Our first jobs–or how we made our first paychecks

In my Ipsy bag this month, I got a red NYX lipstick in the color, Lifeguard. Seeing that lipstick totally set me on a nostalgic turn thinking of my first job, being a lifeguard at the Phillips Community Pool. I immediately wanted to listen to a 90s playlist and reminisce about my days up in the chair. And it started me thinking about how much that first job informed who I am today.

The lipstick that started the conversation–Lifeguard by NYX. Photo courtesy of nyxcosmetics.com

It also dawned on me that I wasn’t sure I knew what Pamela or Jess’ first jobs were–I did!–but I was curious how they felt their first jobs had influenced them.

So this is the story of our first paychecks: where we got them, what we did and how those experiences imprinted who we would become.


My first job technically was at McDonald’s.  I may have worked there for about a month?  It felt like only a month.  It wasn’t very long….. because shortly after I started there I got a job at the GAP!  I would then work at the Gap through high school as well as through massage school, for a total of almost 8 years.  And in that span of time I moved out when I turned 18, moved back home, live in Minneapolis for about 4 months (massage school) and then again, moved back home.  I can’t remember what my starting wage was, but I think at the time I left I was making around $7.50? Which wasn’t low, but not exactly high.  Yeah, $7.50 and in 1998 the Gap that I wanted to transfer to in uptown MPLS “couldn’t offer me what I was currently getting paid.” – it was too high.  Ummm…. excuse me?  So I had to transfer to the Edina store, and drive about a half hour both ways (when I could have walked 5 blocks.)  Looking back, for the amount I was working, It probably wasn’t really worth it, but I had to have a job to pay for the room I was renting for those 4 months (and food…. I did eat as well.)

Don’t forget how dope Gap was in the 90s! Their new ad campaign is inspired by vintage Gap ads like these. Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail UK.

The Gap was a cool job though.  A really awesome discount came with it, which was pretty great in high school.  I can tell you I saved very little of my money at that time, but definitely had cool clothes.  And another thing I remember was that I don’t think I was very good at it, at first.  In fact I recall almost getting “let go” after the initial back to school season I was hired for.  Back then when you worked in retail you were actually expected to, you know, help people and sell them things (which is a far cry from what I feel I usually get in most stores these days)….. add ons were a huge push…. “Did you need a braided belt to go with those jeans?”  “Do you need some socks to go with that outfit?”  I had no experience selling, and I was extremely shy and awkward.  In fact, I remember in my interview they handed me a white cotton tee shirt and told me to sell it to them.  I don’t think I “sold” it very well and have no idea how I actually got the job after that.  But I did, and I was NOT going to lose that job.  So I had to get very uncomfortable.  I had to talk to strangers.  Just walk right up to them and talk to them.  It got easier and easier, and honestly probably was the best thing I was ever forced to do. It made me start to figure out how to get comfortable with myself more than anything, which I feel like we can all agree, at age 16, can be pretty difficult and confusing.  Oh, I had to fold lots of clothes too.  That was a skill I excelled in!  Probably due to me being very type A, I loved making things look perfect.  As the years went on, I would be the one to train most of the new hires how to fold – yes, there was a certain “way” to fold everything, which included the use of “folding boards” which were plastic templates, basically.  Even after I was long gone from the Gap, the Appleton store would call me (if they were having a big important visit, and when they remodeled and were reopening in the new store) to see if I wanted to come in and fold, in exchange for a small hourly wage and discount for the time I was helping (I even got roped into legit coming back part time, one of those times.)  Sadly, the Appleton, Fox River Mall Gap closed a little over a year ago.  Though I didn’t shop there all that much anymore, I miss the idea that I could if I wanted to, and even still say hello to a few of the people I worked with all those year ago.  Thanks for helping me grow, for the life lessons and for the memories, Fox River Mall Gap.  XO, Pamela

Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail UK


In January of 1996, I had dropped out of college (ok- at the time, I was “taking a semester off”. LOL) and was living as a human on my own for the first time in my life. I needed a job to pay my $175 rent and eat and buy paper towels and stuff. After interviewing in both a blazer (always overdress for an interview!) and my spiked collar, I landed a job at Satori Imports, a classic Oshkosh institution that sold Manic Panic, body jewelry, lava lamps, incense, and, um, “tobacco accessories”.

This job was 100% living the dream of the 90’s- my coworkers, coworkers’ friends, and customers were a zany cast of characters (many of whom remain friends to this day) who wore uniforms of band t-shirts, Doc Martens, Dickies pants, hardware store accessories, and flannel shirts; our friends worked next door at the coffee shop and would have my mocha ready by the time I walked past the block of windows to the door; other friends worked at the record shop across the street, and we would point our laser pointers at them through the upstairs window (hilarious); and even more friends worked at the bar that we would all end up at after work. It was the job that sitcoms and movies could be based on, and it was THE BEST, even though my starting wage was… wait for it… $4.75 an hour. #baller

I wish I still had that 7 Seconds shirt! Normally we didn’t have male strippers around.

Because Satori sold products meant for adults 18 and older, we had to card people to enter the “back area”, and we took our job VERY seriously. We were incredibly proud of our collection of bad fake IDs, we would deny people that we saw talking to teenagers outside before coming in, and wouldn’t allow parents to pick out pipes for their children. THE POWER!!! *shakes fists to sky*

Great days were the days people dropped money on the floor, and it happened ALL. THE. TIME! If we were lucky enough to find a $20, we would order chicken pot pies from KFC. That’s right- KFC not only had delicious pot pies (that probably weighed in at over 1000 calories each but whatever we were broke), KFC DELIVERED!

