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What did you learn from your first job?

Oh wow, why didn’t I think of this topic before? It’s a favorite soapbox of mine. The case for working as soon as your legal. For character building, connecting earning to spending, to learn accountability, customer service, and a whole host of other reasons. A friend of mine recently complained that he offered his son $20 to mow the lawn and his son replied, “Eh, I don’t need $20.” Gross. Cut that kid off and tell him to get a job!

That’s why I love this post by Rachel Sklar on her first job as an ice cream scooper and the surprising lessons that came from it. I can’t tell you that washing boats, working a gas dock, hostessing, waitressing, or cleaning hotel rooms qualified me to run a recruiting firm 25 years later, but concepts like work ethic and time management were instilled early.

What did you learn from your first job?

Here is Ms. Sklar’s post:

My First Job: Ice Cream, Drudgery, and My Very First Crime

Merriam-Webster defines “job” this way:

: the work that a person does regularly in order to earn money

: a duty, task, or function that someone or something has

: something that requires very great effort

This explains why pinpointing my first “job” was so difficult. As a kid, I had a weekly allowance tied directly to chores; as a young teen, I babysat up and down my street and, during the hardy Canadian winters, shoveled snow; from age 16 to 23 I got paid for my summers spent at camp; throughout school, I was on student councils and yearbook staffs and in plays, all of which required work done, time spent and deliverables.

Those were “jobs” that were core to me and my life, that fit in with my world, that furthered my goals. It was work done with friends and for grown-ups I knew and liked, who were looking out for me. It’s the work I remember and care about.

Scooping ice cream at Baskin-Robbins was different. There was no social infrastructure involved, no joy of creativity, no thrill of being in charge, no secret fun. I was 15 and it was a basic minimum-wage job, appropriate to my basic skills. Aside from plentiful ice cream, which got old fast, there was no way to spin it as anything other than clocking in with a punch card and standing in a uniform behind the counter armed with a scooper, ready to serve.

I almost never think about this job. I did it for a few months in Grade 10 (that’s what we called it in Canada and I’m sticking to it) and it left me with few memories, aside from a general visual from the behind-the-counter vantage point. I don’t remember fumbling with change or what the cash register was like or the stress of manning the counter on a busy day. I don’t remember making sundaes or adding toppings (though I must have been generous because I love a good topping). I don’t remember the application or interview process, though I must have just filled out a form because we had no family connections to the Baskins or the Robbinses.

I do remember the icing for the ice cream cakes. Man, what a sugar hit. I never graduated to cake-art skills, but I did volunteer to help by the cake case whenever possible. I remember some ice creams were denser than others, requiring a special rinse for the scooper under the hot-water tap. I am still loyal to my longtime favorites, World Class Chocolate and Gold Medal Ribbon. I remember the pink-and-brown polyester uniform, which matched the spoons.

I also remember giving away one, and only one, free cone. I snuck it one day when my manager was in the back and my heart was pounding with the danger. It was a peanut-butter-chocolate on a sugar cone and I remember passing it over the top to my friend Jen. Jen had been my partner in crime all through school but this was the first actual crime – stealing – that we’d committed together, I in my grand larceny of ice cream and Jen in her wanton receipt of stolen goods. She grabbed the cone and ran, and I stood there, heart pounding, frozen in fear. There was no thrill of the illicit, just the cold-sweat fear of getting caught.

I’d love to extract some great life lessons from my time spent amongst those 31derful flavors, but I’m just now realizing that they only come in retrospect. My job at Baskin-Robbins was something I did to earn extra money, an otherwise inconvenience in my busy teenage life – so inconvenient that I eventually quit because I was missing too many rehearsals for the school play. I had no concept at the time of how lucky I was to be able to swan in and out of employment, or end shifts at my “inconvenient” jobs with rides home from my mom or boyfriend. (It is clear now that my manager, Lorraine, did, which might explain why she wasn’t the cuddliest.) My hourly rate was something like $4.75 (which sounds about right) and I don’t think it ever occurred to me that for some kids, that money was their contribution to the household, not pocket change for shopping and movies and fries at the mall.

I spent maybe four months working at Baskin-Robbins, showing up on time to punch in (or, at least, learning that there was no fudging the inscrutable punch-in clock), being a dutiful worker and building up my scooping-hand arm muscles. In this regard, I apparently have something in common with Julia Roberts, Rosie O’Donnell and President Barack Obama – all former scoopers. I’m not sure how central it was to their young lives, but for me, the BR was just a side hustle, practice for the job I’d eventually get next door as a cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart with a slightly higher wage and a new polyester shirt. I only lasted a few months at that one, too, because school and plays and student council and camp kept me busy, and those yearbook blurbs weren’t going to write themselves. I would also soon discover tutoring, which paid way better and was scheduled at my convenience.

I suppose without knowing it I was learning that my time was valuable, and finite, and that money was just one of a bunch of things that mattered. I also learned that crime was stressful. So thanks, Baskin-Robbins, for the gig. It’s nice to know that 25 years later, I can finally say I learned from it.

Rachel Sklar is the founder of, and a frequent writer on media, tech & culture. If you like ice cream, you’ll like newsletter, for which you may sign up here.

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