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What Was Your First Job?

Do your first job well, and you’re likely to get a second

Colleen McCaig got her first job last week. Having delivered fliers door to door in her Fairhaven community, the 10-year-old waited by the phone.
    “It will never work,” she wailed to her mother. “Nobody will call.”
    A two-hour vigil tested the girl’s patience. But the phone did ring, and, sure enough, a neighbor enticed by Colleen’s enthusiastically lettered promotion asked her to walk a pair of dogs.
    Another neighbor reports that her daughter’s efforts to build a dog-care business did not go so well. “Perhaps she didn’t do enough marketing,” the mother surmised.
    That’s the kind of world we’ve evolved. Where entrepreneurs rule, even 10-year-olds have to devise marketing campaigns.
    First jobs are on my mind this week, for they’re the subject of this year’s Back to Work feature, which has become a Labor Day tradition for Bay Weekly.
    I love the two-dozen brief tales offered by Bay Weekly writers to develop Margaret Tearman’s bright idea. I loved them first as stories, illuminating unique life experiences, rather than as lessons in how to succeed in business.
    But before long I saw a lesson in all these tales, brought up to date by my neighborhood girls. In fact, a set of lessons.
    Maybe you’ll find these lessons interesting, and they’ll set you reflecting, as they have me, on your own first jobs. I’ve revisited not only first jobs in my family (mine was envelope addresser and coat-check girl in my family restaurant; husband and sons were newspaper boys) but also the attitudes we brought to them. Some of us were born to succeed. Others of us had to be dragged to work kicking and screaming.
    Maybe I’ll try to teach this little list of lessons to my grandchildren, who are getting to first-job age. If they’ll listen. If you figure out how to get kids, grand or otherwise, to listen, please let me know.
    Maybe these lesson’s only life will be the moment you read them on this page.
    For what it’s worth, here goes:
    Lesson 1: Want to work.
    End-of-summer boredom? Eagerness to make a bit of money? Adventure? Independence? Whatever your motive, it helps to decide that work is a means to an end well worth giving up the luxury of doing nothing.
    Lesson 2: Assess your skills.
    Many first jobs come to us by chance. If you’ve got to make your own, start with what you know.
    Both my neighborhood girls have dogs at home. Neither has younger brothers or sisters. Presumably, they’ve learned more about dogs than kids; possibly, they think dogs are easier to manage and more fun than kids. So both chose to be pet rather than baby sitters.
    Lesson 3: Match your skills to the environment.
    Both girls are too young to go to work, and too distant, except from such home-based businesses as crabbing and lawn care. On the other hand, the neighborhood is full of dogs and cats, all within walking and biking distance.
    Lesson 4: Market your skills.
    I hired Colleen because her marketing campaign charmed me. For no particular reason, I hang a basket by my door, and that’s where Colleen put her flyer; at last, the basket had found its purpose. Even more than her flyer’s bright hand lettering in five colors, Colleen’s scope and confidence captured my attention: Dog Walking and Pet Sitting • Walks • Brushing • Baths • Nail Clippings • Feeding • Do you need someone to watch your pet while you are on vacation? Colleen can do that, too! she wrote.
    She headlined her flyer with price points and a call to action: Low priced! • Great Quality! • Call today!
    Teddy Roosevelt — quoted by Margaret Tearman for the First Jobs feature — said, When you are first asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, “Certainly I can! Then get busy and find out how to do it.”
    Who can resist confidence? I hired Colleen to furminate one large, agreeable dog and two small, touchy cats.
    Lesson 5: Enjoy your work.
    “I love dogs,” Colleen said, hugging Moe as she brushed him. The happiest people I’ve known loved their work and felt they recreated themselves in it most every day.
    Lesson 6: Build on your success.
    Success is a powerful motivator. The girl who got no calls at first didn’t try again. Colleen got customers, but she’ll have to work as hard on keeping her job as she did on getting it. Part of building on success is keeping in touch with your customers so they stay fresh on what you’ve got to offer. (Call me, Colleen. Ask if Moe wants a walk or needs another furmination.)
    Learning more is another part of success. Maybe Colleen will learn more about cat psychology. We seldom know what there is to know until we start learning it. Work is a great teacher of that principle.
    In fact, there’s no better way to get a second job than to have gotten a first one.
    What was your first job? What did you bring to it? Where did it take you? Please finish this year’s Labor Day story with your own story. Send them to me at [email protected].