Lessons Learned from Working at a Petrol Station

In November of 2018, I started working at a petrol station near my house. I needed some money so I went to the inner city of Gouda, where I live, and started asking around for a job. I had some experience in the kitchen and serving drinks, so bars and restaurants were the first places I visited. Nobody needed anybody. But I perservered, filling in applications and hoping for the best.

Then I got a call. The petrol station I had applied to months earlier had an opening. I was invited to come on an interview, where there were two people present: my current boss and my manager. They were very friendly and open, and most importantly: they were flexible when it came to when I would work. I study English Language and Culture mainly, so it was important to make clear that this would be a side job, not my main gig. I was okay with working 16-24 hours a week, making it possible to reduce my student loans which I’ve built up over the years and set a bit aside for rainy days.

I started working Thursday mornings with my boss, who would teach me the ropes. Now, my boss is a very productive man. He owns two gas stations and several other businesses and I think he’s working seven days a week. He always picks up the phone when I call him with a problem. An inspiring man: I only hope to become as productive as he is. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from him and from the workplace that he’s provided me with.

Wake Up Early

When you wake up early, the world is your oyster. I start work at 6AM, and although I’ve overslept once, I normally wake up at 5AM. Sometimes earlier. When you wake up early there aren’t a lot of people active, so you have the freedom to do what you want. When I was in highschool I used to ‘make the most of the night’ and go to bed at 3AM because of work that I had to do, but I don’t do that anymore. If you go to bed late you will sleep until late and that’s bad for productivity, not to mention you oversleep a lot and that will not come in handy when you have places to be and things to do. I used to oversleep so much that I missed class an extraordinary amount of times and I was sent to the truancy bureau, where people decided I had to do community work at a children’s farm. Although feeding pigs isn’t that bad, that was time I could’ve spent on myself.

So the lesson learned here is: wake up at 5AM. Use that time to excercise, to unleash your creative side or clean the house, whatever. You’ll find things to do when you’re awake. Don’t wake up later than 7AM. In order to achieve this, you will have to go to bed earlier, get a better alarm clock and drink less coffee the day before.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

When I have a problem at work, I call my boss. He knows much more about the gas station and its procedures than I do (I’m a beginner) and is happy to help me do my work. I solved a lot of headaches just by asking for help. This relates to my studies: it helps to send an essay to a peer to peer-review it, just to get another insight on your work. Communication is key: most problems are solved by asking another’s opinion about it. I used to study to become a primary school teacher and my mentor told me that if you have an open attitude, kids won’t hesistate to ask for things, which in turn makes them learn more. Since I am studying to become an English teacher, I take this advice to heart: teachers with an open attitude are the best. That’s why I’m still friends with my Geography teacher, whom I’ve visited Germany with in December.

There will always be people who know more about a certain subject than you do (I had my desktop fixed recently by a super IT-savvy team, for example) and who are happy to help you whether you pay them or not. That’s what I think constitutes a solid business: finding a problem people have and helping them with it. So don’t be afraid to ask for help, you learn something and have fun learning in the meantime.

Easy on the Coffee

There is a coffee machine at my job, which dispenses coffee, cappuccino and latte macciatos for a small fee. It also dispenses hot water for tea, but the first few days of working were filled with drinking coffee in my breaks. My boss is also an avid coffee drinker and had no problem giving me the aministrator code for the ‘free-coffee-mode’. Needlessly to say, I was jittery the first few days of work. It reminded me when I had to cram for an exam in highschool, where I would drink a pot of coffee a night. Although I passed my grammar school (Gymnasium in Dutch) there were a lot of stressfull times due to this. This nicely links to something that I will write about in my next point, but for now:

Go easy on the coffee. Don’t drink coffee after 6PM (after 12PM works best, helps you sleep) and moderate your caffeine intake. Have a cup of coffee to wake up and to socialize, sure, but be reminded that caffeine takes about five hours to wear off. Drink a lot of water. Now for my next point:

Pick Your Moments

One thing at the gas station is that you have to vacuum and mop the floor daily. This usually happens at the afternoon shift (from 2PM until 10PM) and it’s lowkey my favourite activity. It makes me extremely zen to watch the floor get wet. I do this when there are no customers waiting, but when this happens fluctuates. Normally around 5PM I pick up the mop. If I wait until 9PM, shutting down my shift becomes stressful because I have more things to do. Having good timing is important: it helps you regulate your stress level. Pick your moments to do things that need to be done and when you have a moment, do it as soon as you can. It prevents you from having to stay up late at night catching up on your workload.

This is one part responsibility and one part perserverance: it’s not always easy to not procrastinate – but when you don’t, you’ll be better off in the long term. This also applies to studying for exams. It’s not all that bad to do your work early: you have to do it anyway!


Since I live nearby and it’s on my way to doing groceries, I often drop by work even when I don’t have to work. I’ll have a cup of tea and socialize with my colleagues. I do this to strengthen the bond we have and increase our teamspirit. Then, if you’re assigned a shift you’re not able to work, it’s easier to swap shifts with your colleagues. Socializing contributes to being a happy, fulfilled person and should not only be done with friends, but with as many people as you can. I sometimes ask a random customer how his day is going, and watching his or her reaction (surprised that a stranger is interested in them, mostly) is always very fun.

It’s not per se about becoming popular, but knowing that the people you care about are doing well makes you do well. Keep up with how friends are doing and don’t shy away from asking your ex out to a cup of coffee just to catch up (although you might be nervous beforehand). Socializing takes practice, but when you git gud it’s very rewarding.

Take Sundays Off

I’ve made it clear to my manager that I’m not working on Sundays. Sunday is a day of rest (Christian upbringing making its mark here) and should be spent relaxing, looking back on the week before and preparing for the week ahead. Yesterday my manager asked me if I could work this Sunday, even though I’ve already made my point – she said there was no other option. When I told her I had an appointment Sunday and was willing to work Saturday instead she was able to find a solution. There’s always a solution.

I don’t really study on Sundays, but I fill out my BulletJournal and gloss over my notes from the past week. Sometimes I use my Sunday to go out, in order to explore the city or to go to the movies, and it really recharges me for the upcoming week. Take Sundays off, it’s a day of rest (even though the 24/7 economy would like you not to think so).

Go the Extra Mile

Apparently, my boss’s relatively happy with me. I think it’s because I never sit still, I always find something to do. He said that we share that characteristic. Whether it’s cleaning out the trash cans, filling up the tobacco stand or cleaning the pumps. It’s called going the extra mile: taking pride in making your work complete and extraordinary. This relates to my hobby of making stencils. When I used to make a stencil (I make less art than I used to before) I made sure that the stencil was cut right on the line. It made people enthousiastic and willing to buy some of my artwork. I once stenciled a table for my two friends who were a couple, and instead of taking their Facebook pictures as base images, we had a custom photoshoot session where I used digital software to align their faces precisely with eachother. It made the table extraordinary, and my friend still has that table (although they’ve broken up). It’s one of my best artworks.

Go the extra mile. Do your best to make your work extraordinary. It’s what makes people remember you and recommend you to others. Mouth-to-mouth-advertisement is the best advertisement.


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