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The news site of Ludlow High School

The Cub

The news site of Ludlow High School

The Cub

Reflections on my first job

While working part-time as a teen can be stressful, there are many life lessons that can be gained

Like many fourteen-year-old girls, there came a time when I strongly desired money. Money provided liberties, and it allowed me to buy my own things, instead of relying on my parents. I decided to get a job.

It was my first day at Chmura’s Bakery, a small place in Springfield, with red window awnings and a large array of breads and pastries. Despite my agitation, I opened the front door, causing a quiet Ding! from a bell above. 

I took my first step on the burnt red tile and was welcomed by the scent of baked bread straight from the oven. I was wearing an apron with the company logo, a horse and a wagon, and my hair was tied back, as was required for all the workers. 

Upon entering, I was greeted by a woman named Jessica, a pretty blonde lady who took me to the back so I could clock myself in. I registered a room behind her, not visible to customer eyes, where cakes were decorated. It was filled with hefty buckets of colored frosting and shelves of bare cakes. The entire place was coated with flour.

I punched my card in, my name in bold on the front, and made my way back behind the counter. In front of me were display cases, and on a countertop between them was a cash register. The woman gave me latex gloves (you couldn’t touch the food without them) and kindly showed me how it all operated, giving me a quick rundown of the place. 

The entire thing was overwhelming. The cases housed dozens of different pastries and deserts, both glazed and frosted, and to my right were baskets of assorted breads – ryes and sourdoughs and ciabattas – each with crisp golden edges and a soft interior, still warm from the ovens. All of these I would need to familiarize myself with. 

Jessica picked up a fresh loaf and steered me around the corner. “You’ll need to learn how to cut the bread.” In front of her sat a large and intimidating machine, where she placed the loaf. She then yanked down a lever, and a row of sharp metal edges swiped down, cutting it into slices. Right after, in one fluid motion, she pushed the stack of bread slices, careful not to let anything fall out, into a plastic bag she had put there only moments before. 

She had me try, but I wasn’t as skilled. After years of practice the lady had perfected her movements, making them look swift and effortless. In my case, only half the bread made its way to the bag, while the rest scattered across the machine, and some of it onto the floor. Jessica reassured me. She said it was completely normal and I’d get better with practice. I felt a little stupid, but I did my best to swallow my embarrassment and gave her a smile.

Eventually, customers began to file in, and after watching Jessica handle the first few, I went up to the counter for the first time, doing my best to remember how she’d interacted with each of them. 

My palms were sweaty and my stomach felt uneasy. Talking to people was not my strong suit, especially strangers, and I had no idea how I’d do. I came up to the counter and spoke. “Hi, what can I get for you?” I asked, just like Jessica had. My voice shook a little, but I smiled and did my best to ignore it. The man told me his order, an assortment of pastries, and I got to work.

One scary part about working there was that the customers watched everything you did. For somebody who was just starting out, who had never done this before and was terrified of messing up, this made the experience all the more nerve-racking. 

I got the pastries, however, picking them up with a thin leaflet of wax paper, and managed to place them neatly in a box. All of this I did under the customer’s attentive gaze. I then walked over to the register to ring him up. “Will this be all?” I asked. He looked at me confused. “What was that?” He hadn’t heard me. I repeated myself, and he smiled and nodded. 

After he paid, I thanked him, and he told me to have a nice day. He left, and just like that my first customer had been taken care of. My body relaxed for a brief moment, and I sighed a heavy breath of relief.

That relief, however, was short-lived, because there were multiple other customers just like him, waiting for me. The fact that I had hours left of this did nothing to calm my nerves. 

I took the next person’s order, a large, middle-aged man. After getting all his pastries together, I shifted over to the register to ring him up. “That’ll be $16.18.” The customer opened his wallet and pulled out a $20 bill from a wad of cash, which I slid into the register. “Thank you.” I then went to pour the change into his hand, but my nervousness at the interaction alone was causing my hands to shake. Rather than giving him his change, I missed his hand and proceeded to pour it on the ground. 

The second I heard it drop I could feel my face getting red as if the room were sweltering. I could feel my breathing stop. I was already messing up, and it was only my first day. The man ducked down to get his change, and I apologized profusely. He reassured me, told me it was all right, but I could sense some annoyance in his tone. I felt humiliated.

After the man left I did my best to ignore my nerves and continue working, but it was difficult. This was like nothing I had ever done before, and I was getting the feeling that I wasn’t very good at it. It should’ve been easy enough, get people their food and take their money. But the fact that these people were all watching me, relying on me, that I was supposed to know what to do and how to take care of everything, all of it felt like a heavy weight on my shoulders. I began overanalyzing every detail, doubting my every move, feeling the constant pressure of their eyes.

When I had finished one customer, the next, a blonde lady so skinny that her cheeks looked hollow, sat in line on her phone. She wasn’t paying attention, so I needed to say something to let her know that she was next in line. Simply saying, “I can take whoever’s next!” or “Can I help you?” all would have sufficed, but I couldn’t speak. My throat tightened, trapping my voice, not allowing any sounds to come out. 

Jessica, who had been taking care of customers at the next register, noticed my predicament. “Let them know you can take who’s next.” she said to me, her voice low, as if we were sharing some kind of secret. My hands were shaking. “Uh, I can take who’s next.” I said, but my voice wasn’t loud enough and the lady hadn’t heard me. “You need to be louder.” Jessica told me. I tried, but every muscle in my body tightened. My brain kept telling me to speak, I had to speak, but my body wouldn’t listen. I stared at the lady in silence.

