“Can I work at your Bookstore?”

easy teen jobsJack and I have hired our fair share of students at the bookstore. And I cannot help but make an observation. (Yes, I’m turning into one of Those Adults.)

Lots of kids enter college wanting to be important, expecting to graduate into a cool job where they wear a suit and have Big Responsibilities. Except they kinda don’t get what that means, so they’re not planning well.

You can see it written on their foreheads when they show up at our door because they need a little spending money, or think a bookstore will look cool on their resume, or – God Forbid – their guidance counselor called and asked us to call them for an interview (for a job they haven’t applied to).

They’re thinking, What I do now doesn’t matter because I’m waiting for my life to start. I don’t have to care about this, because it isn’t related to my REAL life plans.

Helpful life hint: the bosses looking for people who can handle Big Responsibilities are not looking at the people who already do the job they want done; they’re looking for those one level below, hungry to get into the next layer of hierarchy. If you want big things to do, show you’re good at the small ones.

Putting books on a shelf may seem annoying and mindless to you, particularly if you roll your eyes. It isn’t, and if you also dust and straighten as you alphabetize, believe me, the boss notices. You have proved you understand the correlation between good looking product and sales. You get it; you problem-solve; you’re not an automaton.You also have the emotional intelligence to understand that insulting a job your boss does daily is unhelpful to your career advancement. That’s not just smart; it’s wise.

Wasting energy on small stuff can feel counterproductive to you at your young age, but it marks you as a good hire. Do it right, do it well, do it thoroughly, and you won’t be doing it long.

Case in point: I love the story a school librarian told about a kid she had in middle school, who was kinda ADHD and annoying other kids in the class because he got his work done early and then became disruptive. He got sent to the library to help out.

The librarian, recognizing bored intelligence when she saw it, asked him to alphabetize the early readers – a task equivalent to Sisyphus and his famous rock. But the kid started in, slowed by the fact that he kept going back to the first shelf every day and repairing the damage before moving on. Two months in, he was 3/4 done.

And then his family moved and he changed schools. So the librarian was astonished, about a week later, to see him after school. He’d asked for and received permission to ride his bike over “and finish those shelves. I can’t leave that undone. It will bug me.”

Call it ADHD/OCD gone wild; call it a work ethic; call it charming. The librarian called it when she saw it: this kid is gonna make something of himself someday.

And he did. The only reason we know about this episode from Bill Gates’s middle school career is because he went on to do a lot of other good work.

Pay attention to the jobs in front of you, kids. Other people are paying attention to how well you do them.

11 thoughts on ““Can I work at your Bookstore?”

  1. I wish I could bottle Bill’s middle school work ethic and sell (no, give) to my middle school students. Most of them don’t have a clue as to work and responsibility-they’re too busy being entitled!

  2. Great story, Wendy, and so true. You’re a writer. maybe you can clarify this for me. Shouldn’t the question be “May I work at your bookstore?” since we know they have the ability to work there (we hope) but they are really asking permission to work in the bookstore. Or is it a rule that has been thrown out the window. Thanks! Just thought I’d ask 😸

    Sincerely, Louise Efting Middleville, MI

    P.S. LOVED your book “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap”. Enjoyed reading how you actually followed through on the same desire of my ❤. I, also, love all things Scotland but will probably never be able to visit. Maybe you and Jack would write an armchair travel book on a visit to that wonderful land. Write it as though we are traveling right there with you. Describing the flight over, arrival at the airport, renting a car, the unique bed & breakfasts, village details, weather, etc. Just a thought!

    On Thu, Aug 13, 2015 at 11:25 AM, Wendy Welch, Little Bookstore of Big

    • I’ll see if I can sell the Armchair Scotland book to my agent, Louise, and yes it SHOULD be “Can” which adds to the meta-message: use proper grammar when asking, especially if you’re looking for a quasi-academic job!

  3. Amen! I work at a busy public library and we have two new 30 y/o men who work part-time. They whine when asked to take on new duties and spend more time checking their phones than working. When I was their age, I had been working full-time for several years and was supporting myself (apartment, car) – no help from mom and dad!

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