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What Does My First Job Have to Do with Success?

Is your first job any indicator of how successful you’ll be anytime in the future? I ask because it’s something I think about all the time.

My first job was customer-service based. I started out as a cashier with the local McDonald’s and eventually moved my way up to assistant manager. It was an accelerated progression – within a year – since my managers at the time were impressed with my work ethics and mannerisms. I was a hard worker, shy as well since coming of age in my late teens. It was a hot summer and I was frankly so tired of living under my parents’ watchful eyes that I asked a friend if she’d help me land a job there since she was dating the general manager. She did, and this led to other opportunities until I found myself where I am today: in the field of economic development helping clients secure jobs and firmly plant a career of their choosing.

How did I get here? Like most teens, I was pretty shy and awkward. I preferred to work in the background and I hated attention. At McDonald’s, as an assistant manager you’re mostly responsible for back operations: making sure schedules are created, crew members are dressed appropriately and neatly, the kitchen is clean, queues are moving up to speed, and tills are packed with the change the cashiers needed. I absolutely loved my job. Loved the fast-paced setting, the autonomy as a leader, helping customers out, racing against my colleagues to be the first to move a queue and empty the lobby. It was all in fun.

I later moved on to a retail job with a company that sold exclusive name brand clothing. Then I did a brief stint with a book publishing company, made my way to a court stenographer job (absolutely loved it!). All the while I found myself still racing to find myself in the workforce, trying to find a balance between what I wanted for myself and what my parents expected from me. Once again, it was all in fun. I never did take the process seriously. How could I? By the time I was in my mid-20s I was earning more money than I knew what to do with.

Then came business school and an attempt at making it through corporate America as an accountant. Yuck! The cutthroat atmosphere literally made me sick. Fast forward a few years down the road and I’m at a nonprofit, where I work at my own pace, and the income – naturally – isn’t at its peak as it once was for me. But once again, I love my job and enjoy serving my clients. But still, it’s slower, less money than the public sector, and a lot more discrete since I am responsible for the privacy of my clients.

After I moved on from McDonald’s, every time a supervisor complimented my work style, I’d answer, “Everything I learned about work, I learned from McDonald’s.” Clearly the lessons of customer relations and running a company positively stuck with me since that time. Does it have anything to do with my success at my current job? Absolutely. Who’d have thought a fast food restaurant would have such an impression on me nearly four decades later.

When I think back on my career trek, I see the progression I made, then the failure (I lost a business) and then the final succession. It reminds me a lot of my time at that first job. The boring morning routine, followed by the fast lunch crowd, and then slowly trickling down to the comfort of the quiet dinner guests. All the time holding tightly to my work ethics and my strong belief in service while proudly patting myself on the back for my financial independence and everything I continue to absorb and learn along the way. I’ve come full circle, as I was meant to. All thanks to that first job that taught me the thrill and determination of being an independent and self-sufficient career woman.

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