“Hi. May I take your order?” Over the past year, I have spoken these words roughly 50,000 times. You guessed it: I’ve been working at a fast food restaurant. Throughout this time, my coworkers, customers, and bosses have assisted me in several ways: I’ve become more responsible, learned another language, and received insight into the person I want to be. As a result of my extensive fast food “education,” I have come to believe that many important life lessons can be learned from a drive-thru window.
I was always pretty responsible, but my recent experience has honed this quality. Many teens work at fast food restaurants; I think I’ve trained them all! The teaching part is tedious. Still, when my trainee makes the jump to a self-sufficient employee, I feel like an artist whose painting has just been sold. Work has even taught me about the dark side of responsibility: Life’s not fair. When a co-worker leaves a station empty, the rest of us have to pick up the slack. The old me might have complained, but as my Popop always says, “fair” is just a weather condition. My fast food education has brought this idea home.
This job has given me another unexpected bonus: a window into a new culture. I started Spanish class in eighth grade. My teachers were passionate and I caught the fever. Hesitant at first, I began asking co-workers questions in Spanish. Sometimes my mistakes were humiliating (I quickly learned that embarrasada means pregnant, not embarrassed) but the slip-ups were worth it. Today, I only speak Spanish at work. I can even sing a few popular tunes. Recently, I was trying on shoes when I heard someone say, “Mire sus zapatos, que bonitos!” This means, “Look at her shoes, how pretty!” A young lady was talking to her mom about my high heels. I asked– in Spanish, of course– if she would like me to show her where I found them. She praised my Spanish and I wore a ridiculous smile for days. I’d just aced my test!
Finally, my first job was also my first clean slate. The people in my life are awesome, and I feel comfortable with them, but let’s face it — comfort zones can be like straight jackets. When I started working, I had a revelation: no one had any preconceived ideas about me. For the first time, I had the freedom to experiment with who I was. I keep discovering new sides to myself and my confidence continues to grow.
I’m more than just the voice coming from the drive-thru speaker. I exercise my responsibility daily by getting the job done. I speak Spanish better than I ever imagined I would. I’m even examining career options related to it. Lastly, I received something we all strive for: permission to evolve. I became a stronger, happier person as a result of the free-form environment that a new job presents. As odd as it sounds, fries and burgers have changed my life.
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