Lessons Learned as a Lifeguard

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life lessonsAt 16 years old, I got my first “real” job as a lifeguard.  My Dad was a lifeguard as a teenager, so he encouraged me to do it to make some easy money.  It was fairly simple, as many of you former lifeguards know.  I sat by a pool, soaked up some sun, and watched the kiddos to make sure that nothing went awry.  To me, it beat working at a fast-food joint.  

 

I wasn’t just a lifeguard though; I was a Pool Operator.  That meant I also checked pool filters and chlorine levels.  I had to take two courses.  The first course centered around pool maintenance, and the second course was a swimming test, verifying that I could swim 20 laps in a row.  Safe to say, I passed each portion with flying colors.

 

Looking back, two things really struck me at the time.  

 

Swimming 20 Laps

life lessonsWho has to swim the length of 20 laps to save anyone?  That seemed like an absurd number to me at the time.  In fact, to this day, I still don’t completely understand it.  I’d understand if I was lifeguarding at the beach, or somewhere substantial like that.  But most of the pools in our area aren’t even Olympic-sized, let alone bigger than that.  

 

For the record, I did have to save one kid, who was actually swimming right in front of my lifeguard chair.  His leg cramped, but thankfully the water was shallow.  Fortunately, I was paying full attention at the time.  I jumped right in and rescued him quickly.

 

Course Instructor

life lessonsI’ll never forget the Pool Operator course instructor.  He was a self-professed sun-worshipper with the dark tan lines and Ray-Bans around his neck, as he taught us indoors.  It was clear that he had planned to rush through the material so that he could be back poolside to soak up some rays.

 

During one of the breaks, he started to tell us how we could one day become millionaires like him.  At 16 years old, I was in awe.  How did such a cool-looking, beach bum have a million dollars?  I eagerly stuck around during the break to hear his advice.  Up until that point, he had been lecturing us on how to backwash the filters and how to maintain proper pH balances.  It was very dry content.  But at the sound of “millionaire”, he had me hooked.  

 

An Unexpected Investing Lesson

life lessonsHe started off by saying that we should convince our company to pay us a penny the first day and then ask the company to double the pay every day for the first month.  As most of you can calculate, that first week, you would be receive a whopping $0.64 in pay.  However, if you continue down this path, by day 28, you would be making over $1 million dollars.  By day 30, you would be paid over $5 million dollars.

 

At the time, I remember being really underwhelmed and thought, “This is so stupid.”  But now looking back, I realize his words were actually very powerful.  While he didn’t call it “compound interest” at the time, this is exactly what he was describing.  It’s what Albert Einstein called the 8th Wonder of the World.

 

Choosing the My Worksite

life lessonsIt’s funny what we remember over the years.  Anyways, since I didn’t belong to a swim club, I wasn’t sure which swimming pool I should work at.  So when I went for an interview with the local pool company, they gave me some options, and I selected the one next to my high school.  

 

I ended up picking that one for convenience sake.  In hindsight, that may have not been the best choice.  At the time, I was playing AAU baseball, and since I played my baseball games at the high school, it made sense to work close by.  

 

Naive and Unsafe

life lessonsThe reason why it may not have been the best choice was because my high school was in a fairly rough area back in the day.  The neighborhood surrounding the school was slowly transitioning, but it was still far from safe.  For reference, my high school had a shooting while I attended, and gang activity was rampant.

 

Within the first couple of weeks on the job, there was a murder in the pool’s apartment complex.  I became very familiar with the reporting officers who regularly frequented that complex.

 

Boy, was I young and dumb.  I was around such danger, yet I had no concept of how bad it actually was.

 

I share about my lifeguarding experience because I unknowingly learned some incredibly valuable financial lessons (in addition to Beach Bum’s compounding interest lesson).

 

Be Aggressive

salary negotiations life lessonsThis was the first time that I learned about leverage during negotiations.  Another lifeguard that worked at a neighboring pool shared with me halfway through the summer that she asked for a raise of an additional $1.00 an hour.  

 

I was shocked at the time because that was a 20% bump in her pay.  

 

She asked for it, and she received that raise.  They initially pushed back on her though.  She responded threatening to quit.  Since they were worried they wouldn’t be able to fill her position, the company acquiesced to her demands.  

 

Unfortunately, even after knowing that I might be able to do the same thing, I still didn’t do it.  I thought, “Maybe they’ll give me a raise because I am consistently doing a good job.”

 

WRONG.

 

I received nothing extra.  That taught me to be more aggressive in the future.  I stopped expecting that I would receive what was fair.  After that lesson, I became more vocal in expressing myself to my bosses and the type of pay I believed I deserved.  That has helped me over the years to get me where I am today.

 

Perseverance

life lessonsThe second thing that I learned that summer was that skill can be overrated.  There were two little boys who frequented the pool regularly.  One was nine, and his younger brother was five.  In order to swim in the deep end of the pool and use the diving board, I required that all of the kids swim one lap the length of the pool.