After a moment, Jessica came over to my register and called out for me, her voice loud and friendly, “I can take whoever’s next!” She smiled down at me and left, allowing me to take care of the customer, but I could tell she was frustrated. Why hadn’t I just spoken? Why was talking so difficult for me, when others could do it without giving it any thought?

For reasons I wasn’t sure of, being sociable had never been easy for me. I struggled with normal conversation, my voice often coming out in a whisper or altogether inaudible. Speaking loudly or yelling was almost impossible, my body simply wouldn’t let me do it no matter how much my mind told it to. It was frustrating not only for me, but for the people around me. 

My last mishap of the day occurred after the phone rang. “Oh!” Jessica remarked. “This is perfect, I’ll teach you how to answer the phone.” We turned a corner to the opposite wall, where a phone was hung up. “It’s easy enough,” she said, “Just say, ‘Chmura’s Bakery, how can I help you?’ and write down whatever they say on this notepad.” she gestured to a stack of paper and pen on the counter below the phone. “When they give you their order, ask for their name and phone number. Got it?” I nodded and picked up the phone. 

Starting the conversation, whether that be making small talk or simply saying “Hello?” after the phone rings, was something I had always tried my best to avoid. “This is, uh, this is Chmura’s.” I stuttered into the receiver. “How can I help you?” A woman’s voice came out of the speaker. “Hi, could I get, let’s see..” I waited for a moment, and then the lady proceeded to give me her order. 

Her mumbling, and the fact that I wasn’t yet familiar with the entire menu, meant I hadn’t heard a word she’d said. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” I informed her. She repeated herself, but again I was clueless. I knew neither what she’d said nor how I would even attempt to spell it. I looked over at Jessica in confusion and panic. Help I mouthed. She sighed. “Tell her to hold.” 

I felt useless, answering a phone was a simple task, yet I was failing. “Hold please.” I said, my voice breaking. Jessica scurried over and promptly took the phone from my hand. I walked back to the front and continued with the customers. I felt shaken and embarrassed and didn’t do my job as well as I would have liked.

Once I had taken care of a few more customers, I excused myself and went to the bathroom, letting Jessica take care of the store for a little while. After walking in, I looked in the mirror and took a deep breath. I stayed like that for a few minutes, just staring and breathing. My face was red and my eyes looked tired.

After my work day, I clocked out and made my way home. It was then, when I took the time to reflect, that I realized this was not normal. Speaking had always been difficult for me, but at school it was different. There I was simply labeled as shy and quiet. But when I struggled this much just to work a typical job, I began to wonder the repercussions it might have on my future. If I couldn’t work an easy job now, how would I have a meaningful career as I became older? Not only that, but how would I make lasting relationships? 

Working at Chmura’s allowed me to recognize the severity of my faulty speaking skills so that I could do something to fix it. I was able to look more carefully at myself and understand what I was struggling with and what I could do to help. I began seeking opportunities to practice my speaking, even if it was something small. It’s not that I’ve solved my anxiety, rather that I’m now constantly fighting it, whereas before I’d given up. Even now, I am not perfect, but I’m doing much better than I was years ago, and am looking to improve everyday. 

Afterwards, I allowed myself to open up more. During school I’d try and raise my hand if I had something to add to the discussion. I did my best to ignore the part of me that was so scared of being wrong that I wouldn’t try. Being involved helped my grade, as well as my understanding of the material. 

I also allowed myself to be more active and attentive in conversations. When my friends brought their other friends along, I’d try and talk to them as well, rather than just shutting down. I tried speaking to people sitting next to me in class, even if it was just about something small.

It’s not as if I’m a completely different person now. I still get nervous often, and am by no means a perfect speaker. But I allow myself to be present in conversations, to try and put myself forward. I’m much happier and I’m less in my head. It may not be obvious to someone who doesn’t know me, but to me it has made all the difference. I’m trying to undo the years during which I pushed myself away from the world, and I’m doing the best I can.

If it hadn’t been for this job, for this awkward workday, I may never have considered the seriousness of my anxiety, nor would I have put in the effort to make a difference in my life. It allowed me to reflect on myself and realize that I had a problem, but there were things I could do to help it, and I was not alone in feeling this way. One embarrassing workday made the entire difference in my life. 

 

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About the Contributor
Eva Lasky
Eva Lasky, Staff Writer
Eva is apart of the class of 2025. This is her first year writing for the Cub. She loves both reading and writing. In her free time, she also enjoys listening to music, baking, traveling, and spending time with her loved ones. She’s excited to begin writing for the Cub!

Comments (3)

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  • M

    Mrs. KDec 6, 2023 at 3:21 pm

    What a great article! So many of us struggle with some type of anxiety. Your article is an encouragement to all-we are not alone in our struggles and we can work through them.

    Reply
  • Z

    ZackDec 6, 2023 at 3:04 pm

    What an amazing piece of writing. I felt for you throughout the entire story and never reflected on how a job could be so intimidating. Speaking to anyone can be a difficult task but it is even harder to express yourself through writing. Keep up the great work and I cannot wait to see what other thought you put to paper!

    Reply
  • M

    Ms. EarlyDec 6, 2023 at 7:46 am

    What a powerful piece. Great work! You should be incredibly proud of the steps you’ve taken to deal with your anxiety. Thank you for sharing

    Reply