Lessons From The Most Embarrassing Story in My Young Career

When I was 16, I, like many other teenagers blessed with a new car to go along with my new license, was immediately ushered out into the working world. To help pay for my own things as well as prove to my parents that video games and cross country weren’t going to occupy my free time forever, I set out to get my first real job. Of course, I’d been paid an allowance when I was younger (mostly in poker chips which I then exchanged for cold hard cash), but this was going to be the real thing – with a paycheck, taxes, the whole nine yards.

As with most young teens, the thought of working alongside strangers (most much older than I was) didn’t exactly excite me. So, it should have come as no surprise to my parents when I ditched the opportunity to work at Walgreens right across the street from my house for the chance to work at the Taco Bell on the local college campus alongside two of my good friends. The decision was quite easy actually – all the free tacos I could eat, friends to goof off with, and the opportunity to hang with college-aged chicks. What more does a high school kid need?

Well, needless to say, the actual job was lackluster. I don’t recall ever seeing a fast food joint on the list of the best places to work, and this scenario was no different. While the food proved to be a great perk, you don’t exactly want to chow down on Taco Bell once you see how it’s prepared (trust me on this one). Serving tacos to college students also didn’t exactly strike me as a rewarding career path. Still, my manager was cool, I made all sorts of friends, and I did my best attempt to impress the girls (you know – pants sagged, hat tipped to the side – I thought I had mastered the look).

Well, as fate would have it, I wasn’t destined to work out my entire career at Taco Bell. I was on to bigger and better things! When my manager left, I decided now would be a great time to exit the fast food industry and make something of my 16-year old self. So, I turned in my Taco Bell uniform and headed to the place where these shenanigans all started – Walgreens.

Amidst my mumbling, the manager was able to discern that I was looking for work. Because I had ditched the look for this particular encounter, he must have viewed me as trustworthy (either that or he desperately needed employees). Either way, we set up an interview for later that week. I came to my interview ready to put on a show with my new suit and tie (likely too long so I could grow into it). Before the interview, I was ushered into a room and told to sit down in front of a computer screen. I was directed to fill out a preliminary questionnaire and told to answer each question honestly.

Still a bit surprised that I didn’t get to dazzle the man with my premeditated interview answers, I set out to make it through the hundred or so questions on the screen. It became immediately apparent that this test of sorts was meant to filter out potential delinquents before they were able to charm their way into a job. Here are some sample questions:

I believe it’s okay to steal from my job.   T   or   F
Missing my shift is okay provided I have a good reason.   T   or   F
In my last job, I often had conflicts with my boss.   T   or   F

You get the point.

Many of the questions had obvious answers. I flew through the screen marking true or false for each question with ease until I hit this one:

From my previous employer, I have stole merchandise equating to:
$25 or less   $25-$100   $100-$500   $500+ N/A

Ah, my young, naive mind immediately went spinning. You see, during the wonderful months that I worked at Taco Bell, I had eaten quite a few free tacos to say the least. Let’s just say I wasn’t as concerned with eating healthy. Although these meals were considered on the house for employees, I hadn’t paid for them directly (one could argue that I paid for them by covering up the occasional roach or two that scampered across the counter). While in my head I knew this wasn’t exactly stealing, factually, I thought it fit the bill. So, rather than making the obvious choice and circling “N/A”, I circled $25-$100 (tacos were cheap I figured). Remember, the manager had told me to be honest. In my mind, this was honesty at its best.

Days went by, and I never heard anything back from Walgreens, much to the dismay of my mother, who wanted me back to work ASAP instead of fiddling around the house after school (much less trouble that way). When I told her of the questionnaire, I remember laughing and more laughing followed by a short talk about what constitutes as stealing. Apparently, I wasn’t packed with street smarts and common sense when I was 16-17 years old.

So, why tell this embarrassing story that illustrates my lack of common sense as a kid? Well first, it’s entertaining. What’s life if you can’t laugh at yourself?

It also showcases two different elements. First, never judge if you don’t understand the full story. Sure, this is a silly example, and of course, the manager has better things to do than investigate my prior delinquent past. But, I’ve been extremely guilty in the past of judging others without knowing the full story. Second, I think it showcases just how easily words can be misinterpreted. One thing to a particular individual may mean something completely different to someone else. Practice the clearest form of communication imaginable.

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