, how companies work, the feeling of getting a pay check and most important seeing different walks of people.

The summer of my junior year I ended up in a job that has had a lasting impact on me.  I started out that summer with a few jobs.  One of them was working a few nights a week at Bloomingdales in Chestnut Hill.  During the day I  was working for Bolt Beraneck and Newman, a technology company that provides research and development services.  I had been working for them part-time during the year and went full time for the summer.  I had got the job through my father who told me that I should apply for a Government security secret clearance and then I could work certain jobs distributing information to the analysts at technology firms.  They would pay me good money.  My father had his own engineering firm at one point so he knew the deal.

School ended and summer began.  I started full time the following Monday.  I worked for a sharp hard working young New Englander woman who was getting her law degree at night.  The first day she put me in a room with a bunch of documents and told me that she needed me to completely reorganize it.  I was done by Tuesday mid-day. I came to her for the next assignment around lunch time.  She came to see what I had accomplished.  Then she turned to me and said I thought that job was going to last you at least a few weeks.  The first thing that went through my head was “oh shit”.

She gave me my next assignment with the caveat on how long she thought it would take.  I did everything I could to extend the job.  I would take a few hours off for lunch.  I’d wander the halls.  I was beyond bored.  I just couldn’t do it.  I knew that the next project was supposed to take a couple of weeks but  also knew that I could finish it in two days.  So…I called my Dad.  Was there another opportunity he knew of where my security clearance would be of help?

My father connected me to the CEO of a major engineering company outside of Boston that worked on nuclear war heads.  I can’t remember the name of the company but it was huge. The CEO connects me to his assistant to help.  She tells me that there are jobs delivering the mail throughout the company and they could use an extra hand.  That sounded insanely boring.  So I asked if perhaps there was a grounds crew.  She looks into it, calls me back and tells me to report next Monday morning to a rather large building on the grounds to begin on Monday morning.

I show up in Timberland boots, gym shorts and a t-shirt ready to go to work.  I meet the head of the crew.  They oversee running the building that includes electrical, HVAC, plumbing and the maintenance of the grounds.  I am the only woman in the room.  I am also one of the youngest there.  They all knew that the only way I got that job was through someone.   The staff consists of local men, with deep New England accents.  A few of their sons are there for the summer too doing what I am doing; mowing lawns and maintaining the property.  All of their kids are the first in their family to go to college.  Some are there on athletic scholarships.  Every Friday night after the paychecks are handed out, they all go out for a few beers before heading home.  They are like one big extended family.

One day I was out on the grounds with my lawn mower and noticed that there was a hill that needed to be mowed. It was not an easy job but I got it done.  Nobody told me to do it or not do it.  I saw it needed mowing so I did it.  The entrepreneurial spirit kicking in as always.  At the end of every day there is always a wrap up before we are all dismissed.  Ends up the hill I mowed was designated for the “football player” and it gets mowed on a particular day every week.  Obviously I had zero idea.  The meeting starts and the foreman asks who mowed the hill?  I piped up and said that I did.  He explains to me that it wasn’t part of my job.  I come back with that I walked by it on the way back to the building and noticed it needed to be mowed so I just did it.  Needless to say that caused quite a stir particularly when he said that was the football players job.  After that I got complete respect.  None of these men and sons could believe that I just mowed the lawn for the helluva of it and the biggest job on the whole grounds.  I didn’t follow rules and I took on a project that they felt was a man’s job.

It was an incredible summer for many reasons but that job opened my eyes to a world that I probably would have never crossed paths with at such an intimate level.  Listening to their stories, their love of sports, their love of family and the majority of these men had been there for decades.  Some had been born in other countries and others had come to America very young.  They had sent their kids to college and hoped for not necessarily a better life but a different one.

That experience was one that certainly made an impact on me.  In my first job out of college I ended up managing people very similar to the ones I had worked with that summer.  I’d love to know what happened to the sons of that summer…particularly the charming amiable football player who got a free pass on mowing the hill that one week I took it on.

