Anybody who knows me knows that I tend to bring up Chipotle. A lot.

Why? Because I like to say that I grew up in a Chipotle kitchen. I spent roughly two and a half of the most important years of my life, from the day after I turned 16 until I left for college, in a Chipotle kitchen.

I went into my first job with a mouth full of braces and I left a couple of years later with a fantastic guacamole recipe and a few life lessons that I still carry with me in my professional life today.

Work smarter, not harder.

This is something that I hear #BossLady say on a daily basis. But it’s also something that was embedded in my mind from my very first general manager at Chipotle. Employees would get to work at roughly 7 a.m. with only a few hours to prepare an immense amount of fresh food each day (Yes, everything is actually fresh and prepared in-house. That is not a lie). You raced a clock, and those of us that had been around for a while knew what worked for us and how to beat that clock, be ready early, and help the rest of the store finish before the lunch rush.

There were some mornings where I would have to spend hours doing simple tasks like frying chips. I would stuff as many chips as I could into the fryer to try and make the arduous and hot task just a little shorter; this resulted in not all of them getting done, and those on the bottom becoming burnt, forcing me to throw out the entire batch and start again. I then created a method of alternating procedures. I would put one smaller batch in the fryer while I was seasoning the other- this cut my procedure time in half and all of the chips were perfect.

We were encouraged to find these ways to work smarter without sacrificing the quality of our food. To this day, I work to find ways to make myself more efficient and I acknowledge that every single new coworker, every new manager, and every new process is a chance to find a new way to work “smarter.”

Your coworkers are NOT your competition, but rather your support system.

Our kitchens were most efficient when the unique management structure at Chipotle worked as it was intended. We had a say in who was going to move up to be in charge of us and it encouraged us to work as a team and make those who were going to run our kitchen better. Our store was rated as a whole and they encouraged each of us to treat it as our own, as we were briefed every morning on how our store was growing and what kind of business we were bringing in. At one point during my time there, we all waited to go on break until every single other person was done with their morning tasks, encouraging even those of us who finished early to turn around and find a way to help a friend. #teamworkmakesthedreamwork.

It is difficult to thrive in any workplace where coworkers are constantly competing with each other to impress a certain boss or authority figure. It brings frustration when others are praised and you are not and frankly, it’s difficult to avoid hostility when you feel like someone else is taking a job or a raise that you deserve. During my time at Chipotle over the years, we had teams that just clicked. We focused on making each other better and encouraging as many of us as possible to move up. Chipotle had ample opportunities, to the point where my management team even helped to make one for me at 17, as I took over our store’s take-out business, catering, and local marketing tactics. It wasn’t always a perfect structure, but it certainly made me appreciate the importance of a good team.

Never get comfortable and never stop improving.

I had been working for the company for a year and a half and had received several raises when I got one of my first complaints from my management team. My boss came up to me one day and said, “Mandy, I’m not seeing it anymore. Show me why I am paying you more because right now I don’t see it.”

I was shocked. Truthfully, it had been months since I had received criticism from management and I knew that I was a hard worker. So what was the problem?  I had become static and comfortable in my job, maintaining the same routine and staying in my little bubble of getting just what I needed to get done. I was comfortable and coasting.

So, I organized things. I helped train, I found new catering clients and fundraising partners, and I helped come up with new and innovative ways to get my store out and about in the community. After truly processing the comment and coming to terms with the fact that my comfortable routine would have to change, I realized that there is no job in which you can become static. There is always another level you can be reaching for each and every day.

Age means nothing; attitude means everything.

After my first year and plenty of employee turnover at our store, I found myself one of the most senior members of our staff while simultaneously being the youngest. I was working with a management team on marketing when I was still in high school and I was expected to help train people that sometimes were twice my age. Interestingly — and It took me several months to figure out — I was the only one who thought I was too young to be doing these things.

Sometimes, we create obstacles for ourselves. For me, I was blaming my age for not being taken seriously when, instead, I was the one who wasn’t taking myself seriously. Once I became aware that I knew what I was doing and I had been put in my position because I deserved it, I was able to inject that confidence into my everyday tasks. A little secret: people respond more when you project confidence, no matter the industry or the age of the person it’s coming from.

Success feels great, but be prepared for the lows.

When I started at Chipotle, they were in the middle of some of their most successful years of business. Our stores were packed, our employees were passionate, and it seemed as though the Chipotle obsession was only growing.

Then came the PR crisis of 2015. People were getting sick from a foodborne illness originating in our kitchens. We were well-known for emphasizing food safety and most of us were shocked; it ended up being something that could have happened in almost any kitchen, but the damage was done.

As my job centered on local marketing, catering, and setting up fundraisers with local organizations, I went from having five or six clients a month for fundraising nights to struggling to even get customers in the door. No K-12 schools wanted to work with a restaurant that had gotten people sick!

This time taught me to be grateful for the good times and prepare for the bad. We went from ample business to almost none; my hours went down, my business went down, and our team’s chemistry as a whole suffered as the focus shifted to food safety.

Many teams weren’t strong enough to survive the shift and employment reduced drastically. We had to rely on those of us who were willing to stick around and scrape up what was left of business. It was not easy in the slightest and it took a lot of time and creativity to get my personal marketing goals for my store back on track.

I left the company in April of 2016. I was off to bigger and better things.

However, the crisis and resulting decline in business taught me the most.

I learned that a company relies on the dedication of all of its employees during times of crisis. Sometimes, things are just going to happen, and you can either jump ship or you can hunker down and help the entire team navigate during the rough times. A brand is only as good as those willing to fight for it. If I had not been passionate about my job and our team, I would not have stayed for as long as I did after the crisis.

These are not lessons that could have been taught in a classroom. They’re invaluable lessons that I will continue to draw from throughout my career, but I found them in a Chipotle kitchen, not a classroom. I had to experience them firsthand.

#MakingMandyMoves joined the North team in spring 2018. Keep up with her North journey by following her on Instagram at @makingmandymoves!