For many of us our first jobs were really eye opening. In those early employment experiences we learn how hard it really is to earn a dollar and how good it feels when we get that first paycheck. We learn that we don’t know everything, but we’ve got potential.
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In the next installment of my series, “Lessons Learned from My Very First Job,” Wendi Gratz shares what it was like to begin working in an automotive repair shop when she was 16.
Today, Wendi is a sewing pattern designer, Craftsy instructor, author and all around creative person. Her site, Shiny Happy World, is home to easy-to-follow sewing tutorials and videos, patterns for quilts, softies, and embroidery, plus a plethora of supplies for all your projects.
My current (and favorite) job is designing easy patterns and videos that help creative people make adorable quilts and cuddly stuffed animals. It’s about as far removed from my first job as you can possibly get.
I got my first “job” was when I was 10 years old. My grandfather owned an automotive repair shop where he rebuilt starters, alternators, and generators. My dad worked there – and one summer I did too. I got paid in Country Time Lemonade (it was a rare treat to be allowed to drink something from a can and felt very grown-up to me) but I think it’s fair to call it my first job because I went in every day and got actual work done. I even had my own work bench.
Wendi in 1979.
I don’t think the plan was for me to actually work there. I started the summer just playing with what was around. I cleaned up old brass bushings, engraved flowers and words on them, and wore them as rings. I pulled generator coils apart, hammered out the copper I found inside, and made bracelets. But pretty soon my dad started asking me to do a few things. Did I want to take apart some starters? Sure. I like using tools. Did I want to clean the cast metal casings? Absolutely! That used an awesome machine full of solvent and I loved the smell. Did I want to repaint them now that they were clean? Of course! Spray paint is the Best Thing Ever when you are ten. Step by step he added new tasks and by the end of the summer I could take apart and rebuild any starter – and I did several every day.
I learned that I can do anything if I’m interested and if someone will break down the steps for me. Of course, the flip side of that is a genuine belief that everyone else can learn anything they’re interested in – all they need is someone to break down the steps for them and show them how. The most fun part of my job is figuring out the best way to teach someone a new skill they’ve never tried before – and to do it in a way that’s fun and approachable.
I also learned that the right tools make tasks easy and fun. Those metal casings I cleaned? That would have been very Not Fun with a rag and some solvent. They were covered with a thick layer of cooked-on engine grease and dirt – sticky and black and really hard to get off. But we had a fabulous machine – imagine a large rock tumbler filled with small stones and mineral spirits. Toss the casings in there, set it to tumble, and a little while later you would pull magically clean casings out. For spray painting we had a bench set up with a bunch of alternator fans we used as little lazy Susans. We stood the casings on them so we could paint all the way around without having to reposition them. I learned to invest in the right tools for what I do, and to set up my studio to make my work easy.
Finally, I learned that practice really does make perfect. At the beginning of the summer my dad always checked to make sure I had sufficiently tightened the bolts holding each starter together. Eventually I always got the bolts tight enough and he stopped checking. And not long after that I got strong enough that I was able to twist the heads off the bolts. Bonus – I got to graduate from using a nutdriver to using the extremely cool (and loud) air wrench. The air wrench is set to stop turning when the bolt is tight enough. I love hearing from students who tell me that outlining applique pieces was really challenging at first, but by the last block in their quilt they felt like a real pro. Being able to see visible progress like that is such a magical feeling! I get it – and I’ve gotten it since that first job.
Did Wendi’s story resonate with you? Tell us about your first job and the lessons you learned that stick with you today.