Do you remember your first job? Whether it was folding sweaters at a retail store, selling phones or delivering pizzas, I bet you have a good story to tell. My first job out of high school was waiting tables at the Piccadilly Cafeteria in Norfolk, Virginia. When my daughter recently told me that the restaurant had closed, the news hit me hard; this is where I made good friends, pocketed some serious change and discovered that I had a good head for business.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I thought at first. I’d wish I’d had the chance to eat there one last time.

Then, I started thinking about how working at the restaurant, and the lessons I learned, really influenced how I’ve lived my life since; shaping me into the person I am today.

For 10 years, this neighborhood cafeteria provided me not only with an income, but the stability and support I needed to raise my children as a single mom and attend college part time. Back then, life was oh so simple, compared to today. It was work, school and being there for my kids. I loved being a waitress, and the restaurant was a big deal at the time. Piccadilly Cafeteria specialized in home-style dishes, cooked simply and served hot. It was conveniently located near a big mall and a huge church, and the place really bustled after services.

When I posted on Instagram about the closing, my friends started sharing their own memories. “My mamma used to take me there,” many said. My kids did their share of eating at Piccadilly Cafeteria too. A family member would bring them over at the end of my shift, and they’d eat and help me clean up.

Looking back at my waitressing days, and later as the restaurant’s co-supervisor, it was a time in my life I remember with fondness and gratitude. I learned so many life lessons from working at this restaurant, and I realize now that these apply to just about any job or career. While my experience is unique to me, I hope you will find inspiration in these tips to help you succeed on the job too—wherever that may be.

  • Have a positive attitude
    It didn’t take me long to learn that a poor attitude doesn’t serve you well in the restaurant business—and any job for that matter. For me, greeting guests with a smile on my face while topping off their coffee paid off in terms of repeat customers and good tips. I flitted from table to table like I was the Piccadilly Queen! In addition, studies have shown that positivity reduces stress, lifts your spirits and improves the attitude of those around you.
  • Avoid complacency
    I worked with a terrific supervisor, learning a lot from her about the restaurant business over the years. With her smarts and skill set, she could have easily moved on to bigger and better opportunities, but she chose to stay in the same job year after year. Complacency may make you feel content, but change provides opportunity, helps you grow and reveals your strengths. Don’t settle. Be bold.
  • Manage your money wisely
    As I mentioned earlier, life was simpler then. Other than my monthly rent and utility bills, I didn’t have many other expenses. I wore a uniform to work, so there wasn’t a need for work clothes. I paid for my college classes as I went, without taking out a student loan. And I didn’t live frivolously as some of my friends did. After the bills were paid, I saved my money knowing I had bigger things in mind. When my restaurant days ended, I had stashed away enough money to open my own business. I can’t say enough about managing your money wisely.
  • Work hard
    As a little girl, I learned a thing or two about having a good work ethic from my father. In addition to his weekday job, he delivered newspapers on the weekends. On Saturdays, I would ride along with him, rubber-banding the papers before he tossed them (with expert accuracy) out the car window and onto porch steps. Pride in work was further instilled in me at Piccadilly Cafeteria. Everybody pitched in and worked long hours. Now, as a business owner, I look for employees who are willing to work hard, so they can work their way up.
  • Find a way to succeed
    Just the other day, someone asked me, how did I make it all work back then with my job, college and parenting? The answer is:  Everybody helped. My mother watched my young children while I was at work, or I’d drop them off with my sister on my way to class. Later, when I married, my husband helped too. It wasn’t easy pulling it all together, but I know the effort I was investing up front would lead to bigger, better things for me and my family down the road. And it did. It would have been easy to give up and say, “I just can’t do this.” But I never let life get in the way. Find a way to make it work.
  • Be kind
    Working at the restaurant, I learned how important it was to treat people with kindness. This applied to customers and co-workers alike. You may not know why the woman at table 12 seems so unpleasant, or the reason that your shift mate left abruptly, leaving their work for you to do. The poet Maya Angelou famously said, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Amen to that. Be kind.

If you have a story to share about your first work experience, or life and work tips to add to this list, please let me know! Send you thoughts to me in the “Leave a Comment” section below. I’d love to hear from you!

All the best,