During the decrease of COVID’s prominence toward the end of 2021, I had just begun my sophomore year. The air was starting to chill and teachers were getting more comfortable with assigning mass amounts of work that nobody was ready to do. In the midst of this adjustment to what “real” high school felt like, I began to feel obligated to take another step into the adult world. A lot of my friends, some juniors and seniors, had jobs. They had money to spend on clothes, food, and even gas to support their cars–which they also paid for with their jobs. Obviously, being on the younger side of this, it was a little bit harder for me to find employment. Not a lot of businesses were looking to hire 15-year-olds that had hardly any experience…not even babysitting. Luckily for me, I found a small dive bar about five minutes from my house with extremely flexible scheduling and decent pay (especially compared to nothing).
When I started training, the environment was welcoming and patient; they were seemingly used to a younger hostess and endorsed my ability to pick up the practice with ease. As I got closer to the staff, the servers and even the managers felt a little too comfortable taking their anger out on me. After such outbursts, they often called me a “calm in the storm” as I was able to handle a busy crowd and still manage side work. Little did they know, this was actually the result of the severe anxiety I was experiencing between the hours of 4 and 9 PM. I began to put a lot of pressure on myself while at work, and it became more than just making sure I did my job correctly. If I didn’t go above and beyond, I feared that my bosses would fire me or my coworkers would dislike me (and that might be even worse). Even though I chose to pick up a lot of shifts and work often, I was still overcome by fear that I would mess up.
By the end of my first summer working, I was scheduled every day of the week and sometimes for double shifts (from 12-10). Because I had never had an income before, I also faced the stress of managing my bank account. The security I felt after seeing real money to my own name was beyond any other; I finally felt like an adult. As a result of this, it took a lot for me to spend that money. When I did, whether on ice cream or a new shirt, I felt a lot of regret despite how much I wanted whatever it was I bought. I’m fortunate enough to live with my family, who pay for our home and groceries, and the goal of getting a job was to have spending money. So why couldn’t I spend it? Being raised by a frugal mother, I was taught not to buy unless I needed to. I worked a lot to counteract what I saw as “lost years”, the time before I was old enough to have a job. I became so dedicated to racking up hours at work that I would frequently stay late just to help clean and close. It wasn’t until I had worked there for almost a year that I realized working at a young age was a way to build experience and teamwork skills, not get wealthy. Not only was that an unrealistic goal, it was also incredibly unhealthy. I managed to develop a system that allowed me to balance spending when I wanted to and not save up so often that I would splurge randomly. In combination, I also created a savings account to which I would deposit most of my checks. This way, I felt both secure in and rewarded by the work I was doing.
This past January, a few months into my junior year, I explained to my managers that I would no longer be working with them following the shifts I had scheduled for the next two weeks. Though my own mindset had changed about working, the environment hadn’t. To protect my own mental health, I took some time away from work to focus on school and my well-being, which allowed me to return to work in the spring with a much better head on my shoulders. Not only that, but I was also able to explore the plethora of other opportunities available to teens my age. Whether it be a bookstore, an arcade, or a daycare, the world is limitless. When we’re adults, it is a lot more crucial to have a good-paying job to keep you afloat. However, we have the opportunity to discover ourselves and our interests when we’re young. I advise you to not waste it at a place that causes you anxiety and stress! Your mental health always comes first, so try to keep that in mind during your job hunt/financial growth.