Five Things I Learned at the Indian Head Esso

I've had six “real” jobs in my life:

1. Gas jockey at the local gas station throughout high school
2. Door-to-door salesman for a rural cable TV company throughout my undergrad years (not nearly as bad as it sounds and in fact, one of my favourite jobs of all-time)
3. Marketing & Technology Officer at the Saskatchewan Publishers Group after finishing my BA
4. Program Officer for the Writers Guild of Alberta when we moved to Calgary
5. Branch Supervisor for Southeast Regional Library after I finished my MLIS
6. Organization Development Specialist with Regina Public Library

I've also had myriad (god, I love that word!) other short-term gigs, contracts, temp jobs and so on ranging from “goal judge for the local senior hockey team” to “sanitation plant supervisor” (I was the money collector at our local dump for a summer!)

Now that I'm at an organization where, for the first time in my life, I feel like I could conceivably spend the rest of my career, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on some of the things I've learned at each stop along the way.

The high school gas jockey job started when I was 15 and I still think I got it under partly false pretenses.  My dad farmed for most of the year but worked for a local car dealership & repair shop during the winter months.

The couple who owned the dealership also owned the gas station and when they were looking for some help on evenings and weekends, my dad put my name forward.  I think the owners assumed that because my dad was a farmer, I would have a lot more mechanical knowledge than I did (this was an old-school garage – full service which could mean not only washing windows and checking oil but doing as many basic repairs as you were capable of – of which, for me, turned out to be “not many”.)

Anyhow, I did get the job and ended up staying there for a couple years, working full-time during the summers and then some evenings and weekends throughout the rest of the year. 

Here are five things I learned…
1. Everyone should work in some sort of minimum-wage retail job early in their working life and preferably as their first job – whether as a gas jockey, a waitress, a checkout clerk at the local grocery store, at the concession stand at the local theatre or whatever.  The basic skills you learn will be ones that you carry with you for the rest of your life – whether it's handling money or handling the full range of people you encounter.   More importantly, you will (hopefully) gain an empathy and an understanding of the issues faced by anyone who does this type of work as their livelihood, not just as a high school job before going on to university. 

I don't know if I immediately picked up this lesson – I remember once when somebody had tried to flush a diaper in our public washrooms and plugged the toilet.  I called the weekend guy and told him what had happened and said “what should I do?” knowing full well what the answer was.  But instead of telling me to get my soft pink hands into a pair of gloves and fish it out, he said “I gotta come by anyway.  I'll take care of it” He stopped by twenty minutes later and did the dirty deed.  As I said, I didn't learn the lesson at the time but when I went back to the Esso recently to find that he'd returned to working there, after being away for a job in Regina for a few years, I tipped him $10.  I didn't tell him the exact reason why I did this – I just said that I appreciated how he'd always been good to me (which was also true – it wasn't just that one incident where he'd saved my bacon) and I hoped he'd take the money and have a beer on me. 

2.  Even the smallest organization will have politics – in an organization with maybe half a dozen employees (counting the boss), the guy who worked weekends would grumble about the the guy who had the very desirable M-F morning spot, I'd jockey with my buddies who also worked there to get the Saturday morning and Sunday night shifts so that we could go out Saturday night but not have to be up early on Sunday morning. 

3.  This probably seems obvious but I learned that pretty much every job will have things that you enjoy and things that you don't but that a job will be whatever you make of it.  For a lot of people, working in a gas station would be boring as hell or beneath them or whatever.  But I think I was always able to find positives – whether it was realising how cool it was to have a job that allowed me to chat with people from across Canada and around the world, to work outside on some very nice days (since it was mainly a summer job for me), having a workplace where I usually didn't have a boss looking over my shoulder and was given a great deal of autonomy or even just the fact that on the slow nights when all the cleaning had been done and there was nothing else to do, you could sit and read the World Weekly News from the magazine rack to find out what was *really* happening in the world!

4.   I learned that I could get up at 6am on a regular basis including many minus forty winter mornings when I couldn't think of anything less appealing than going to a gas station to work.  This was a MAJOR relevation to my teenaged self! 

5. Loyalty can last a long time.  Since I left Indian Head, a Shell station has opened up and it would probably make more sense to go there since they offer Air Mile points and are probably a bit more conveniently located in relation to my parents' house.  But even though most of the staff has changed, the ownership has changed and the entire operation has changed (self-serve island!  More drink coolers!  Lottery ticket machine!), I still feel a sense of loyalty to the place that gave me my first “real” job.  

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