My first job was in a pharmacy as a medicine counter assistant, I worked for the princely sum of £2.25 per hour. I did Saturdays and fitted weekday shifts around my college studies. I worked there for three years and learnt far more than the safe daily doses of paracetamol. Despite spending many of the Friday nights beforehand up until the sun rose, I knew that my colleagues would be in real trouble if I didn’t show up, so I never missed a shift unless I was genuinely unwell. There were many Saturdays I dragged myself off the bus with a stonking hangover but I made sure I made it in. My colleagues had become my friends – despite all being on average 30 years older than me – and I didn’t want to let them down.
|Ok, so the pharmacy where I worked wasn't quite as Victorian |
as this gem at Blists Hill in Shropshire
Discretion and kindness were essential, if someone’s asking advice for an embarrassing ailment the least you can do is try to help them with dignity, and reassure them that you’re not going behind the counter and having a good giggle about them. Many of our older customers specifically said they came to our little store as the bigger chain pharmacy had untrained staff who didn’t respect their privacy, shouting across the store for help from another colleague drawing attention to their condition.
I’ve never been big into gambling but if I ever took up poker I can’t help but think my poker face will be exceptional due to this. I will never forget the young guy who asked for medication to treat crabs for his ‘friend’, it was painfully obvious it was for himself but I had to keep up the charade so as not to embarrass him: I could have earnt an Oscar for that performance.
However, the most important thing it taught me was budgeting. Different from pocket money, once you’re earning your own money it becomes so much more precious. For someone who’s never earned a penny on their own, leaving university and having to accept a lower wage than they might desire can seem cutting, but to someone who has worked before a lower wage might be more palatable as they know pay rises and career progression opportunities are often worth waiting for.
Although I had no idea at the time, that first job shaped me both as an employee and also as a person. So whether it’s slogging long hours flipping burgers, cycling round your neighbours delivering papers, or selling dozens of tubes of haemorrhoid treatment a day like I was, get that first job long before you’re looking for a ‘career’: it’ll help you more than you’ll realise.
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