 

I figured if they had the stamina to do that, I wouldn’t have to worry as much about them fatiguing in the deep end.

 

As you’d imagine, most younger siblings want to do everything their older siblings can do.  The nine year old was able to swim the length of the pool, and therefore could dive and swim in the deep end.  However, the five year old was not quite able to make that lap, so I wouldn’t let him pass.

 

life lessonsEveryday, he would ask if he could take the swim test again, and he would get a little bit closer to achieving the goal.  At first, he participated in the swimming test alone.  Then his big brother eventually joined him to encourage him.  Soon enough, other kids also joined him until he finally passed.  

 

It wasn’t the prettiest stroke.  For that matter, it was basically a dog paddle across the pool.  Admittedly, it scared me half to death each time he dove into the deep end of the pool.  But, I honestly will never forget the perseverance that he had.  It was inspiring.

 

Investing

life lessonsI take this perseverance to heart in regards to investing.  When I first started investing, my slowly-growing retirement accounts discouraged me.  It felt like they moved at a snail’s pace, as I checked their progress multiple times a day.  Hitting the refresh button did not make the accounts suddenly add an extra zero to the figure’s end, as much as I wanted it to.

 

It seemed like everyone around me had accounts that were rising quickly as they were utilizing the latest investment strategies.  Interestingly enough, a lot of those friend are still chasing returns while my account has slowly grown into something that I never thought it would.  Being slow and consistent with a large amount of perseverance goes a long way.

 

Enjoying Work

life lessonsFinally, the last lesson that I learned from the pool was the value of finding a job where you enjoy the people around you.  I never complained or dreaded going to work that summer.  The kids were enjoyable, and their parents were great too.  I loved the autonomy that I had, and it didn’t feel like work.  I had fun.

 

In my jobs since lifeguarding, I’ve only had one job that I loved going to.  It lasted two years before people moved on and the environment changed.  Yet, I still look back at that time fondly.  If I’m being honest with myself, I probably won’t reach that happiness level at work again until I’m working for myself.  

 

Entrepreneurship is slowly building in me.  I am gaining the confidence to take on some of these endeavors.  While I’m not quite there, I do feel like I am starting to find my footing on where I want my life to go.   

 

So readers, did you ever work a summer job that you took valuable life lessons from?  Share your thoughts below.

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40 Comments

  1. I like that you drew great lessons from your lifeguard experience! I actually just started swim lessons last year and still can’t swim very well. I have to admit I got tired of going to the pool at one point.

    I was totally aghast when you mentioned the murder at the pool, I would probably be too scared to go back. That’s something I feel like I only see on Law and Order >_< Many props to your courage and perseverance!
    Ms. Frugal Asian Finance recently posted…The Costs of Marital ConflictMy Profile

  2. I think it’s great to look back at where you came from and think of the lessons your experiences taught you.
    One of my first jobs was bagging groceries at a local supermarket. I forgot to ask off the day of prom and my supervisor said she was going to make me work. Really in a moment of adolescent stupidity I said I wouldn’t show up and didn’t care if I was fired.
    She changed her smug attitude very quickly and asked if I could just work the morning. That was fine since prom wasn’t until the afternoon and evening.
    I agreed but that taught me I did have some power as an employee and I had value even if I was just a teenage bag boy.
    I should have been more tactful but that experience taught me it’s okay to stand up for what I want if it’s important to me.

    Tom @ HIP
    High Income Parents recently posted…The Magnificent 7 Investing DecisionsMy Profile

  3. My first job paid me $5 an hour delivering flyers from door to door. It was hard work carrying a bag full of flyers in the hot summer sun. That job experience taught me that if I don’t work harder to get a better job in the future, that was what I would get paid. Also, that would be my career going forward and I definitely did not want to do that for the rest of my life. This fear forced me to work harder so that I would never had to work for $5 an hour.
    Leo T. Ly @ isaved5k.com recently posted…Achieving Financial IndependenceMy Profile

    • I use to shovel driveways in the winter time when I was growing up. The next morning my Dad would always ask how I felt. I always said, exhausted. He said good, now go to school and learn something 🙂

  4. I’m pretty sure I was given the same investing lesson (start with a penny and double it every day/week etc). Magic!

    I’m impressed that your fellow lifeguard negotiated a 20% raise! I still have a hard time getting the guts to negotiate like that!
    Mrs. Adventure Rich recently posted…Hard Work and Yard WorkMy Profile

  5. My first job was the last job I actually liked and enjoyed. I worked in the food department of a theme park. My job was predominately outside and I got to interact with many people. Each job after that required me to be in an office environment surrounded by cubicles. Not many windows. Little interaction. And rather unfulfilling.
    Dave @ Run The Money recently posted…10 Best Half Marathons in the United StatesMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Dave!!! Sounds like it’s time to go back outside and interact with people 🙂 If you find something great, let me know, I’ll be right behind you 🙂

