A while back I wrote this essay in preparation for the service-learning trip that I took to Rwanda. It's in the style of a This I Believe essay, which anyone can write about a principle, a personal philosophy, that they use to guide them through life. Enjoy.
The Fruit Store Lessons
It doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is or how much money your family has. Once in your life you should work a job where you are earning your pay by working on your feet in manual labor. This I believe.
The summer between my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I worked as a bag boy at Jerry’s Fruit and Garden Center.
Quite frankly, I hated my job at Jerry’s. I was working 10-hour shifts for minimum wage. I sweated, bled, and got weird rashes on my hands from the pineapples in order to earn spending money for college. But I also learned a lot about myself and about others.
When I looked at my first paycheck, I felt like I really deserved that money. It gave me a sense of accomplishment that I had never really felt before. For the first time in my life, I learned the value of hard work.
I learned that no matter how different people may be from you, you really can get along with anyone and find commonalities with them. Everyone has a story, and before you really talk to them, you don’t know what that story is. I had far more in common and shared more laughs with illegal immigrants from Mexico than I ever thought I would.
I learned not to take things too seriously. Being yelled at by customers from all over the world in 5 different languages in one day tends to do that to you.
I also learned to appreciate the people who are doing the jobs that nobody else wants to do. I learned to treat them well. Something as small as a smile is nice. And a good tip is always appreciated.
I learned that sometimes, the people who are most tuned in to what life is really about are the people that you would least expect. During cigarette breaks in the empty parking lot at 10 pm, the 16-year-old cashier taking night classes at the local high school taught me way more about philosophy than I ever learned from my religion teachers.
I learned not to complain – that often you just have to suck it up and get the job done. Sometimes the manager forgets about you when you’re on cart duty and you just have to collect shopping carts in the parking lot for an hour and half in the 100-degree weather. And then when you go back inside, you’re sweaty, smelly, and grumpy. The last thing you want to do is have any kind of human interaction. But when you go to register #5 to bag groceries and a cute girl is working as the cashier there, you have to suck it up and flirt with her. You can’t let the other stuff get in the way.
I learned to respect other cultures. And that real Mexican food is spicy. When coworkers are sitting in the break room and a girl from Lebanon tells a group of Mexican men that they shouldn’t eat spicy food because it will make them sick, she gets laughed at. It’s that simple.
I learned that common sense is exceedingly uncommon. When a customer comes up to you to say that she’s lost her son, and you need to page him on the store intercom, naturally you feel some concern. This concern, though, tends to dissipate when her 6'4", 30-year-old son walks up and says, “Why didn’t you just call my cell phone?”
I learned that no matter how little or much of a language you know, people love it when you try to speak their mother tongue. And I learned a lot of Spanish that you don’t learn in the classroom.
I would never say I liked my job at Jerry’s. But it helped to shape my perceptions about the world and taught me more about myself and others than I ever learned from an internship. It was certainly a positive experience for me and an experience that I think everyone should have. This I believe.