What Selling Solar Panels Taught Me About Life

First jobs & the life lessons they teach us. 

What was your first ever job?

I spent mine selling solar panels.

I was 15, had lied about my age on the application and was saving up for a trip away with friends.

To afford a few days in Ibiza, I spent a whole summer calling long-suffering people on the phone, practically begging them to book a free, no-obligation solar panel appointment. Please.

It was painful. It was soul-destroying. It taught me everything.

The jobs that followed weren’t exactly more glamorous.

In no particular order, I’ve scrubbed toilets, been a terrible waitress, been an even worse barmaid, sold overpriced shoes to rich people, served second-hand clothes to not-so-rich people, hustled magazine subscriptions, cleaned offices, changed hotel beds and done the door-to-door sales thing. I even applied to be an elf in Santa's grotto at my local shopping centre, but never heard back. Burn.

All of it was pretty terrible. All of it taught me so much.

These days, when I interview people my number one question is: “What part-time jobs have you done? What did they teach you?”

Because I think our first jobs get a bad rep. As soul-destroying as they can be, they teach us so much about ourselves. How else can you learn humility? How else can you get to know true customer services? Not to mention all of the anecdotes. I mean, I have dinner party stories for DAYS.

My people skills aren’t from my office jobs, they’re from encountering angry customers after I messed up their dinner orders.

My ability to think quickly isn’t from being sat at a fancy desk with free snacks at my disposal. I learned true initiative with rent due and 48 hours to get a job.

The same goes for my work ethic. You try earning £4.10 an hour while suppressing your expensive taste. Damn.

Our first jobs are not to be dismissed. They make us more resilient. They teach us how to be assertive. They make us grow and gain confidence. And, if we're really lucky, they can even inspire us into action for a better life.

Last Christmas, several years later, I received a call asking if I was still interested in the elf position. Besides making me laugh uncontrollably, it was actually quite monumental. Because, for the first time, it made me realise how far I'd come.

When I look back on my life so far, I’m particularly proud of the jobs that didn’t pay me much at all.

I’m proud of the person who applied for every job under the sun because they had to. I love the person I’ve become, because I worked hard to be her. Elf and all.


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