This is, without a doubt, the job that taught me how to hustle. The owner, Jeff, had a few side businesses, some in wholesale, and we would always have random opportunities to take work home and get paid per unit- things like painting South Park character-shaped pipes, or making macrame necklaces out of hemp twine and beads. The more you made, the more you got paid! I remember one time we had a booth at an outdoor music festival. The sky opened up and it started pouring rain. Jeff grabbed a box of trash bags, handed me a scissors, and said “start cutting neck holes!” Before we knew it, we were selling “rain ponchos” for a buck a piece as fast as we could cut them. We were never mad about having to work Christmas Eve, because this was the one day we would let customers haggle over prices, and Jeff and his amazing wife, Kay, would feed us pizza and vodka cranberries.

Sliding doors connections: a regular customer, who was a hair stylist, invited me to be a model for Halloween makeovers her salon was doing for the local news. She made me the Bride of Frankenstein. The woman who did my makeup invited me to participate in a skin care study she was doing, which had me coming back to the salon regularly. Eventually, in 1999, I left Satori to go work at this salon, and this is where I met Pamela. We bonded immediately over my origami-a-day calendar and that we both grew up in print shops. <3

Also, if not for this job, I wouldn’t have been friends with the woman who would, many years later, convince Lyn to go on a trek through the Himalayas.

Satori will always hold a special place in my heart- it was a time when I was learning how to be me, making a million mistakes along the way. This album will always bring me back there:


Like most kids, I started making money babysitting at a pretty early age. And I was a natural born hustler. I was very proactive–encouraging my parents’ friends to go see the newest movie at Cinema North or to say yes to a party invite–all so I could make some cash for a Sweet Valley High book or cassette single.

Photo courtesy of the Phillips Community Pool Facebook page.

But my first job with a paycheck was at the newly opened Phillips Community Pool as a lifeguard and swim instructor. This job would start my lifelong path of getting jobs in fields where I walked in having zero training. Unlike most of my coworkers, I never took swimming lessons. Not once. We had an above ground pool at my house from the time I was five, so I was all about the water, and could front crawl…sort of. Luckily, it’s hard to breaststroke in the lake, so I wasn’t at a huge disadvantage when I came in for the lifeguard training class that would serve as the interview process for getting a job at the pool.

I think the class was over a few weekends, but I’m kinda hazy on this one. I remember I had a swimming suit that was fun for hanging out in, but ridiculous to actually swim in. But I learned the strokes pretty quickly, kinda figured out the save techniques (although I still feel I owe Whitey Simpson an apology for kicking him in an unfortunate region during a two-man submersion rescue exercise.) And I remember spending the majority of the Red Cross videos in a panic they were going to show blood. I wasn’t in particularly good shape so swimming a 500 which was the final test, was an exercise in futility. But in the end, I got the job and was proud to get my lifeguard tank top and whistle–our official uniform.

And there was absolutely no better job than lifeguarding at the pool. Not only did it pay great at the time, I think we were making around $7/hour, but it was social, sporty and warm! There wasn’t much life saving going on–thank goodness!–but there was plenty of performances and entertainment on the lifeguard chairs. I almost always worked Sundays and would make everyone listen to the Casey Kasem countdown which turned spurred dance parties and karaoke. The rest of the week, we took turns playing our mixes through the sound system’s tape deck. And since I was a brat–we listened to my mixes the most. I can’t hear this song without hearing Troy’s version, “Otro Dia Mas en la Piscina!”

I didn’t love having to spend much time in the water–too cold–but I loved teaching the kids. I found I had a knack–and a heart–for teaching at that job. It was the greatest thing to see kids go from being afraid to get their heads wet to swimming underwater with ease. And I learned how to teach from the best. Each class had a lead instructor and an assistant. Many of my first classes were assisting one of my parents who both taught swimming lessons at the pool. Their teaching styles were different, but the kids loved them equally. They were patient and fun and created a safe space for kids to learn. I hope I do the same when I teach today.

You might think it would be annoying to hang out with your family when you’re a teenager, but I loved it. Not only did I often work with one of my parents, but my sisters LIVED at the pool. They could easily swim with their friends for four hours straight. They ran around the pool with their friends like they owned the place–and they kind of did. It was the place to be for the 8-13 year old set!

But of course–every great job is always about the people. Many of my closest friends today are still from our days hanging at the pool. The group of guards was very much like a family, even the ones who didn’t have the same last name as me. We were the pioneers. We were creating a culture and it was the greatest. And when things did get serious–I had a little issue with a sketchy dude who would come for laps–the other guards did what they were paid to do, they protected you and made you feel safe. In retrospect, the job could’ve been a complete nightmare of body image issues and teen drama–and it never happened. We all got along and in spite of all the singing and random diving competitions, we were professional. Even at 16 years old.

And the reason for that was our director, Nancy. In a very real way, she modeled for me how to be a successful woman. She was strong–both physically and mentally–she was very confident and funny and totally interesting. She allowed us to have fun but also had no problem reining us in when our singalongs led to distraction. And she treated me like an adult. We had adult conversations and talked about world and issues and she was completely encouraging and supportive of me and my interests. When I left my town of 1,500 for college I had confidence I could do it, because she told me I could and I believed her. She was the living definition of what a feminist is to me–an independent woman who looks after and mentors other women to be the best they can be.

Not bad for a first job. (And I would give anything to have one photo of those days–but alas–I have none.)

What was your first job? What kind of impact did it have on you? Can’t wait to hear about it in the comments below!

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