Change can be both a good and a bad thing. As my last day approaches at the first job I ever was employed by, I've been reflecting upon the past year and a half of my life. I came to the realization that this job is going to be something that I will miss, and probably will never find something similar to again. Because my first job was't a teenagers average first job.
Because of my late summer birthday, I was the youngest out of all of my friends and by virtue the last to get a job. But when I finally did receive the "when can you start" phone call, it wasn't from a grocery store or restaurant like most of my peers. It was from one of the local retirement communities. Granted I was going to be working in the dining room so it was a restaurant atmosphere, but the interactions that occurred outside of the kitchen were completely different than in an average restaurant.
Rare is it that I hear the term "customers" used in my workplace. It is always "residents" and we, the dining room employees, are expected to get to know each individual who walks into the dining room and be able to anticipate their needs. To put this into perspective, on an average Sunday, there are in between 150-180 residents who come in for brunch. This doesn't include any guests they may bring, administration, or assisted living residents who don't normally come to the dining room to eat. And if you want to be promoted from Server to Host, you had better believe you are expected to know the name, spouse's name, how many lemons they like in their tea, what section of the dining room they like to sit in, how many grandkids they have and which war they fought in- for every resident. (That's only a slight exaggeration.)
The sentence "I don't get tipped" is a common answer to questions from peers about what my job is like. However, "but I do get a bonus" always follows the shocked look on the questioner's face. This is something that is uncommon among jobs that are (mostly) targeted towards high schoolers.
Working in a retirement home has taught me that constantly being around the elderly is not for everyone. You have to be very patient and tolerant of those who ask you to repeat things multiple times. One must learn how to be gentle and caring, and often very slow. For me, one of the hardest things has been learning who everybody is and tending to their specific needs.
The stories told during meals are not the average stories. I don't often hear the residents talking about current events. There is the occasional political debate or discussion over new technology, but conversations about the past are the most common. In my time working at the retirement home, I have learned more history than I was taught in school, heard more love stories than ABC Family could ever produce and met more grandchildren than Jon and Kate could ever have.
One of the most influential aspects of my job has been the relationships I have formed with the residents. They constantly ask about my home life, promise to come to sports games, give advice about college and ask for updates on anything new. I have become emotionally attached to my job because of the residents, and that isn't something that you can find at just any workplace. Being able to get close with them has made working there easier, and saying goodbye to them will be one of the toughest things I do.
While having a connection with the residents has been an extremely positive aspect, it often leads to heartbreak as well. Death is something that I have had to learn to cope with during my time with the retirement community, and that is by far one of the most distinctive things about my job. Nothing is worse than being told about the passing of a resident before shift starts. I have never been more familiar with losing someone that I care about than I have been in the past year and a half. It has taught me to appreciate every aspect of life and to hold on to those who mean most to me.
For a year and a half I have been around a completely different generation of people. I had to learn how to change the way I spoke and acted, and always have to keep in mind that it is a very conservative, elite society that I am surrounded by. While difficult at first, I found that the way I speak and do things outside of work slowly has changed, and I am a better person because of it. I have grown as a person since I started working there, and have learned so much more about living life to the fullest than I believe I ever would have learned working somewhere else.
So to my first job, thank you. Thank you for being something incomparable and giving me the chance to experience a different lifetime. Thank you for being something I fell in love with, and for surrounding me with a group of the kindest, gentlest, most loving people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. It has been a long ride which unfortunately has to end, but you will be something I cherish, always.