I’m proud of my position as a leader in my industries, but here’s something that may surprise you: I’m just as proud of my minimum wage past. From my first job at a car wash to a government gig that paid less than $3/hour, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for these positions. Every job on my resume gave me a different set of skills that helped me move forward in my career. Here are a few of the key lessons learned from minimum wage employment.
- A minimum wage job is better than no job at all. In my early 20s, there was a period when I just couldn’t land a job. I had a lot of interviews, but no bites. Finally, I was offered a government job that paid $2.32 an hour (which was minimum wage back then, believe it or not). I was incredulous. Who would work for that? That’s when an unexpectedly wise friend reminded me that I was currently making nothing, and that the job would offer a clear upgrade from my unemployed status. I couldn’t argue with him, so I took the job, and it helped me tiptoe into the real world of gainful employment.
- Treat others with empathy and respect. I’ve worked in a factory. I’ve cleaned out prison toilets during a stint as a janitor. I find it hard to look down my nose at anyone who’s working hard to make a living, no matter how dirty they have to get to earn their paycheck. It’s difficult to judge when I’ve been there myself, and I have a special place in my heart for minimum wage workers.
- You’ll be rewarded for having an enterprising spirit. After accepting that job as a community organizer for a government agency, I jumped right into learning how to write grants to get funding. Over time, I developed and orchestrated a pretty amazing program that combined different funding sources for our agency. I was good at my job, I loved what I was doing, and I started to work my way up the ranks. Ultimately, I left that job to work as a consultant to other agencies, then started my first company.
I’ll admit that not every minimum wage job offers the same kind of growth opportunities I had, but here’s the thing: If there’s nowhere for you to move up, you’ve got to be proactive enough to recognize that and to change your situation. Be smart enough to know how to let yourself grow, regardless of your starting point.