My First Job – Frazzle, Fizzle, Flop

I was sixteen when I got my first job. It was working Saturdays in a grocery store. (I say I got it, but I didn’t actually get it or even have to interview. My mother got it for me because she knew the store manager.)

I discovered one problem right away – standing up all day was hard.

After an hour my new shoes, that were really adorable, killed!

Lesson learned! You couldn’t wear cute shoes and be a cashier.

I pointed out the problem to the manager, but he didn’t resolve it.


My first two days I mainly filled out forms and watched other people work.

The job didn’t seem so hard, I thought.  

Punch in the prices, take the money, (This was when everybody paid for their groceries in cash.) and give back the change. Simple!

Then customers started coming. And no! Not simple! Not easy!

First of all, the cash register was a tyrant. You hit one wrong key, and the whole price is wrong! And you couldn’t just go back and erase.


Cash register keys weren’t my only problem. Handling money was definitely one!

Another lesson – money is dirty

And I was touching it all day, counting out dollars, quarters, dimes, and pennies, so many pennies. Where did stores get the idea that all the best prices ended in 79 cents?


And people could get nasty about their change.

My next problem – vegetables – no price tags!

Why not? I was supposed to remember the prices for a pound of beans, or carrots, or cauliflower?

No. I had to look up the price for every vegetable, every time, even if I’d just rung it for the customer before.

The growing line of customers put me under such pressure.

How could I hit the right keys under so much stress!

It was bad enough when I knew the name of the vegetable. But then a woman brought up this thing I’d never seen. I fumbled through the list, looking for – I didn’t know what.

She finally told me it was a parsnip.

At first, the customers were patient when I told them it was my first day. As the day went on, and the line got longer, they started getting irritable.

When the line reached half-way to the meat counter, they started getting hostile.

Then I made one little mistake that really set them off.

I’d finished ringing up a shopping cart filled to the brim with groceries when the customer found a mistake on the bill. I had to put everything back and start over. It got ugly.

By midafternoon, something was clear to the manager and to me.

I was not cut out for the high-pressure work of cashiering!  


My next assault on the business world

I was spending a pleasant day shopping. I went into the Fairhope five & dime.

On impulse, I decided it was the perfect day to apply for a job, because my hair did right and I looked really cute.

I found Mr. Walker, the store owner, and told him I wanted a job. He gave me an application – my first – and told me to fill it out. It didn’t take long because I only had the one job to write about – my three Saturdays in the grocery store.

When Mr. Walker looked at the application, he frowned and looked up at me.

“This was your only job?”

I answered, “Uh-huh.”

“Is this right? You were there only three days?”


“Why did you stop?”

I explained.

”It was awful. When you don’t hit all the right buttons on the cash register, you have to start over. And it takes a lot of time when you have to do a whole cart full of groceries over. And I was supposed to remember the prices for beans, and carrots, and parsnips, all at the same time. It was hard to remember anything when the line of customers was getting longer and longer. And I didn’t even know what a parsnip was.”

I gave him my brightest smile. “But I’ll be better at this job because you don’t sell vegetables.”

I didn’t even get past the front door, that is, I failed the interview.

I went home fighting off the fear of failure and wishing I had some Mallomars.


They were hard experiences. But after giving it thought, I realized they taught me three valuable lessons and helped me narrow down my career choices.

  • When you’re on an interview, you don’t need to express all of your feelings.

  • You shouldn’t use the fact that you failed on one job as the reason you would succeed on another.

  • My path to success lay in a career that didn’t require the ability to memorize the price of parsnips.

(And they complain about millennials!)

May 30, 2018