Chatting over coffeeYesterday, while chatting over coffee with fellow business women, our conversation turned to first jobs.

One of us had been a wool classer (no, I didn’t know what that was either), one a check out chick and one had her first job at IKEA, where she stayed for 14 years.

My first job, started during my first year at uni, was as a waitress at Pizza Hut.

It turned out to be the best first job an introvert like me could have had.

Yet it wasn’t without its rude shocks. A few weeks after I started, my manager set me down in the booth and told me that my performance wasn’t up to scratch. I wasn’t friendly enough to the customers and I wasn’t smiling enough.

Looking back on it now, I can try to see it as the normal sexist bullshit that I’ve copped all my life – “Smile!”, “It hasn’t happened yet!”, “You look so pretty when you smile”. But, no. This was a front line customer service job and I needed to win over my customers and make them want to spend money.

After this talking to, I went home embarrassed, angry and humiliated. I cried as I told my parents what had happened and got a pep talk that sometimes we have to do what we don’t like, do what doesn’t feel normal, just to be successful in a job.  I had the option to quit, or to persevere, take the lesson on board and keep going.

Of course I kept going.

I marched back into that restaurant and I SMILED! I started chatting to customers, I asked if they wanted dessert and I never stopped smiling.

As a result, I started getting more shifts, I won competitions for onselling desserts, I got to work behind the drinks bar and I was taught how to close.

Strangely, despite how much it pushed me beyond my comfort zone, I really enjoyed this job. Mostly, because I was good at it. Also, because, perversely, I enjoyed the constant customer contact and making people happy. For someone who hates small talk and talking with strangers, this was really odd, but because I had a clear role and a script, I found it really easy, once I got over my own self-imposed barriers.

I know now that persistence is one of my strengths. As a ten year old, I taught myself to ride a bike in one day. At 21, I taught myself how to drive a manual car in a couple of days. As an extremely shy introvert, I spent years becoming very good at public speaking. And, at 19, I became a very good waitress.

What about you? What was your first job and what did it teach you?

*Image by Cat Farrah, from I ate this, here in Ballarat