My First Job

My First Job

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I actually had two first jobs. One I consider my first job ever. And the other I think of as my first job as an adult. Both were very good learning experiences that taught me life lessons. And they also reinforced a common process of decision-making in my life: they helped me understand what I did like, by doing what I didn't.

The employment options available to me in high school were limited because of my disability. Most retail and fast food positions, common sectors for teenage hires, were too physically demanding or inaccessible. So when an opportunity came along to get paid for talking on the phone (telemarketing), it seemed like a perfect fit. For about six months of my junior year, I did cold calls about three nights a week for Farmer's Insurance. This was back in the early 90's when insurance agents had list books of phone numbers and they would pay young folks such as myself, to call and solicit people for home, auto or life insurance. I mostly pitched auto insurance. If I could keep someone on the phone long enough to answer some basic questions, and ideally agree to have an agent follow up, that was a win. A minimum of 10 wins in one night was considered a good night.

Well, good, according to the agent. Bad for me. Looking back I have no idea how I even lasted six months at that job. While I felt a temporary sense of accomplishment, only punctuated by the delivery of a paycheck every two weeks, it wasn't enough to make me love the job. Or even love insurance for that matter. I suppose you could say that job was the first test of my work ethic, except for the fact that I was, and always have been, a hard worker who does my best to finish what I start. Thankfully it was a shifting schedule of home and school priorities, requiring my nights back that provided me the escape hatch from the Farmer's gig.

I didn't get another high school job again. I was very lucky that financially, I didn't have to work. Looking back I realize that a large motivation for me to work was peer pressure and wanting to fit in. Having an after school job was something that I wanted to do because so many of my peers worked. But once I checked that box and proved I could do it, I chose to focus on academics for the reminder of high school and continuing through college.

All good things must come to an end though, right? After graduating with my Bachelor's Degree in journalism my parents informed me that I needed to find some gainful employment. It felt kind of harsh at the time, but down deep I knew they were right. I understood that a key component of my true independence, especially since I wanted to live by my own rules, was making my own money.

Unfortunately for me, I didn't have a lot of job leads lined up after college. I learned about temporary placement agencies, so I called up Manpower, one of the largest, and set up an interview. I completed a skills assessment test (typing, grammar, basic math and computer literacy) of which I passed. Additionally, my disability didn't seem to be an issue. Within days of applying, my job placement specialist called and said there was a job opening in an accounting office at a company that builds and designs trade show exhibits. To be honest I couldn't have cared what the company did. As long as I could do the job at a desk, and they paid me for it, I was open for anything. Did I mention my parents had cut me off and I had rent to pay?

The accounting office at Displaymasters was located upstairs overlooking the warehouse. As I came to learn in the few years I worked there, it was the most quiet, and dare I say, boring, office in the whole building. But I had no point of reference for that insight at the time. The three ladies that I shared the office with, Penny, Lynn, and Pat were all really kind and patient with me as I learned how the office functioned and my responsibilities.

The assignment was supposed to last a couple of months. What I came to realize, however, was that this time in accounting was actually a probationary testing period (ahem, gauntlet) to see if I could be a good fit for other administrative roles in the company. See, that is the thing with temping. It is a low-risk proposition for employers because they get to trial-period candidates that have already been skills-vetted, without having to a) do the screening themselves and b) go though any official hiring procedures just to find out it's not a good fit. What I liked about temping (Manpower wasn't the only company I ever temped for) was for the exact same reasons, but from the opposite perspective. I got to try out different job roles and employers, with the guarantee I'd get a check whether they liked me or not. And if I didn't like the work, all I had to do was finish out my pre-committed assignment period.

As life happens, just about three years later, I found myself giving my two-week's notice at Displaymasters. I decided it was time to leave because management wasn't going to allow me to expand my work into areas of marketing and communications. It was disappointing because I felt that I had paid my dues. From starting off in the Siberia of accounting, then being hired on as a permanent employee, from which I made my way through the org chart: working the front desk reception area, then doing admin and inventory work in shipping and receiving, to finally being an account manager for the sales execs. I hoped that when I expressed an interest to do some more creative work, it would have been embraced and mentored. Instead I was told "thanks but no thanks."

That rejection was one of the many lessons I learned at that first job. That being, just because you think you are owed something, doesn't mean you'll get it. I also made a promise to myself that I would never let a superior make me cry. I'm proud to report it is a promise I have kept many jobs and many years later.

I don't know how a person is "supposed" to feel about their first real job. I don't think there is a standard answer because everyone's experiences are so unique. I do reflect back on that time in my life while working at Displaymasters as overall very positive. I made some great friendships, I learned a lot about a dynamic industry I didn't even know existed, and I learned some hard truths about business.

But mostly, as I think back to that time in my life, all I was trying to do was get a job to fix an immediate problem. And yet I ended up living an experience that would lay the foundation for the rest of my professional working career.

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