  6. Great story. I always appreciate people pulling lessons from their early experiences.

    My first “real” job was at a party store. We had one shift manager that was the “cool” manager. He was super chill and let everyone do whatever they wanted. After I was there for about a year he got arrested while working. Apparently he had been stealing money from the registers at the end of every shift.
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…As Happy as an Old PersonMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Matt!!! Sounds like the “cool” manager was a bit too cool. That’s unfortunate but it’s always interesting to hear how people got their jobs 🙂

  7. It seems we had something in common. I started working as a lifeguard and swim instructor at a boy scout summer camp. By my Senior year I was a life guard at the local indoor YMCA. It was a fun gig, and no where comparable to the stress of guarding at the beach. Ironically the Boy scouts paid me less but it was the harder job. I had to do things like take the kids tubing and use a kayak for the guarding bit. I also functioned like a waiter from time to time. Still both were a blast for a kid that age. I don’t have much lessons to share from then though.

    • Thanks for sharing!!! It seems like my friends that turned 18 earlier than I, all graduated to waitering, while I was still a lifeguard. They use to come home with huge wads of cash. I definitely remember being jealous but then quickly found a job at the post office that paid more 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing Mrs. Picky Pincher!!! If I had it my way I wouldn’t have worked but my parents definitely helped drive me in the right direction 🙂

  8. Wow, that’s an amazing amount of lessons. I worked for a day camp/after school care center, which was fun for a while. We used to take the kids swimming. I remember one kid who couldn’t swim getting in trouble over his head. The person who saved him wasn’t an adult or a lifeguard or me, but our biggest behavioral issue. The very things that made that kid hard to manage also helped him jump right in to save that other kid. I’ve always been struck by the juxtaposition.
    Emily Jividen recently posted…Tales of a Wannabe Gardener: First Fruits and Scorched EarthMy Profile

  9. Great post! My first job was at a local corner store making pizzas. The most important lesson I learned was that if I wanted money, I had to work for it. It wouldn’t just be given to me like an allowance. I liked my job because I got to interact with my friends who would be there playing pinball (long before the days of video games), so I also learned the importance of doing something you enjoy.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…21st Century Retirement Strategies That Will Make You Secure, Part 2My Profile

  10. Was that beach bum instructor really a millionaire?!

    I hated all of my summer internships, they were boring. But one thing I learned was I’m not as clever as I thought I was! These we industry professionals and I thought I could be that level the first day I walked in. It’s a good lesson in challenging what you really think you know and I appreciate the reality check.
    Lily He-Prudhomme recently posted…I’m on the Prudhomme Payroll Now? (Should You Accept Money From In-Laws?)My Profile

  11. I was also a lifeguard. I took a red cross class, so we had to do a lot more than just swim 20 laps. I also didn’t have a pool maintenance course, but I was taught that while working as a pool attendant. I worked at an indoor YMCA during the winters as a lifeguard and swim instructor, and then in the summers, I was a pool attendant at some local apartment complexes. I have to say, that yes, it is the best job for a teenager! I remember I would go from the pool outdoors in the morning, to a part time office job at an engineering firm. I was only there for about 2 hours from 3-5pm, but I remember thinking how depressing it was to be sitting indoors during the warm summer months! I guess that is why I was never able to assimilate to cubicle-land. 🙂
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…How to become a ‘Muon Hunter’, ‘Carbon Detective’ or a ‘Gravity Spy’ (no experience necessary)My Profile

  12. Good article and excellent lessons.

    I always thought folks should work in the teenage years, and my personal opinion is that everyone should be a waiter, busboy and work in retail. That way, they’ll never be a jerk to those folks when they are out in the world.

    Mr. 39 months
    Kevin@39months.com recently posted…Stick-to-it-ismMy Profile

  13. Nice post. Seeing persistence pay off is rewarding.

    My first job was in retail, and I didn’t like it! I used that job as motivation whenever I thought a particular class in college was difficult or if I was tired and needed to study for an exam. I didn’t want to do that kind of work during my adulthood!
    Palmetto Millennial recently posted…My experience buying a $2500 houseMy Profile

  14. Great takeaways! There’s so much to learn from a variety of experiences – I worked at a sheet metal factory one summer and learned a lot more than would meet the eye.

    Loved your unexpected investing lesson too!

  15. Sounds like that first job shaped a lot of your opinions on life now – thanks for sharing!
    I really wanted to be a life guard when I was a little younger – I didn’t realise that most of it is sitting back and keeping an eye on people and not the action packed day full of training and swimming I wanted!

  16. I’ve always wondered what this job is like. It seems like it can be either incredibly boring or highly stressful. I’ve never seen a situation where a lifeguard was needed. I wonder what kind of training Olympic lifeguards need to go through. 😉

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