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How A Summer Job Can Shape Your Life

by Marc Luber

summer beach party

Summer jobs can shape your life and impact your career.

Just because summer is here, that doesn’t mean it’s time to hit the beach and party for 12 weeks! If you’re still a student and you get the summer off, take advantage of the great opportunity to get a meaningful summer job.

Believe it or not, your summer work experience can play a pivotal role in your development. You’re young, you’re impressionable, and a summer job can expose you to all kinds of new people, new experiences, and life’s lessons. It’s eye-opening, character-building and of course puts some money in your wallet so you can take that special someone you met at the beach to whatever ridiculous blockbuster film has currently partnered with McDonald’s. Below are some big life lessons you can learn from a summer job:

My Summer Work Experience

Thanks to going to law school, I had summer vacations until the age of 25. I always made the most of them (summer internships, etc). All taught me important things…but the one that really stands out is my job as a swim instructor. After my sophomore year of college, I didn’t want to repeat my previous summer job of working for my uncle’s law firm in downtown Chicago. I needed to have more fun than that! I asked myself, “what are my skills?” I was always a good swimmer and had enjoyed volunteering to teach severely autistic kids to swim at my high school. So I put a classified ad in the local paper advertising myself as a swim instructor. I’d had some entrepreneurial experience: a lemonade stand in elementary school, a snow-shoveling service in junior high…so why not swim instruction? Sure, instead of trusting me with their driveways or a cold beverage, people would be trusting me with their lives – or the lives of their children! But it was worth a shot.

The ad for my swimming business paid off and I wound up with a solid, part-time schedule getting paid $40 an hour to teach a swimming lesson in the students’ pools. It was a blast! I taught 5 year-olds, 7 year-olds, 9 year-olds and a 50 year-old Harvard law graduate who was scared of the deep end of his own pool! I had a fantastic summer: I met nice people, swam in huge pools at beautiful homes, made great money and felt good about helping kids grow and achieve by turning them from being scared of the water into confident swimmers.

10 Lessons Learned From My Summer Job:

1) Adults are just children who have been around longer.
2) You can do anything you want to do.
3) Just do it!
4) Trust your gut.
5) Be confident.
6) Running your own business can be fun.
7) It feels great to earn money from something you created out of nothing.
8] It doesn’t have to take a big investment to start a profitable business.
9) It’s good to think about “what am I good at” and “what do I like doing” and then try to make that your job.
10) It’s good to feel comfortable interacting and communicating with people of all ages. (I was 19 and there I was, making parents (in their 30s and 40s) and their children (under 10) comfortable that I wouldn’t let anyone drown and that I would achieve what they were paying me to achieve. Very valuable experience.)

What about you? What summer jobs did you have? How did you get them? What did you learn from summer employment that has stayed with you to this day? Share your stories below!

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Image courtesy of iwona_kellie

  • Bill Sugarman

    Best Summer job I've ever had was working at Ravinia Festival – Need I say more?

  • F. Andrews

    I went to Law School back in the 90's, and worked for a personal injury law firm over the summer after my first year of school. This job did help me shape my future in the sense that I realized after the experience that I did not want to practice that type of Law.

  • guest

    I worked at a casting agency in LA one summer – one of the ones who charges a registration fee and has people pay to come sign up to be extras. It wasn't too shady and it was my first glimpse of the inner workings of something like that so it definitely taught me to look behind the vail. Fun times, lot's of different people and I actually got good at 'selling.'

  • Clark

    Funny, I also worked at Ravinia – “Lawn Catering” which involved a few hours of stress setting events up, followed by sneaking drinks to let off steam and then sneaking in to find an empty pavillion seat to listen to music if someone good was playing. Unfortunately in the late 80s it was all jazz, classical, and the occasional old guy like Jerry Lee Lewis.

  • Randominc

    I worked at 525 Post Production on Santa Monica Blvd as an office boy in the summer of 1987. That's where I learned that people weren't just waiting for my genius to unleash itself.

  • During high school and college summers I worked in hair salons. I shampooed hair, booked clients and sold products.

    Working for tips taught me how important it is to tip well. Bending over a sink, shampooing people for hours on end is hard work. The same goes for waitressing and delivering flowers (which I also did later on). Great question!

  • Gigibizar

    I have always worked with children at camp or summer school type situations. I love being with kids in a non-academic environment as you get to learn so much about them outside the classroom. Summer also lends itself to such a different kind of environment, a more relaxed and fun time is had by all!


