I recently spoke to a friend who can bake very well. I admire people who can put their heart and soul into creating good eats. 🙂 In my younger years I often failed to appreciate just how wonderful such skills are – the blessings of hospitality can overflow to others in a way that almost everyone can enjoy and appreciate. Enjoyment of hospitality is almost universal.

Anyway, my friend told me that she picked up some of her skills when she worked at a bakery. It made me remember my days working in various casual jobs.

In retrospect, I find it almost strange that no one actually encouraged me to seek out casual jobs when I was studying. The general understanding was that it was good to focus on your studies. But looking back, the various experiences working in different jobs and shops served me well.

I met different sorts of people, learnt a bit more about their hopes/dreams, what motivated/frustrated them at work, and I got to observe how some of these businesses operate.

My favourite working experience was in a cafe called The Upper Room in Singapore. I was 18. It was fun to work in the kitchen, making different recipes. Pies, pastas, smoothies. It was tiring but fulfilling work. At that time, my boss Danielle often spoke about her dream to marry and emigrate to Canada. A few years later, she had indeed done that with her life – just like how she realised her dream to open a cafe at 21!

Then I worked with a marketing company, walking Singapore’s busy streets to sell charity vouchers. That was a different ball game. The top performers had smarts and cunning. We worked in teams where we looked out for the younger ones and those whose sales were looking bleak for the day. We’d encourage each other not to give up. On a few occasions people rejected me but came back to buy a voucher much later when they perhaps saw how hard I worked at approaching people! I didn’t do this very long as I soon had to leave Singapore, but it allowed me to brush shoulders with people leading very different lives from a typical Junior College student.

At university, I worked at a dessert kiosk – where the boss would drop by every so often and order a drink to see if we had kept up the quality. I learnt a bit about managing a small business then, as I got to observe the ordering and managing of stock. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the cafe, the menu was more limited here, but it was different, and I met interesting people.

I also worked at a fashion shop – but I quit as soon as I could. I felt bad for the other full-time employees who worked under the regime. They were often disgruntled and there were sometimes unhappy fights to win commissions. It was also sometimes quite tedious/boring, which helped me appreciate my dad’s patience in this industry that he also works in. Dad used to tell me you had to practise not being bored standing in the shops when things were quiet. He said being interested and alert were good habits to cultivate.

After graduating, I did a few more media-related stints here and there, and I found each experience quite different, challenging and valuable. There was one stint I particularly struggled to appreciate, and I think I left in a bad and embarrassing manner. It’s one of the things I cringe at most when I look back.

Now I am 24. It strikes me more and more how much people are shaped by their backgrounds. You can trace their mindset, habits, passions, drive (or lack thereof) and fears back to what happened in their lives and how their community (or isolation!) shaped them.

Significant events change people’s lives, sometimes for better, and sometimes I suppose for worse – although I think bad situations tend to have the greatest potential for good to come out of them if you reflect incisively and respond positively.