10 first jobs and the lessons they taught

Waitress In Cafe Serving Customer With Coffee

Barbara Corcoran tried 22 jobs before she found the right career. That was the subject and title of a video interview she did with LinkedIn Executive Editor, Daniel Roth. But it was what she said about those jobs that served up some interesting conversation.

The ABC-TV Shark Tank star and co-founder of Corcoran Venture Partners shared that she learned more about how to be successful from the menial jobs she had than from being a real estate broker. Surely, Barbara wasn’t the only one that took away such career- impacting lessons from a first job. Was she? There was one way to find out.

Four hours after watching the LinkedIn video, I was heading into a Washington County Chamber business networking event and picked up a “giveaway” note pad and shiny red pen from a table. Then I set out among hundreds of chamber members to find 10 people to answer this question – What was one of your first jobs and what did it teach you that has impacted your success?

Here is what they said:

Potato chip truck delivery driver – I was 25 years old and had a potato chip truck route. I traveled all over Pittsburgh. I had to decide every day how to plan out my route. One day, I was waiting in the truck to go into a store because they wouldn’t let two delivery drivers in at the same time. I noticed kids kept going in to play Pac-Man on the video machines. I decided to buy a few machines and put them in a video game store. I was making as much from the video games as I was doing the potato truck route, so I sold the chip route and devoted the extra time I had to launch a supply business. I learned logistics and time management. – Paul Battista, Co-Owner SunnySide Supply, Inc.

Dishwasher- I was a dish washer at the age of 12. I saw that people enjoyed coming into the restaurant and I knew what I did mattered. I also learned that hard work equals a pay check. –Joe Podolinski, National Sales – Falck Safety Services

Farm hand – My family had a dairy farm. I fertilized, cut corn, planted crops – you name it. Being able to spend time with my dad doing this is what taught me the most. Even when times were difficult, he always had a positive attitude and a smile while working on the farm. He did this 16 hours a day and he managed to make it 10 hours on Sunday. And we always went to church. My dad raised us in a house that was 867 square feet with five kids and two in-laws living there. That level of positivity in the face of adversity – my life is easy compared to his. As I was growing up, just knowing I was doing something every day that contributed to my family gave real meaning to my life. – Patrick O’Brien, Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer – Community Bank

Baling hay – We didn’t have a farm, but we had 18 horses. I learned more about people by dealing with horses than I did by working with people. One day, when I was baling hay, a pony looked up at one of the horses and nipped him from behind. The horse took off because he was scared and the other horses followed thinking he was the leader. The lesson learned – Things aren’t always as they seem. Somebody can mask being a leader until their true colors come out. – John Milinovich, CPA – Executive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer – Washington Financial Bank

Bingo tip girl – It was my job at bingo to walk around and sell tips from the tip board. I was 12 years old. The bingo was held at the Bentworth Community Athletic Club every Friday night. At that age, you want to be with your friends having fun, but I knew I had a job to do. Being a tip girl taught me not to quit and to follow through with a commitment. – Laural Ziemba – Director, Public Affairs – Range Resources

Construction Laborer – From the time I was 12 years old until I was in my early 20’s, I worked during the summers as a construction laborer doing whatever the boss wanted me to do. I mixed cement, carried block, drove equipment and did any task that he needed for me to do to the best of my ability. The job taught me to always work hard; be on time; take personal responsibility; and to know that at the end of the day, I would have to please someone else to earn a pay check. – Christopher Wagner, Senior Manager- Wallace & Pancher, Inc.  

Raking rocks – My job was to scrape rocks off of a roof into a dumpster below. I was 16 years old. Lesson learned: You have to learn to put up with and get along with people. – Tripp Kline, retired- community development activist

Placing identification stickers on common household products – My job was to accurately place stickers on various common name brand products that are sold in stores throughout the United States. It was a transition job that I obtained, through a temporary agency, after I graduated from law school so that I could maintain some degree of employment while studying for the bar exam. This job exposed me to a variety of fascinating people who were each involved in different stages of product production and design. It taught me that there are no small jobs, and that it is important to pay attention and take pride in your job no matter what it is. – Wendy A. Mullen, Attorney at Law – Steptoe & Johnson

Coke oven worker – Working in the steel industry in the hot coke ovens taught me that I didn’t want to do this for the rest of my life. I went to college. – Mark DeHaven, Territory Manager – Creative Image Technologies

Waitress – I was a waitress at an “all you can eat” steakhouse. I couldn’t stop and write the customer’s orders down. I had to juggle it mentally. I’d make one swing through the kitchen to get a fork or whatever they needed. As a TV news director, it’s just like that. You’re sitting in front of a bank of monitors and don’t have time to stop and look. It’s a mental job. You have graphics coming up on the left, going to a long shot, etc. I taught a TV production class and told the students if they want to be good at this to go wait tables in a fast moving restaurant. – Dorothy Tecklenburg, TV News Director

It’s not only what Barbara and the chamber members gave to their first jobs – it’s what they took away. And it is those lessons that have lead to their success today.

What did your first job teach you?

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