11/02/2014 12:14 am ET Updated Jan 01, 2015

First Jobs Matter! 60 Women Over 60 Look Back

Women over 60 are much stronger than we get credit for. Often stereotyped as being weak and invisible, we have experienced loss, seized opportunities and influenced social change. In six decades of life, we have raised families, navigated careers and reinvented ourselves more times than we can count. We have emerged stronger than we could have imagined, but, it is a strength softened by wisdom. Looking back, there are so many pivotal events that have influenced our lives. As I talk to women in the Sixty and Me community, I realize that one of the most influential events was one that we seldom think of: our first job.

We were one of the first generations of women to have the opportunity to chart our own course from the very beginning of our lives. Yes, many of us faced challenges with discrimination, and even harassment, along the way. But, for the most part, we were given an incredible opportunity to be healthier, better educated and more independent than any other generation. This opportunity has continued into our 60s and we are now redefining retirement and exploring our passions at an age when our grandmothers were "aging gracefully." Looking back, it is clear that much of our generation's determination was forged in the fires of our first experiences in the workplace.

When I asked the 50,000 women in the Sixty and Me community to describe their first jobs, I was expecting to hear interesting stories, but, I wasn't expecting the depth of emotion in their responses. It is clear that, for better or for worse, our first jobs were a launching pad for the rest of our lives.

I wasn't surprised by the tough conditions that the other women of my generation faced, but, I was surprised that they stuck with it. In many ways, it seems like their unhappiness, far from destroying or discouraging them, was the fuel that drove them to succeed. Our generation wanted to be the masters of our own destiny and, for the most part, we succeeded.

Here are a few of the answers that I received from the women in the community when I asked, "What was your first paying job and what did you learn?"

