The Summer Job Syllabus

by Tyler Sjostrom

Whenever I visit a tourist town (which because I’m nothing if not predictably basic, is often), I always take stock of the individuals who are scooping my Moose Tracks, bagging my saltwater taffy, or applying a henna tattoo to my lower back. And in making small talk, I always offer some variation of, “Hey, this must be a fun summer job.”

I’m not always sincere in this assessment. Some summer jobs look, and probably are, miserable, and no amount of sunshine can make this untrue. But because the window of when a person can properly enjoy the sacrosanct “summer job” (roughly ages 15-23) is short and because I’ve enjoyed a few great ones myself (thanks for the memories, North Prairie Bison Ranch), I feel like I’ve got a decent read on what makes one summer job better than another. It also won’t be long before my own sons are looking for a little extra scratch, and they’ll overlook my long history of henna tattoos and seek out any wisdom I might offer.

The knowledge they will glean is found herein.

Work with your friends whenever possible. One summer I worked in a pizza shop in Oregon with a college friend who would later stand in my wedding. That summer, any time a pretty girl walked by, we’d say, “Could I get some kalamata olives?” Everyone within earshot knew what we meant. Ten years later, when my wife and I took our vows, he slapped me on the back and said, “Ty, your wife, she’s a real kalamata olive.” Jobs come and jobs go, so spend those hours with people you like.

A good summer job should be limited to the actual months of summer. Adults understand that, before long, even the coolest job just becomes “a job.” Furthermore, jobs that revolve around things that are distinct to the summer months ice cream shops, scooter rentals, drive-in movies don’t have the necessary calendar pages to become monotonous. So, by keeping a job only for the months when a sleeveless shirt is the only vital part of the uniform, you’ll still remember it fondly when you’re back in class after Labor Day.

Money is the root of all evil great, but lived experience is far greater. In high school, I remember a friend got a job transferring paper files to his accountant dad’s computer. “I’m getting 10 bucks an hour,” he bragged. That same summer, I worked at a yogurt shop where I never knew or cared if I was getting a paycheck. But I did get a girlfriend out of the deal, and I can’t imagine transferring tax documents made my friend ever fall in love. And when summer ended, so did the relationship, as the rules of summer romance dictate.

Get an outside job whenever possible. When you’re an adult, it’s very likely you will only work inside. During the workday, you will mostly see other people enjoying the outdoors only through windows. “It looks nice out,” you’ll say. And then you’ll draw the shades because sunlight makes your monitor tougher to see. So, by all means, get those outdoor jobs while you can: landscaping, lifeguarding, farming, coaching. You may get an uneven tan, but you’ll get a more balanced life experience overall.

Consider the “after hours” benefits. My hometown has a water park that I’ve only visited when it was technically closed. This is because the kids who worked there would let their friends join them for some non-sanctioned hijinks when that day’s screaming children were safe in their beds. It’s been two decades since those summer nights, but the kids who made their own rules after hours remain summer job royalty in my eyes.

Much like summer itself, the window for when a person can enjoy a summer job is brief and fleeting. The henna tattoo won’t last forever, young friends, but the memories just might.