    I credit having to work to put myself through school as putting me on the path to being successful in the work world! My friends who had the luxury of sailing on the lake and sunbathing all summer never got the practical experience needed to make it in the work world. The most fortunate thing for me ended up being NOT being in a position to relax all summer, but having to work. There were lessons taught I could never have learned in school. It gave me confidence, practical experience, and contacts. It is schooling you could not pay for if you so desired. Everyone should be required to work between semesters and while in school… they'd be better equipped to deal with the “real world” that is awaiting.

  • Guest

    I spent one summer as a teacher's aide at an elementary school. It was great working with little kids, but I learned that I definitely don't have the patience to do that kind of work full-time!

  • Great posts everyone! Thanks! Keep the stories coming!

  • Throughout high school and most of college, I worked in restaurants over my summer vacations. They sucked, but showed me the value of hard work, and taught me how to deal with miserable managers…until I got to my last restaurant job at this big club. My direct manager showed me what it takes to be a great manager. He was understanding, cool, and generous. At the same time, if you didn't get your job done, you're done. He balanced that role well.

    My best summer experience was the summer before my senior year of college. I interned at Ruder Finn interactive. It's an experience I'll never forget. It was around then when I really started to become motivated to get my career going. I busted my ass at the internship so that by the end of the summer, I was handling real projects and gained an amazing amount of experience. I also gained invaluable mentors who are still supporting me today. My experience at Ruder Finn is what guided me to the world of social media and business, helping me to find my passion and hit the ground running by the time I graduated.

    If you're a student, use your summers to get as much experience as humanly possible. Don't worry about making money if you can hack it. Just get involved, and learn. TRUST ME, it will pay off.

    David, Scribnia

  • Great advice David. “Just get involved.” Check out Scribnia everyone!

  • Brandon

    My summer jobs have included a variety of different experiences from working carnival games at Six Flags Magic Mountain (don't laugh, I actually learned how to juggle there), working as a summer camp counselor, to summer programs at international law firms. But the summer job which had the most profound impact was between my junior and senior year in college when I joined Burson-Marsteller (the then largest PR firm in the world).

    Let's set the stage, I'm 20 years old, just back from studying abroad in Europe and on the precipice of real life. I have 365 days to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up.” Well, I'm still working on figuring that out, but the job at Burson has helped me in that pursuit.

    Here's what I learned, any experience you can get is good experience. The more places you work and the different types of corporate cultures, and the personalities within them, you experience will help you decide what you want, and don't, out of your career. Finding the right career is much like dating. The more people you meet, the closer you get to finding the right person for you. So get out there and do some summer-corporate-speed-dating.

    The two main things I took away from that summer were this:

    1. Your boss will make or break your experience. A great boss can expose you to lots of different projects and can be a great mentor. A boss who is not willing to work with you, although maybe a great person at heart, will not help you grow. So when you're looking for the right position look for a boss and a corporate culture which fosters the growth of the people within the company.

    2. Stay in touch with everyone you meet. The junior level person at the company will someday be a senior person somewhere and will be in a position to hire you. You'll be happy you made a good impression and stayed in touch when you get that new job.

  • Guest

    One of my favorite summers was spent working as an intern on Capitol Hill. It provided a great opportunity to learn about the legislative process firsthand, meet congressmen and senators, and attend hearings, press conferences and fun events. Although I discovered that I did not want to work in politics (nor spend another summer in the DC heat!), the experience did play a part in my decision to become a lawyer.

  • Great points Brandon. Those 2 main things you learned that summer are KEY. Hope you're still juggling.

  • I didn't have a lot of summer internships because I was usually playing baseball all summer. The one summer I had during graduate school though we were required to get an internship as part of the program. I did two. I worked for the university who had a grant to bring over 15 foreign scholars to learn about sports business in America and I also interned virtually for Seth Godin and Squidoo.

    Working for Seth, there were TONS of smart kids, many probably more intelligent than myself (and most not working other full-time gigs), but I put my nose to the ground in the evenings and grinded away. I learned that hard work can get you far, and I also learned that I belonged with an elite group of people. Those of us that rose to the top and endured through the summer still keep in touch today. It's a valuable network I still rely on often.

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  • Interesting, Ryan – I knew you'd have something good to add.

  • Ari Averbach

    My friend was thinking about going to law school, so I told her to apply for a job at my dad's law firm. For the first time, she saw what a law firm is really like, hated it, and instead got her teaching credential. Very useful summer for her!

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