In Essays on
September 4, 2016

What Selling Solar Panels Taught Me About Life

First jobs & the life lessons they teach us. 

What was your first ever job?

I spent mine selling solar panels.

I was 15, had lied about my age on the application and was saving up for a trip away with friends.

To afford a few days in Ibiza, I spent a whole summer calling long-suffering people on the phone, practically begging them to book a free, no-obligation solar panel appointment. Please.

It was painful. It was soul-destroying. It taught me everything.

The jobs that followed weren’t exactly more glamorous.

In no particular order, I’ve scrubbed toilets, been a terrible waitress, been an even worse barmaid, sold overpriced shoes to rich people, served second-hand clothes to not-so-rich people, hustled magazine subscriptions, cleaned offices, changed hotel beds and done the door-to-door sales thing. I even applied to be an elf in Santa’s grotto at my local shopping centre, but never heard back. Burn.

All of it was pretty terrible. All of it taught me so much.

These days, when I interview people my number one question is: “What part-time jobs have you done? What did they teach you?”

Because I think our first jobs get a bad rep. As soul-destroying as they can be, they teach us so much about ourselves. How else can you learn humility? How else can you get to know true customer services? Not to mention all of the anecdotes. I mean, I have dinner party stories for DAYS.

My people skills aren’t from my office jobs, they’re from encountering angry customers after I messed up their dinner orders.

My ability to think quickly isn’t from being sat at a fancy desk with free snacks at my disposal. I learned true initiative with rent due and 48 hours to get a job.

The same goes for my work ethic. You try earning £4.10 an hour while suppressing your expensive taste. Damn.

Our first jobs are not to be dismissed. They make us more resilient. They teach us how to be assertive. They make us grow and gain confidence. And, if we’re really lucky, they can even inspire us into action for a better life.

Last Christmas, several years later, I received a call asking if I was still interested in the elf position. Besides making me laugh uncontrollably, it was actually quite monumental. Because, for the first time, it made me realise how far I’d come.

When I look back on my life so far, I’m particularly proud of the jobs that didn’t pay me much at all.

I’m proud of the person who applied for every job under the sun because they had to. I love the person I’ve become, because I worked hard to be her. Elf and all.

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  • Kate

    This is all so true – even though there were days I hated my pre-‘career’ jobs I have good memories too plus some amazing anecdotes, and I really do think they helped to prepare me for the working world. If I have kids in the future I’ll definitely make them get part-time jobs in their teens; those jobs teach you that no kind of work is below you!
    ~ Kate xx

    September 8, 2016 at 5:08 pm Reply
    • biancabass

      I completely agree, Kate! They’re a lesson in humility. There’s nothing worse than someone who is self-entitled, and it’s often those people who haven’t worked part-time and been in the “real” world! Thank you so much for reading 🙂

      September 12, 2016 at 8:16 pm Reply
  • The Love It List (#3) - Sophie Cliff

    […] loved Bianca’s post about first jobs and what they teach us about […]

    September 11, 2016 at 7:10 am Reply
  • Lucie

    I love this post because I am so related to it haha. And I also admire your encouragement’ 🙂 When I was 16, I worked as a cleaner in the local restaurant and I had to do things that were quite disgusting and pretty annoying too. But because of that, I feel like I am able to do things that don’t ‘smells’ good and still be proud of myself. 🙂

    Have a beautiful day

    September 11, 2016 at 8:53 am Reply
  • walkiria

    I totally agree that all these experiences make us grow, become more resilient in the word, they aid creativity and problem solving in the work place. It makes us more humble and it increases our self belief that we are capable of making things work for ourselves… Such a shame the elf post came too late in your career Bianca.
    Enjoy you week may it be an inspiring one

    September 11, 2016 at 4:30 pm Reply
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