  1. Rena Sue - My first job was in a dime store behind the candy counter. I learned to eat candy fast and sneaky. I also learned that I did not want to live my life forever in a small town, so I joined the Navy and travelled the world.
  2. Christine - I was an office junior and earned £5.00 per week. I learned to get what you want you have to work hard.
  3. Kathy - I was as a gift wrapper in a department store at Christmas time. I learned to hate people who bought an umbrella and wanted it wrapped.
  4. Jerri - I got a job dipping ice cream when I was 15. I learned how to work hard. I learned perseverance.
  5. Dee - My first paid job was at a farm, picking apples and making cider. I made $1.05 an hour.
  6. Rohana - I did babysitting. I learned how to fluff up the cookie jars and where to find the sex reports like Kinsey and Masters & Johnson.
  7. Jean - I worked as a carhop in 1954, and received $0.15 hour. I thought I was rich.
  8. Deirdre - I did outwork, putting together TV parts. This was to save money for a package tour to Spain which cost £25 for the flight, hotel and food.
  9. Andi - I worked as an egg picker at 16 for $1.90 an hour. In the winter time the houses were so cold the eggs were frozen solid. I wore fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm.
  10. Lorraine - I was a sales clerk in a clothing store. I lasted two weeks. They wanted me to sell whether the clothes flattered the wearer or not. I couldn't live with the lying.
  11. Carley - I was an A&W car hop at 16. It was 1969 and I was paid $1.10 an hour, plus tips! I learned about the law of gravity (every time) someone grabbed a root beer off the tray!
  12. Sandra - I was a cleaner. I would've preferred to stay at school but unfortunately didn't have any choice. It made me a stronger person.
  13. Katheryn - My first job was cashier in a dress shop where the sales people were paid commission. I hated the cutthroat attitude among the "team".
  14. Betty - I worked as clerk in a travel agency for free meals and transportation. This developed my humility, flexibility, patience and adaptability in everything I did.
  15. Jan - I worked in a convent as a kitchen maid looking after nuns. I got £5.00 a week.
  16. Ruth - I worked for an elderly lady for $15 a week. I worked six days a week. I learned that you can do anything you set your mind to. You just have to have a goal and see it through.
  17. Phyllis - I worked as a clerk in a small clothing store. I learned never again to take job where I had to stand on my feet for eight hours a day.
  18. Joanne - My first job at 16 was in Eaton's department store in the shoe department. I saved for weeks and bought a suede leather coat I coveted.
  19. Ann - My first job was at Dipper Dan, an ice cream parlor. I learned that if you eat too much ice cream, it dulls your desire for it, forever!
  20. Marge - Babysitting for $0.50 an hour for two adorable little boys. I learned a love for children and would later become an elementary school teacher.
  21. Estella - I was waitress at a Mexican restaurant and earned $1.50 an hour plus tips.
  22. Maggie - At 17 I stood on the street corner in NYC handing out US flags. It was Flag day.
  23. Annette - My first paid job was working in an office. I learnt to listen and do as I was told.
  24. Pamela - I started working for a dairy farmer. What did I learn from it? Never to work as a land girl again. I went into nursing.
  25. Lindy - I was summer nanny to two children. I decided that I was going to wait a LONG time before I had children of my own!
  26. Donna - My first job was in the hardware department of a five and 10 cent store. I knew everything I did impacted someone else in one way or another. I loved working.
  27. Marilyn - While in high school I had a job sewing on buttons! I learned that I hated any form of sewing and had the confidence to quit.
  28. Shelia - I worked at A&W. I started as skating car hop ended up working inside as an assistant manager.
  29. Pauline - I worked in a factory that made mats and bedspreads. I learnt that working the same place as your mother is not a good idea.
  30. Bella - My first job was at 14 as a chambermaid in a boarding house. I learned that I did not want to clean up after strangers for the rest of my life.
  31. Elaine - My very first paid job at 15 was babysitting for three families. It toughened me up.
  32. Helen - My first job was in a shoe shop. They would pay me and I would give them back the money to pay for shoes I had bought. I still love buying shoes.
  33. Phyllis - My first job was as a waitress. It taught me that it was not a job I wanted to do the rest of my life. I am a good tipper now - they work hard for their money.
  34. Rebecca - I washed dishes and prepped food. What did I learn from this experience? Be on time, always wash your hands and get along with your coworkers.
  35. Elizabeth - My first job was flagging for my dad when he crop dusted. I got paid a penny an acre. I learned a great work ethic that carried into my adult life, as a flight attendant.
  36. Martha - I worked at an advertising agency. Loved the job, but I learned that I was immature and stubborn.
  37. Rohana - I worked at an ice cream store. I earned $1.15 an hour. We had all the ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream we could eat. My next job was in ladies gym helping them to stay slim.
  38. Susan - My first paid job was as a librarian at Senate House, London University. This led to university lecturing!
  39. Jan - I was a waitress and I learned that most men, regardless of age, like to flirt with young girls. And if I joked with them, my tips increased.
  40. Becky - I sold garden vegetables door-to-door in my neighborhood. I learned that if you have a quality product it sells itself.
  41. Janie - I joined the Air Force when I turned 18. I learned about life and independence. These are lessons that have remained with me throughout my adult life.
  42. Evelyn - I worked at Sears. I learned how it felt to be cussed out for something I had no control over. I have always been especially kind to those who work behind the counter.
  43. Leni - My first paid job was in an ice cream parlor. I was paid 15 shillings (£0.75) for an eight hour day in 1967.
  44. Doris - I worked in a dime store. My first purchase was a cute white little number with yellow lace trim. I loved that dress.
  45. Liz - I delivered milk early in the morning, before going to school. I used a pull along cart (filled with) glass pint bottles and half pint cartons.
  46. Peggy - I did babysitting in high school. I learned patience.
  47. Lynn - I worked in a poultry house for a dollar a day. I smelled so bad my dad wouldn't let me ride in the car. He would ride alongside me as I walked home!
  48. Valerie - I was a Saturday sales girl in BHS. Got £1 for the day in 1965! I learnt that the customer is always right.
  49. Gloria - My grandfather sold fishing worms, 100 to a box. We got a nickel for each box that we counted 100 worms. I was nine. It taught me to work hard.
  50. Margaret - My first job was selling stationary and cards door to door. I learned to study people and that there is a right time and a wrong time for selling things.
  51. Patti - I worked in a concession stand at a drive-in movie. I learned how to add in my head because we didn't have a cash register or a calculator. I worked from five until midnight. It was fun!
  52. Janice - My first job was working in my uncle's store and gas station. I made $1 a week. Gasoline was 30 cents a gallon!
  53. Marilyn - My first paid job was at a dry cleaners. I learned to stand my ground and demand my money.
  54. Kerry - My first job was selling Avon door-to-door. I learned how to gracefully handle rejection.
  55. Jan - My first job was working in the cafeteria at school for $1.50 per week serving teachers their lunch.
  56. Sandra - I worked as a nurse's aide. I learned how to care for people and how to have compassion. I also learned strength, courage and how to be a part of a team.
  57. Patricia - I did counter, cooking and serving at a Dairy Queen for $1.25 an hour! It taught me interpersonal skills and how to handle any crisis situation.
  58. Jane - I worked in the kitchen of a fishing lodge and mastered peeling potatoes at a rapid rate, which I still can do.
  59. Debbie - My first job was working as a carhop at a drive-in hamburger place. I made $.90 an hour. I learned that if you see something that needs to be done, just do it.
  60. Carol - I worked as a reporter on a weekly newspaper making $1 per hour. I went on to have a 50-year career as a writer/editor.

Women of our generation are special. As much as any other group of women in history, we have changed the world with our determination, compassion, bravery and passion. None of this would have been possible without the formative work experiences that we had in our teens and 20s. So, the next time your grandchild complains about their morning paper route, tell them what you did and, more importantly, what you learned from it!

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? Please add your own experiences in the comments section below or join the conversation in the Sixty and Me forum.

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