Comments (Archived):

  1. pointsnfigures

    Ha! It is totally interesting how you learn about entrepreneurship from what might seem to be like mundane things. I worked construction one summer. Worst job was breaking up concrete on a series of hot humid days with a pick axe and sledge hammer. Then hauling it to the dump. I was a basketball player and they probably needed a football player (or maybe a Joanne!)

    1. Gotham Gal


  2. johndodds

    I’ve always thought that this was key to the US work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit. It’s certainly not replicated here in the UK and I’m unaware of it being prevalent elsewhere. I’m convinced it pays huge dividends in terms of self-starting, service and respect for work.

    1. Gotham Gal

      The only thing with summer jobs is that many of the jobs that went to high school students or college summer students have become full time jobs for college graduates. Times have changed.

      1. johndodds

        Times have changed here too but that’s more to do with the advent of tuition fees in the past 15 years and their significant escalation in recent years.

  3. Pranay Srinivasan

    My first summer job was as a event coordinator, wearing jumpsuits, standing in the heat, handing out magic markers to kids buying our brand of ice cream. Had to keep an account of all markers, and brave indian summers.My second job was dressing up as Tom and doing stage appearances across India when Cartoon Network launched in India in the mid 90s. We set up event protoocol for character costumes, travelled with the huge boxes, managed all the venues and got paid $30 a day.

    1. Gotham Gal

      that’s wild!

      1. Pranay Srinivasan

        And a lot of fun!! We (my brother and I) made enough money to buy a $1000 desktop computer in 1998 🙂

        1. Gotham Gal

          love it!

  4. Marcus Detry

    LOVE crappy college/high school summer job stories. Spent the summer after my frosh year as a janitor at the local university, bussing tables at a TGIFridays knock-off, and working retail at a women’s shoe outlet-store. Retail was by far the worst as we would work for 3 hours after close to restore order to the stock. Shoes thrown everywhere as people race to find their size. Fighting over shoes, etc. On Saturday and Sunday nights it looked like a tornado went through the store. Great lessons and perspective from all 3 jobs.

    1. Gotham Gal

      retail is very tough. i did that.

  5. Sherry Abdou

    Love your charisma! My first summer job was at around 11 or 12 years old; I talked my neighbor into walking door-to-door in our charming townhome community in Virginia to solicit our car washing business. With bucket and soap in hand, our overly enthusiastic squeaky voices pitched each neighbor once they greeted us at the door. I still remember the excitement that filled us when one of the neighbors said we can wash his prized red Mustang. And, offered his own supplies to wash his car and asked we not use the bottle of Palmolive dish soap he’d noticed in our bucket. No denying that getting paid a couple of dollars was thrilling, but it was the excitement of getting a, ‘yes’ that was the ultimate thrill for me. Thanks for spurring that fun memory!

  6. Sierra Choi

    What an incredible experience. I wonder if having an entrepreneurial spirit partly comes from having a strong father figure who gave you the freedom, the support and respect to make your own decisions?

    1. Gotham Gal

      that could certainly be it. my family as a whole is pretty entrepreneurial. mom had her own business, dad had his own business, mom’s father had his own business and so did her mother. my mom’s father had his own business too. generation before that did too

  7. awaldstein

    What summer jobs mean depends a lot on your economic status in life.For me it was simply dollars and cents. No job not special clothes and stuff like records and the ability to go out. It developed spunk and attitude, not verticalized skills.For my son, was different to some degree.

    1. Gotham Gal

      completely depends on so many factors.

  8. JLM

    .Summer jobs are probably one of the leading indicators of youthful development of character and entrepreneurial zeal and potential.Your work history screams out as an indicator of long term success.Your parents are to be applauded. They let you go and grow.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  9. ellen sing

    part time at Bloomingdales in Chestnut Hill? Do you remember the department? Could have been more dangeous than working as a ground’s crew member at a place like say raytheon. The women could eat you alive. (It is like 10 minutes from my house. I still have pictures of the opening party somewhere. Now it is a movie theater and there is a whole new group of stores and restaurants. There is a shake shack next to Legal Sea Food. The women’s store moved to the old chestnut hill mall and took over where Filenes was.)

    1. Gotham Gal

      Wow. Everything changes