Burger King Was My Best Job Ever

Life lessons from a fast food kitchen.

Posted Sep 25, 2018

I used to be a job snob. I don't know how it happened. My father was a laborer in an iron mine, and my mother, while pursuing her art career, worked all sorts of part-time jobs, from waitressing to cleaning. Yet, as a teenager, I swore I would never work in fast food. Coming from a small town with few employers, that stubbornness left me with few options. Thankfully, a growing stack of bills eventually put my ego in its place.

Throughout high school and college, the jobs I ended up taking would each last about eight months. I had a short employment attention span. I was an overnight baker, a grocery store clerk, and the guy who puts shoes back in their boxes after the daily tornado of customers dismantled Wal-Mart's shoe department. And then, lo and behold, I finally took a job at Burger King where many of my friends either worked or hung out.

I donned an aqua blue uniform—très '90s—and was embarrassed for a time. After all, I'd just returned home (i.e., dropped out) from a stint at culinary arts school, and was about to embark on an English degree. So imagine my surprise when I actually started enjoying the job. I can just hear some of my lit-snob classmates making the comparison of a Kurt Vonnegut aficionado devouring the literary canon of Danielle Steel. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The job had comfort and camaraderie, but it was far from easy. The heat and fast pace of the kitchen made for physically demanding shifts that left us exhausted. I had never been on a sports team in my life so it was the first time I experienced the clockwork of teamwork—when success comes from individual strengths contributing to a greater shared goal.

You know how you sometimes wonder what goes on behind the scenes of a fast food kitchen? Are the employees talking smack about their customer the minute he walks out the door? Are the cooks spitting in the burgers? It wasn't like that. We genuinely liked our customers. We kept our kitchen clean. We ate the food we served. If you were unhappy with your meal, we weren't mad that you complained. We wanted to make it right.

That job was important because it taught humility and equality. It fostered a philosophy of non-judgment that I now share with my clients: No matter what job you tell me you want to land, I will not pass judgment on your decision. My job is to coach our two-person teams toward shared goals, and our playing field is a no-embarrassment zone. Being employed and showing up to work each day, much less giving it your all, is difficult and respectable. The only thing we have to feel embarrassed about is when we feel like someone else is lesser than we are because of what they do for a living. Indeed, a burger flipper can be kinder, brighter, more humble, and harder working than someone with the highest title in the land. Of course, you don't have to tell that to our 44th president. He worked at Baskin-Robbins.