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What is your time worth?

A reader recently wrote to me with an interesting question. He was seeking advice on how his teenage daughter might find an after school job for her high school years. His logic makes sense. He wants her to learn discipline and to gain a work ethic. These are great qualities for a young student to develop. Although I respect this method of getting there, I also suggested an alternative path.

When I was growing up, I was also encouraged to take a high school job. Where I lived, most options for teenagers focused on fast food. Although I could have made extra money this way, I decided to try something else. And, I’ll be honest – it was fairly controversial at the time.

I made the decision not to take a job during high school. In order to do this, I committed to spending as little money as possible, and to saving everything I could. This made my plan more feasible.

Then, I set out to use my spare time differently. I studied day and night in order to get the best grades I could. With my remaining free time, I looked for volunteer projects. I also founded a mentorship program at my high school for high risk third graders. Nobody paid me for these projects. But, they were an investment in myself, and in my community. I learned similar lessons about disciple and I gained a work ethic.

When it was time to apply to college, I now had a wealth of experience that I could include on my applications. I had initiated a community project that made me stand out from the other college applicants. I gained real experience that I could include on my resume. This experience, along with my high marks, resulted in scholarship money I desperately needed to go away to college.

In fact, the scholarships I received were for far more than I ever would have made working after school and on the weekends for a tiny paycheck. Given the minimum wage at the time, it would have taken me four years working full-time forty hours per week to earn the amount of money I received in scholarships.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that choosing not to work during high school is a luxury that not all kids have. I don’t want to knock on the teenagers who are working many hours on top of high school in order to contribute to their family’s expenses. I have incredible respect for these teenagers.

But, for the high schoolers who are lucky enough to get to choose, think past the basic options. Soon, you’ll pay someone else thousands to take college courses you may never use. Don’t assume being paid is always the number one priority. Think about what profession or real world cause you’d like to learn more about and go from there. You will gain new skills, differentiate yourself from your peers, and may even get a little scholarship money along the way.

Angela Copeland is a Career Coach and Founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.