Editor’s note: At PublicSource, we believe in giving a platform to voices not often heard or consulted. That's why we asked teenagers in the Pittsburgh region to tell us what matters to them and write about it. We will feature their stories as an occasional series.
Every person in this world has at least one challenge to overcome. Some of those challenges may stem from your identity or other defining factors of how you go through life, like being an immigrant, gay, overweight, financially unhappy or a victim of racism. For me, my struggles are connected with being financially unstable and being a minor. Those two things mean I am constantly juggling work and school.
Being 17 and constantly making work a priority is tiresome. I’m learning that compromise is the key. I say this because I have found that most employers don’t care if you're sick, depressed or miss your family and friends.
My first job was at fast food restaurant that didn't pay well. They paid me minimum wage. They boosted my pay by 10 cents every six months. I worked long hours to earn this money. But the truth was I always put more work in than I got back. I would work long nights and miss out or not be able to focus on school and other activities with educational value because of an inadequate check I was chasing. It was a huge setback for me because I missed opportunities to work toward figuring out what I want to do with my future. On every payday, I was disappointed with my check and my choices.
I’ve made some adjustments to remedy the situation. Now, I’m taking off every other Friday. I use my days off wisely to prepare myself for the busy weekend to come. The point is: Always put yourself first. If you don't, no one else will. It's OK to work and make your money, but don't always break your back for a job that couldn’t care less if you live or die. I have had to learn this the hard way many times.
Many adults don’t realize how life has changed for people my age. A lot of kids take on too much or overwork themselves before they ever go to college or get their first job in what they hope will become a career. My schedule looks like this: about 35 hours a week in high school, three hours a week taking an English class at the Community College of Allegheny County and 27 hours a week working as a retail associate at Party City (though I am in a limbo at the moment because my family moved and I’m being transferred to the Monroeville store). I’m also applying for colleges, trying to get scholarships, preparing for the SAT and doing homework for high school classes and my one college class. While it’s only one college class, sometimes my professor assigns more work than I think I can handle. Eight hours of sleep seems impossible.
With little sleep and a frantic schedule, it’s difficult to concentrate on assignments, like the one I have right now — to read “To Kill A Mockingbird.” At the moment I wrote this sentence in mid-October, I'm on chapter one, page three, but I plan to read this because it has good reviews. Constantly wondering how all of my tasks will get done makes it challenging to focus on thinking about how all of the bones in the body come together in Anatomy class. But I want to learn it. I’d love to become an orthopaedist one day. It's amazing how the body basically repairs itself.
Another class that we all need the time to pay attention to is financial literacy. At Propel Andrew Street High School, the class is new this year, and I think it's great to teach kids about debt. I say this because most kids go to college and don't think about how much they will have to pay back. In the future, this class will benefit us.
My life is all about prioritizing. Lately, I have been improving that skill, but I still struggle with it from time to time. I'm only 17, so I don't expect to have it all together. I do try to organize my week by the things that are most important to my future. (Homework first then work. You get the picture.) Being young and trying to get your life together is harder than you think. Parties and other teenager activities usually don’t make it on my list, unless it’s the summer. It's time for me to start planning my life — and that starts with raising my GPA and figuring out what college I want to attend. I just don't have time for games.
Veonna King is a 17-year-old at Propel Andrew Street High School. She has aspirations of becoming an orthopaedist or possibly an entertainment journalist. She can be reached at email@example.com.