Your #FirstSevenJobs can help you make sense of your career

mm Russ Finkelstein

We tend to believe that successful people have always been working towards their current job. What’s great about the #FirstSevenJobs meme is that it shows just how roundabout the career path has actually been for most of us. It underscores how much we can learn in any work situation, and how any job can play a surprising role in who we become. In this spirit, we took a look at our own #FirstSevenJobs.

Russ Finkelstein, Managing Director of ClearlyNext:

Note: my list excludes lots of volunteering.

  1. Hanger Replacer: My father was a sales representative for different fashion lines. Each time a new line would arrive, my siblings and I would take the clothes off of the cheap hangers they were on and put them on better hangers. We hated doing this, but I learned what it meant to care about something enough to not settle and how experience builds expertise.
  2. Paperboy: I was responsible for delivering the newspaper to my community that (at the time) had the highest circulation in New Jersey. It’s fun to think now about how excited I was to get $2 on a $1.25 bill. I gained the confidence it took to go up to strangers and ask for payment, in particular those who hadn’t paid for weeks.
  3. Stock Room Worker: I unloaded and placed new arrivals out for purchase and cleaned out the warehouse. I learned that when your primary source of  excitement at your job is having lunch at McDonald’s, the work probably won’t sustain you for the summer (or longer).
  4. Gas Station Attendant: I was in charge of filling gas tanks, changing oil, washing windshields and giving correct change. I loved this job. I was, however, work-ethic-shamed by my colleagues for excitedly running out to each car. This was my first experience realizing that my customer service approach might not be normal.
  5. Cruise Ship Worker: I lived and worked on a ship. It was a bit like travelling far below-deck on the Titanic. I spent my time doing laundry, checking the engine room and guarding the ship’s entrance when we were in port. This was the first job I had where I was told to not help the clients (a.k.a. passengers). I also learned that while the pay was amazing our quality of life made it way less fun.
  6. Center Director and Associate Director: My first full-time job post-college was spent at Higher Achievement Program. After an initial 15 months as a Center Director for 100 7th-9th graders, I spent two years as an Associate Director for the 7 learning centers across Washington, D.C. I think of this as the springboard for much of what I learned to love later on. I gained confidence here that I could have and realize ideas.
  7. Law Firm Temp: I was one of 15 people working for a firm redacting documents. It was the last time I held an hourly job as my primary income. About a month into the job, everyone else on the team was let go except for me. Why? The job offered time-and-a-half when you worked more than 40 hours a week, dinner if you worked past 7 pm, and a ride home if you stayed past 10 pm. This meant I was working 80 hours weekly. I can’t have an hourly full-time job.

You can see that I learned lots about what I liked to do and how I approach work in general. I hope you take the time to consider what got you to where you are – and what to take and discard as you think about what you are going to do next.

Bill Pace, Managing Director of ClearlyNext

  1. Gardener: I grew up on 2 acres in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Every year from March to October as far back as I can remember, I was paid 50 cents an hour to weed and tend our family gardens. I hated it.
  2. House Painter: Summer after my freshman year in college, my father asked if I’d like to repaint our house. I thought I could get the job done quickly, so I negotiated a fixed price. I grossly underestimated the work involved.
  3. HR Clerk: After my prior stints, I decided that indoor work was the ticket. So, the next summer, I worked in the HR department of a hospital, as a glorified filing clerk. The work was a lot easier, but boy was it boring.
  4. School Bus Mechanic (junior grade): The next summer I worked as a low level school bus mechanic. The company had a ton of business, so the pressure was high to get all the work done before the start of the school year. While the work was good, what I really learned was that I respond well to tight timetables. Turns out pressure can be a good thing if you like what you’re doing.
  5. Waiter: During my junior and senior years in college, I worked as a waiter. The money was reasonably good and the work itself was pretty easy, except it turns out that a lot of people are really finicky about what they eat. And when they’re unhappy, they take it out on the wait staff. I did learn to take abuse without getting wigged out about it, so I guess that’s a life skill. Right?
  6. Math Tutor: After graduating from college, I decided I wanted to be a teacher and entered a master’s program in education. To make ends meet, I did a lot of tutoring, mostly in math. I loved working with the kids and seeing lots of light bulbs go off.
  7. Elementary School Teacher: I did it! I made it to the mountaintop (or so I thought at the time). I loved teaching, but I didn’t like the fixed-schedule and other forms of regimentation that come with the job. So after two years, I moved on. I still was (and am) passionate about education. It just turned out that specific job in the field wasn’t for me.

All seven of those jobs were really important in helping me figure out and then navigate what I chose to do with the rest of my career. All the pieces help make the whole.