Poet, Author, Orator

10 Things I Learned While Working At McDonald’s

1. There’s no such thing as a “dead-end” job.

In the book, The Conservative Heart by Author Brooks, the author tells a story of a plane ride where he asked the man sitting next to him what he did for a living. After finding out that the man on the plane worked high up for the company McDonald’s, Brooks mindlessly asked, “What is it like knowing you’re creating a bunch of dead end jobs?”

To this, the man on the plane kindly explained that although McDonald’s gets a bad reputation, it is a perfect starting point and leads to thousands of people getting a leg up from poverty. To directly quote, “There are no dead-end jobs in this country. There is dead-end government, perhaps. There is dead-end culture a lot of the time. But there are no dead-end jobs.”

They call it the “best first job” and I couldn’t agree more. My short journey working at McDonald’s was a crazy adventure that cannot be contained in just this post, but I will share one important story to highlight this point.

About 6 months into working for McDonald’s, my boss asked my brother Noah and I if we would like to go to Idaho Springs for a couple days to help them with the expected Thanksgiving rush. McDonald’s paid for our gas, our meals and our hotel. We were even encouraged by our boss to take an evening off and walk around the city. He gave us of the secrets of the best pizza joints and which shops to explore after we were done working. At about 6:00 pm we got off work and took a tour of the cute little town. We went to the best pizza joint I’ve been to in my whole life. We ordered and talked.

And there we were, at 19 and 17-years-old, having a conversation whilst our meal was being paid for. It was an actual business trip, and everyone we talked to treated it like such. There aren’t many other jobs that would give two children responsibility like McDonald’s did, no matter how educated or experienced the kids were. McDonald’s has to take a lot of criticism for doing that, but there’s no other way to teach children responsibility than to give them a taste of it.

There are many positions beyond manager as well.  One gentlemen in particular was in charge of introducing the new self-serving kiosks to us. He said that he had started as a crew member on grill and now he was supporting his family while traveling the country to implement new innovative ideas. The phrase “dead-end” job should be reserved for very specific situations where there really is no way to step up the ladder. In the case of McDonald’s, however, it is a complete misrepresentation.

2. Don’t be hide your beliefs. They will come out and nobody really cares.

When a regular gave me a Bible and I had to carry it to the break room, I have to admit I was a bit embarrassed. I was scared people would asked me about something that at the time I wasn’t fully prepared to give an answer for. When someone did ask, however, I realized people don’t care at all.

“Oh, that’s the Bible?” They would say and then continue doing whatever they were doing on their phone. Others, too, would say, “That’s a good book.” or they would randomly tell me later in the day that, “I’m a Christian too,” or “I’m Mormon.” or “I grew up Catholic.”

If anyone else ever feels a moment of embarrassment, just remember that other people really don’t care if you’re Christian or not. They weren’t judging me for my faith but were either curious (which led to great conversations) or they didn’t care at all.

3. To Have Good Friends, Be a Good Friend. 

This is talking to the people who would come into McDonald’s everyday. From the sweet elderly couples from the Catholic church across the street to the obnoxious boys who would ride scooters over from the local high school, the lesson stayed consistent, that if I tried hard enough I could connect with anyone.

It started with an inside joke with the man who came in early that I always forgot to give him his discount or memorizing a nice lady’s coffee order and making sure to bring her her cream and one splenda before she asked. I even went indoor skydiving with one particular regular who I now call friend. (Like I said, there are other some stories that can’t be contained here.)

There was one regular who asked me to be in a speaking competition after I told him I had done competitive speech and debate for 6 years. So I did it, and after receiving runner up they came in with green cupcakes and a thank you note. They threw a mini party for me just out of my manager’s eyeshot. 

There was one regular who always came into work with a metal cup and would fill it with iced tea. One day he explained that the cup would keep his tea cold all day. When I asked him where he bought it, he promised to buy me a pack if I paid him. It restored my faith in humanity a little bit when he even trusted that I pay after he handed me the metal cups. I walked back to the break room with two metal traveling cups and my co-workers were as confused as the time I walked back with a green frosted cupcake.

Some co-workers would ask how I stayed positive or how I was always nice to customers. My position (a Guest Experience Lead) sometimes allowed me to sit down with customers and chat with them over coffee. My co-workers couldn’t understand why I would want to do that, but when I earned a hug from an elderly lady or a tip from a group of guys, I hoped my actions taught the people around me why I did keep my head up.

