Lessons From KFC What My First Job Taught Me About Humanity
When I think about my summers growing up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, I can’t help but be transported back to 1991 in my little red Ford Festiva — thanks for the first car, Mom and Dad! — cruising down the main drag with my friends. DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime”was playing on the radio, and my friends and I didn’t have a care in the world. Of course, gas was not free, so summertime also reminds me of my very first job: working at KFC.
The job was not glamorous, and I’ll never forget standing in the heat of the kitchen. I wasn’t allowed to work the fryer since I wasn’t 18 years old, but I was often serving customers and packaging their meals. I learned the value of hard work and appreciating the money you earn, especially when I later used my KFC money to pay for a massive phone bill I’d received for calling my best friend, Nanci, who’d moved to St. Louis! Yes, there were many lessons learned in that little brick building. During this pandemic, I’ve been reminded of my experiences in the food industry and just how essential these jobs are to our daily lives. I can still remember our regulars who would sometimes come in for nothing more than a cup of coffee and a biscuit. At the time, I didn’t think much about them, but today, I realize that our interactions may have been important to these customers. Perhaps we were the only people they would talk to that day. Maybe an outing to KFC was one of their few activities, or maybe this interaction was something small that brought them joy. Having that routine and point of contact may have been valuable for these customers.
Then there were my coworkers: people of all different races, genders, ages, and other backgrounds. It was just so curious to me. I often wondered how we’d all come to work at this same KFC. More surprising and wonderful was the way in which I learned that you can’t make any assumptions about what people know based on these backgrounds. I vividly recall being schooled on Marvin Gaye’s career by a middle-aged manager who happened to be white. My experiences in the workplace helped me realize that there are myriad reasons why people come to their line of work, and you can learn lots from people if you’re open to the possibility that they know something you don’t. These lessons may seem silly or trivial, but there are plenty of other little snippets I picked up in the few months I was at KFC. As I’ve grown, I’ve seen how powerful these connections are. When I began my nursing career, I learned the value of my interactions with others from the people I worked with and served, too. I had a patient who would say, “It takes all kinds of people to make the world.” At that KFC and during my “Summertime” summer and Ford Festiva years, I had the privilege to meet and work with people who have made a lasting impression on me. Those are lessons I’ll never forget.
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