One giant leap for employee-kind

I drive a train around in circles. That’s what my summer job has been for over five years. If one were to voyage to the bustling metropolis of Union, IL (population 600), one might come across Donley’s Wild West Town. I can be found there several days a week loading hordes of little children onto cars pulled by a one-sixth model replica of a C.P. Huntington locomotive. I then climb on the engine and give the kids the best seven-minute, five-miles-per-hour ride of their lifetimes.

Another one of my duties is to detail the intricate surroundings of the park. So, as we ride around, I point out the petting zoo, gold mine, and, my favorite attraction, a tree. Each tour takes ten minutes, so working an eight-hour day results in roughly 45 circuits.

I am in between jobs at the moment. By “in between” I mean that behind me is college and in front of me is a to-be-determined career opportunity. As a result of my free time, lack of income, and the current job market, I’ve taken on some hours back at the Wild West Town. As I’m spending more time there, I’ve realized just how big of a leap there is between summer jobs and career jobs.

Consequently, I’ve had some time to think about different aspects of jobs while I’m riding around the oval-shaped track. For starters, there are the obvious differences. Summer jobs usually pay by the hour while career jobs are traditionally salaried. Summer jobs also pay a lot less. I would work an entire summer to save up several thousand dollar to live off of and make some large electronic purchase. I soon hope to make that same amount during one month.

Undoubtedly the monetary differences are a result of the differences in responsibilities. Yes, I’ve derailed the train before. I’ve run out of gas halfway through the track and had to escort people back to the station on foot. But that’s about all that can go wrong. Comparatively, small mistakes at career jobs can have rather large consequences. Just ask the former Ace Hardware employee whose innocent accounting mistake ended up misstating the company’s profits by $152 million.

Aside from the obvious, I’ve noticed differences in the atmospheres of the two job worlds. In my summer job experience, a certain “we’re all in this together” mentality pervades Donley’s Wild West Town. Because summer jobs don’t traditionally have the personal space restrictions that other jobs have (read: cubicles), employees tend to interact much more.

These interactions lead to better friendships. Because my coworkers and myself have spent a long, hot day dealing with hyperactive eight-year olds, we’re more inclined to meet up afterwards, hang out, and vent. The individual standards laid out in most career jobs make most want to go home and relax after a long day. Unless happy hour is involved, then it’s a different story.

In the end, I think summer jobs seem more like school away from school due to their social situations and fewer responsibilities. By their very definition, they are jobs to work when school is out. And, just as I’ve left school behind (for the moment), I think I’m ready to make the leap to career jobs.

But while I’m driving, I might as well try to make my six thousandth time around the railroad tracks.

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