The point is, if you want to be helped, you have to be helpful. People have to have a certain level of trust in you before they believe that you’re willing to be grateful of their assistance. By remembering pet names, and regulars’ orders, and taking an interest in them, even if they don’t realize they subconsciously are building trust in you and will return the favor when you need. To have good friends, you have to be a good friend.

4. Being Smart is a choice. 

Smart people just make good decisions. You can be academic genius and be failing all your classes. How does this relate to McDonald’s? Let’s just say there were a lot of geniuses making  dumb decisions.

5. Don’t give drama your attention.

There were multiple times I had a wide open opportunity to eves drop or snitch on someone. I found that walking away from something that was none of my business gained the respect of my coworkers and the trust of my managers. I had plenty of problems of my own, I didn’t need there’s to be bothered with.

6. The best question is not, “what would God want me to do?” But rather “what would would the Devil really hate for me to do?”

Often I would say a quick prayer that went like “God, tell me what to say.” (Luke 12:12) Not that taking orders from a costumers was brain surgery, but that I wanted to say what God needed me to say to the hundreds of people I interacted with that day.  Of course they mean the same thing, but sometimes the better question, was to think to myself what the enemy would despise if I let it slip from my lips.

7. Being decent is the new rebellion. 

It used to be unique to be “edgy” Now you’re unique if you’re decent.

8. Appreciate small talk

I used to hate small talk. After being in the lobby for a 7-hour shift with only the responsibility of talking to costumers, I craved for there to be rain. Weather is a great kindle for the fire of conversation. “Can you believe this weather? I can out of nowhere!”

I would explain what I planned to do  for college to about 20 different adults every day. They were benefited by having someone to talk to while waiting for their meal, and I finally condensed an answer sufficient enough for myself.

9. Silence is underrated. 

One morning I forgot to bring my phone to work with me. So when lunch came around I was forced to sit in silence and just eat. (Tyler Joseph who?) It occurred to me that no body is ever just quiet anymore. Most of us can’t do dishes without listening to music, can’t jog without music blaring, can’t do any sitting-down project without also watching TV or Youtube. If we’re being real honest about it our phones go with us to the bathroom and we play music while we shower. I used to call it double tasking, convincing myself it was somehow more productive.

Don’t get me wrong, listening to music is fine. But, when was the last time you sat down and actually let yourself think? My best thoughts come in quiet car rides, silent classrooms, and libraries. Those rare moments are usually by coincidence though.

Because I accidentally didn’t have a phone, I noticed other people sitting next to me and we talked. (imagine that). I left my phone at home on purpose after that. I would sit, eat lunch and write down my thoughts.

10. Engage in political debates in order to strengthen your beliefs.

I competed for 6 years in team policy debate in the homeschool league, Stoa. In policy debate, you’re given one resolution and you must pick a case to run all year. For example if the overarching topic was food safety, my brother and I ran reform on Food Stamps. Or if the resolution was military, we ran a policy change on tactical nuclear weapons.

At the first tournament of the year policy debaters are faced against three teams with their case and if it works, they keep running the case throughout the rest of the year. After the first tournament we would know what the opposing team is going to run, and after the second tournament we would know their arguments better than they know their arguments. We had the articles that their quoting one sentence from printed out and ready to use against them, we had their argument writing down before they finished stating what their argument was. By the national tournament our case was bullet proof, everything we presented had already been battle tested and we had prepared responses.

At McDonald’s I learned that this is how it is with personal values. The first political discourse I engaged in was a little shaky, I didn’t know where to turn to when I was questioned on statistics I hadn’t done extensive research on like I would have done in policy debate. One coworker and I would go back and forth for hours when the flow of customers was slow.

Other people would tell us that we probably shouldn’t discuss our political opinions here, but why not? If I can’t speak about what I believe, I’ll never get another perspective and forever be in a box with all my own untested opinions. Once these debates started to happen often enough I would go home, think about what was said, research the problems and share it with my co-worker the next day to which he would sometimes refute or we came to an agreement.

The point wasn’t to convince him (even though sometimes he said mildly concerning things supporting communism), the point was to test out my beliefs on someone and see if they held up. It wasn’t to test how well my coworker could respond, but how well I could explain my own position. That’s the great things about debates, even if I lose, I benefit.