When you tell people that you work at McDonald's you get this look. It's a look that is filled with pity, judgement and a little bit of curiosity, but mostly just judgement. People who have never worked in the food industry, let alone the fast-food industry, won't understand the struggle that a worker goes through each shift. They can't understand daily problems that come up in a job like that.
It definitely was not the most glamorous, nor best paying job of my career. I can say honestly that I considered quitting more than once a shift during my four years. I can tell you I burned myself plenty, cleaned disgusting bathrooms, and even had a trainee faint on a hot day in the summer. Not only did being a McDonald's manager prepare me for the real world, it was probably the best experience of my life.
I started working at a McDonald's in my small hometown at the age of 15. My best friend got me the job even though she quit shortly after. I quickly became a Crew Trainer, ensuring new hires were trained correctly, within my first year there. I did all of this before my 16th birthday. Even though I was a high school student I spent many, many, many weekends and school nights over a fryer and asking people if they wanted two apple pies for a $1.39. As I worked I became close with my coworkers and got paid to socialize with some of my closest friends.
Then came high school graduation which was exciting for most people but really confusing for me. Having a late birthday I was not ready to move to Toronto (the only place I wanted to study and live) at 17, so I decided to stay back a year and work. That's when I thought it would be best to ask my supervisor about shifting to the management team. Once we had that discussion it was clear after school was out I would start my training.
While my friends were packing for college, I spent my summer learning what it meant to be responsible for a multi-million dollar company. When you say it like that it seems like a lot more than just running a McDonald's for eight hours a day. Really, I say it like that because that's what it is. I had to run a store during a lunch rush if three people called in sick or not. By 18 years old I was responsible for running a fast food business and ensuring it was done well, no matter what.
Once you realize you don't want something it's easy to get lazy and just complain about it. After my friends left and school began again, I was alone for once, surrounded by people significantly younger or older than me. I felt isolated and stressed out but I continued to just do my job. I stopped focusing on where I wanted to go after this year, instead focusing on what I needed to do so I could just go home and sleep.
Being a young manager was weird. When you've only just become an adult yourself it's strange to be in charge of people 10, 20, or even 30 years older than you, plus teenagers. When my friends were out partying at school on Saturday's I was stuck counting the daily deposit and how much food we wasted that day. The ability to slip into a routine was easy because I had no distractions around me at home. There were benefits but ultimately, staying behind was lonely and challenging.
The holiday season rolled around and all my friends returned home for break with amazing stories and experiences. They had new hookups, amazing classes, beautiful apartments, and friends from all over the country and the world. I was obviously jealous and discontent with my own self-inflicted situation. Once everyone left after New Years it was easy for me to just sit in my jealousy and pity life and job.
But that's when it hit me. If I didn't like my situation, why wasn't I trying to change it? Somehow I got my act together to apply to university on the last day possible and decided by the next school year I would live in Toronto.
No, it didn't happen overnight. I still had to work for the next few months while my friends were gone. Yet, it became a lot easier as acceptance letters came in and I could figure out the next steps. After going away to school for a year I even missed the simplicity and worked for a few months over my summer break. It wasn't the end of my McDonalds career, but it was the beginning of the rest of my life.
Now living and working in Toronto, it's easy to look back and see the benefits but back then I loathed every second. I know now that I learned what it meant to be hardworking, even when I did not want to be. If I had not experienced this responsibility as a young adult I really wonder how I would approach not only work but also life now.
So why would this be the best experience of my life? It's not the best because it was always pleasant and made me happy all the time. Not at all actually. It was the best because I had to be part of a team that I was responsible for and it made me see that fast food was not the life I wanted for myself. Nothing will make you realize your dreams quite like working in a job you grow to hate. This job was the one that made me grow into a more responsible young adult and realize how hard working full time really is. If you want to do something with your life, do it. The only person who will change your situation is you.