Ever work in the hot summer sun mowing the neighbors’ lawns? Do cold call sales for three bucks an hour? Sweat through the night making widgets in a factory?

As a young person, your jobs may not have been glamorous, but you learned lessons that have lasted a lifetime.

At Humanergy, our team members have worked an assortment of menial jobs with all the benefits, like an allergic reaction to corn pollen, sun poisoning and mind-numbness caused by separating bran flakes from raisins hour after hour.

Here are three lessons we’ve maximized from our days making minimum wage:

Honesty is always the best policy. During a summer job as a youth program worker making $4 an hour, the boss – we’ll call her Mandy – decided our summer team needed a paid day off. Instead of telling her boss – we’ll call her Joyce – that we were going on a road trip to let off some steam, she lied. Mandy told Joyce that we had supplies to buy and errands to run.

Our day of “errands” included a leisurely breakfast at a homegrown cafe, then a visit with Mandy’s Dad. The next stop was the county fair for coney dogs and funnel cakes. The day ended with a scenic drive home and a pit stop for banana splits.

Sure enough, Mandy’s scam was discovered, and the summer employees had a choice to make. Either lie and back up Mandy’s story—I’ve got my boss’ back and she’s got mine, right?—or tell the truth.

For Mandy, the road trip facade was one lie in a long line of deception and poor choices. My co-workers and I didn’t get paid that day. And Mandy got fired a few weeks later. Lesson learned? Choose the truth and your own integrity over keeping the boss’ secret. Choose the truth over anything, really.

Smiles work wonders, even on the phone. One temporary job as a receptionist provided countless opportunities to say, “Hello! ABC Trucking. How may I help you?”

Between phone calls, the job required typing invoices, greeting visitors and keeping the coffee pot full. Drivers would call from all over the country with questions about their customers and their schedules and to let the home office know when they were headed home.

After hundreds of calls, it was challenging to keep up the cheerful tone at the end of the day. Remembering that every job is important, I smiled once again and picked up the phone. Mike, one of the long-haul drivers, said: “It’s so great to hear you on the other end of the line! I’m in North Dakota, such a long way from home. Thanks for sending me a smile through the phone.”

When we interact with others, we have a choice. We can either just pass along information or convey warmth and humanity – a priceless gift that we can share in person or even over the telephone.

Humor makes the daily grind liveable. The 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift meant pounding the alarm clock at 3:30 a.m. each morning followed by a big dose of Coast deodorant soap—the eye opener. Another day of making samples, cleaning floors and scrubbing equipment.

Sprinkled throughout this messy job was humor. The dirty dozen shared stories, fun nicknames and inside jokes. One example of a nickname was The Weather Man. This co-worker always predicted the weather for the day. And he was always wrong. We worked hard, and humor helped us get through the tough projects, demanding bosses and overtime hours.

The Humanergy team members have changed career paths since those first jobs. And we’ve expanded our understanding of the power of honesty, warmth and good humor. In fact, we try to share those qualities with each other and with our clients as well. Try to stay in touch with your “minimal wage self,” and you’ll probably live by another valuable lesson, which is to keep perspective on what matters most. As Bertrand Russell said, “One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”

Have a question or want some input from Humanergy about this topic? Contact us and we’ll get right back to you!