My career can be divided into four parts.
Part One. The Early Years. Junior & Senior High School. Part Two. The Formative Years. College & Grad School. Part Three. The Building Years. Salaried Jobs. Part Four. The Power Years. Fine Tuning.
Each taught me valuable lessons and helped shaped me as a leader. Even the most menial job can do that, if we pay attention.
Part One: The Early Years. Junior & Senior High School
Paperboy. Hardly 12, I earned my first pocket change as a Normal Rockwell’ish paperboy. I delivered news for three years. I woke at o’dark thirty and tossed the Colorado Springs Sun to 95 doorsteps. I learned that customers, holidays, nor weather cared if I was tired or sick. Or both. I was responsible and accountable. I overcame shyness cold calling while collecting subscription payments. I learned money management and customer service. A leader is someone others count on, sleet or sleep.
Referee. Simultaneously, I began to officiate soccer. Dad was the Colorado referee commissioner and mom the assigner. I started out with recreational leagues. Logging hundreds of games, I earned my way to the collegiate level in my teens. I learned confidence. I vividly recall a collegiate game at the United States Air Force Academy Falcon Stadium. As a Linesmen, I called the out of bounds ball in favor of the visiting team. Visible to no one but me and the player, the ball glanced the Air Force defender calf. As the crowd voiced displeasure, she ran by saying, “good call.” A leader makes tough calls even when unpopular.
Janitor. My most impactful work was serving as a medical facility janitor. Each weekday evening, I had three hours to mop, sweep and buff the floors of a large outpatient clinic. I can still see, smell and feel the moment. While cleaning exam rooms, Black Sabbath screaming on my Walkman, I discovered my healthcare calling. I knew in my heart I was created to serve. I learned attention to detail. If I left anything unclean, it was reported. I served so that there were zero complaints. No matter your position, a leader never forgets their roots.
I am thankful for First Jobs and lessons learned:
- Humility. I exist to serve others. Delivering papers, ensuring a fair game, or mopping vomit. The world is not about me. I have a small role in a big world. I must never forget.
- Responsibility. If I do not rise early, there is no paper on the door step. If I don’t sweep an exam room, it remains dirty for the patient. If I do not enforce soccer rules, the game is meaningless. I must be action oriented.
- Reward. If I do not seek new subscribers and collect money, I don’t get paid. If I do not meet customer expectations, I am fired. If I do not hone my ref skills, I lose assignments. I must earn my pay every day.
- Hard Work. To keep jobs, I must produce good outcomes. On snow days it means extra time scrubbing floors. I have to be as sharp officiating my seventh weekend game as my first. There is no substitute to take my paper route if I am sick. I must be accountable.
Reflection provides powerful motivation and informs us how to raise other leaders around us.
I am struck how our First Jobs set the foundation for our future careers. I do not know where I would be without these formative experiences. Early experiences with accountability, hard work, and humility are the stones we use to pave the way for success. We should not shelter people from challenging work. First Jobs are worth looking back upon to make adjustments in places we lost our way.
What was your first job and a key lesson learned that shapes you today?