On Your First Job, From Dad

It’s rare that I post something of a non-theological nature, but I thought I would share a bit of my personal life this week.  My oldest daughter is taking her first job (a retail job at the mall).  Here are some “Dad thoughts” that I shared. I pray they may also be of use to those starting this phase of life.


As you enter the working world, a couple of thoughts from someone who loves you (and happens to hire, manage, mentor, and unfortunately fire people.)

Congratulations! The fact that you’re even stepping up to the plate and taking a job sets you apart from nearly half of the people in this country.  Never take for granted that a job, any job, makes you a contributor; A giver in a land and culture dominated by takers. Employment is something to be proud of.

With that said, there are a few things I’d like you to know.  A few principles that, if understood, will greatly aid you as you move into the next 40+ years of working life:

1. Nobody owes you anything.  That may sound harsh, but your job isn’t guaranteed. It’s not owed to you. The company you choose to work for is in the business of business, not in the business of giving people jobs. The fact that your employment allows them to make money is, at the very basic level, the arrangement. Never forget this.

2. Employment is a trade: You are trading your time and effort for money.  This sounds obvious, but you need to understand this.  You are trading a priceless commodity for cash. If you don’t determine for yourself the balance of this exchange, you’re going to get overworked, underpaid, and miss out on life.  Only you can determine what this balance looks like.

3. Earn your job every single day.  When you leave work ask yourself “Did I do enough today to earn the right to come back tomorrow?”  There are people who are content to do as little as possible to stay employed. Don’t be one. You aren’t above hard work or getting your hands dirty. Show initiative. Before you leave for the day ask your boss if there’s anything else that needs to be done. Separate yourself from the pack.

4. Learn your business. What do Abercrombie & Fitch, McDonalds, and Barnes and Noble have in common? They’ve invested in buildings, inventory, and people to do one thing: Make profits for their shareholders.  The only difference is in how they do it. Learn how your employer makes money, and help them make more. Better service? More sales? Less waste? If you don’t know, ask your boss. If your boss doesn’t know, ask their boss. You’re now prepared to take the job of the boss who didn’t know.

5. Learn everything. Learn the entire business. Use free time to learn other roles. The more you know, the more valuable you are to your employer. The more valuable you are, the more you make.  I personally know a board member of a Fortune 500 retailer who started in the shoe department.  It doesn’t matter where you start. Learn everything; How to run the registers, how to close out registers, how inventory works. Ask questions.

6.  Work to serve. Our faith teaches us that our vocation is the way by which God blesses the earth. There are no worthless or insignificant jobs.  While it’s obvious that the farmer raises food for us to eat and the truck driver brings it to our town, some aren’t so obvious: The person taking the trash out at the fast food restaurant ensures that our meals aren’t contaminated. There are no worthless jobs, and nobody who shows up and puts in an honest days work is to be looked down upon. Ever.

7. Find mentors. Starting at the bottom? Good. Learn the business from the ground up. Learn from everyone; from some how to lead, and from some how not to lead. When you find those you respect, tell them.  Ask them questions. What do you need to know to make the next step? What do they wish they would have known at your age? What can you do to improve yourself, your team, and your company?  I can count on one hand how many people have done that who have worked for me. I remember them by name, and they’ve all been successful.

8. Be the CEO of You, Inc.  A mentor once told me that in the business relationship, the only person negotiating for you and your family is you.  That means that you need to intentionally manage every aspect of your working life; How much time are you willing to trade for money? How much are you worth? What do you want to do? How do you gain the skills to do what you want? Is this the right company for you to do it?

9. Integrity. Work hard. Your work is a reflection of you, your family, and your faith.  I can’t overemphasize the value of hard work and integrity. Over the course of your career, your integrity can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Never sell it.  I’ve seen people end their careers by selling their integrity. Don’t do it. If it’s not yours, don’t take it. If you didn’t earn it, don’t take it. Don’t “fudge” your hours or expense reports. If it’s $9.84, it’s $9.84, not $10.  Your integrity is worth more than $ .16.

10. Enjoy yourself.   Enjoy the people you work with. You’re going to spend a lot of time at work. Get to know people and what matters to them. Your co-workers aren’t tools to use, they’re people who are making the same time-money trade that you are.  Everyone in a company has an important role; the CEO is no more important than the first-day high school student folding t-shirts or taking orders at the counter. Don’t believe me? Ask the company who lost millions in stock value over high school employees making stupid YouTube videos while on the clock. Whether you’re the CEO or the grocery bagger, never judge your worth or anyone else’s by title or salary. I’ve scrubbed toilets and I’ve flown on the company jet and I’m no better now than I was then.  Treat everyone you work with the respect they deserve. Like you, they’ve earned it by stepping up to the plate.


I love you. I respect you taking this step into responsible adulthood.


Now, head up… smile… and show ’em what you’ve got!



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