Lessons From My First Job

August 11, 2015 by

ed with detergent ecologicalBoth of my daughters are now getting their first taste of joining the working world, something all of us experienced years ago. Seeing their excitement and challenges from babysitting have made me a little nostalgic about my first job.

Do you remember your first job? What did you learn that helped you in nearly every other job you’ve had since? What experiences in that job did you knowingly jettison and attempt to avoid in all of your future jobs? Exploring these questions can yield some pretty powerful knowledge about how you approach you current job.

I started out on the bottom employment rung at a restaurant in northern Wisconsin called Mama’s Bella Vista. At age 15, I began as a dishwasher, water hose in hand, spraying half-eaten food remains into a disposal, and racking plates and glasses into a commercial dishwasher. My hourly wage was the minimum at that time, $1.60 per hour.

There were four core and invaluable lessons from this first job at Mama’s Bella Vista.

1. Work ethic pays off.

Having already learned work ethic from my parents’ expectations to do chores growing up, I made it a point to attack the tasks at hand with great energy and passion, earning the nickname “the tornado” at the restaurant. Someone in “Salads” noticed and I was quickly promoted to that department. Then, someone in “Pizzas” noticed, and I was promoted into that department.

2. Get paid, ensure that you are paid fairly, and keep your mouth shut.

My first “paycheck” was an envelope full of cash. When I came home and asked my Dad why I did not get a paycheck, showing him the envelope, he just smiled and said, “double-check it is what you are owed and keep your mouth shut. That is your paycheck.” Given my limited experience and the fact that I was only 15 years old, I correctly concluded that I was indeed being paid fairly.

3. Mentorship is life-changing.

While working in “Pizzas,” I was noticed yet again by Jerry, one of the Head Chefs. Since Jerry had a birds-eye view of my work and energy from his part of the kitchen, he tagged me as “high potential” as the next Co-Head Chef of the restaurant. Without Jerry’s patient teaching and nurturing, as well as the mentorship I received from another Chef named Larry, I never would have become a successful Head Chef. The experience and early job success played an instrumental part in my life. In fact, both of the Mothers who raised me were convinced the only reason I remained single until age 37 was that I could cook for myself.

4. There will always be a “corporate ladder.”

Excelling from the “lowest” job as dishwasher to Co-Head Chef confirmed this fact. Although it may be in a different form, no job is without having to “pay your dues” and/or perform tasks you do not like to do. Although some Millennials might like to think otherwise, the wise younger workers adopt the Nike slogan of “Just do it,” as their parents and Gen X’ers did years before. If you exhibit high energy and passion in these moments, someone will notice.

I took a lesson from my first job and imparted it to my daughters before they started working. How could they stand out as babysitters and get rehired? Easy. I told them to do the dishes after the kids go to bed. Doing more than what’s expected is how you succeed in any job. From my observation in our own kitchen, they haven’t yet earned the Tornado nickname, but I can definitely see their work ethic start to bloom. In fact, I might even promote them to “Salads” pretty soon.



Kevin Sheridan is an internationally-recognized Keynote Speaker, a New York Times Best Selling Author, and one of the most sought-after voices in the world on the topic of Employee Engagement. For five years running, he has been honored on Inc. Magazine’s top 100 Leadership Speakers in the world, as well as Inc.’s top 100 experts on Employee Engagement. He was also honored to be named to The Employee Engagement Award’s Top 101 Global Influencers on Employee Engagement of 2017.

Having spent thirty years as a high-level Human Capital Management consultant, Kevin has helped some of the world’s largest corporations rebuild a culture that fosters productive engagement, earning him several distinctive awards and honors. Kevin’s premier creation, PEER®, has been consistently recognized as a long-overdue, industry-changing innovation in the field of Employee Engagement. His first book, Building a Magnetic Culture, made six of the best seller lists including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. He is also the author of The Virtual Manager, which explores how to most effectively manage remote workers.

Kevin received a Master of Business Administration from the Harvard Business School in 1988, concentrating his degree in Strategy, Human Resources Management, and Organizational Behavior. He is also a serial entrepreneur, having founded and sold three different companies.

Email: kevin@kevinsheridanllc.com