Be The Change: How To Grow Up

For the Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/4/2020 11:43:28 AM
Modified: 9/4/2020 11:43:18 AM

When does a person become an adult? It happened for me when I got my first job as a dishwasher at Cooper’s Hill Public House in Peterborough.

Not only did I learn more in six months on the job than I did in 12 years of schooling, but I enjoyed it infinitely more. Why? Partly because I spent my whole life being told that high school would be the best time of my life. Friends, parties, dating; all of this and more was promised to me by a media machine that portrays high school as a constant block party.

The thing is, it never happened. By the time I realized that the life I was hoping for wasn’t coming, I was already a senior. I felt like I had been lied to; systematically manipulated to imagine a high school experience that was never going to happen for me. And I fell for it, all of it, for years.

My job, however, was not something I was ever promised, let alone an experience guaranteed to have such a profound impact on me. For the first time in my life I was in a situation where others depended on me, not where I was the one being dependent. I had real life responsibilities to fulfill with real world consequences were I to fail.

Nights at restaurants are tight shifts. The line cook creates the meal, the server/bartender serves the meal, and then the dishwasher cleans the dishes. Rinse and repeat for about 12 hours – swapping in two to three crews – and you have a typical day for restaurant staff. Any disruption in this process means serious setbacks, delays that make everyone’s job harder, or worse...disappointed customers.

Needless to say, everyone has to be at their best at all times. Before I knew what was happening, it became apparent that I was good at this, and my coworkers wouldn’t let me forget it. I couldn’t understand what I was doing that was so prolific, but at one point I heard someone say that they’d prefer me to any other dishwasher on staff. This comment quickly went to my head until I snapped out of it, but the euphoria of earning such esteem and encouragement meant more to me than anything else.

I’ve often pondered what separates adults from children. It’s not the pursuit of knowledge, as that is a lifelong endeavor. It’s not an age determined by law, or a maturity milestone declared by science. For me, it came through the hard work and life lessons of my first job. Because of the demands of my job, I was treated like a true adult – an equal – for the first time in my life. I learned when not to give up, to think twice before burdening someone else with a secret, that the best and worst experiences in life are typically unexpected, and that high school is not “real life” and somewhat irrelevant. 

I also realized the places I don’t belong, while embracing and investing in the places in which I do. My best advice for young people? High school is not your life. Don’t make the mistakes I did in assuming this. Find a job. You won’t believe the person you’ll become!

Theodore N.E. Cross lives in Peterborough


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