Life Lessons for Career Success in a Changing World

A blog article by Bonniejean Alford (educator, activist, world citizen)

I got my first “real” office job at sixteen.

That is the honest truth. I was sixteen and one of my mother’s clients needed someone to handle patient filing while another employee was on vacation. I did such an amazing job in that one week that they hired me to fill a different vacant spot. Since it was summer vacation, I jumped at the chance to earn money working full-time.

Always do your best, as you don’t know where it could lead.

That lesson has carried me through life. With every contact, every situation, I keep my eyes open; I am aware of all potential outcomes and present myself in a manner that no one else can do the job quite like me. Let me tell you a secret: I know others absolutely can do the job, but why go looking elsewhere when I am right here, ready to work? That attitude has gotten me many, many a job. I have received offers on the spot, no interview, just an offer. Don’t get me wrong, I have had to apply for jobs and interview just like everyone else, without getting hired, but sharing what I can do while networking, invaluable.

It is important to know what you can do, but be willing to try out new skills and see where it takes you.

The office was an eye doctor. In fact, they were one of the premiere ophthalmologists in Southern California – one of the inventors of the Radial Keratotomy, precursor to laser eye surgery. This was before OSHA guidelines were imposed, which meant I was able to learn everything I could about the eye care industry. While my official job was managing the check-out desk, I also assisted with patients and surgeries. Yes, I assisted in Radial Keratotomy surgeries.

All at sixteen.

I learned so much about myself in that job. I learned that I really could learn anything. I learned that I could handle large amounts of money. I learned that I enjoyed working with the public. But the most important lessons from that job ultimately led to the most important life lesson, which I will get to in time.

During my time at this job, as well as others, I realized I did not want to work for another person. That is, I wanted to be my own boss.

Yes, at sixteen I knew I was meant for an entrepreneurial lifestyle. I guess I should point out that while this was my first real “office” job, it really wasn’t my first taste of employment. Prior to this I had spent my time babysitting and working for my mother in her home business. I am not really sure I consider those part time endeavors as jobs exactly, except that they did earn me money.

I loved the way I was earning money babysitting, setting my own hours, deciding how we spent the babysitter/babysittee time. Another secret: I loved playing dolls with my charges. Despite being a teenager, there was something relaxing about having permission to let down the adult-esque wall and return to childhood for a moment or two, even if responsibly doing so.

And I was always called back.

You see, when I babysat I went above and beyond, another life lesson in and of itself.

While I was there to protect the kids, I also felt I was there to help make the parents’ lives a bit easier. I did the dishes, I vacuumed, I got the kids to do their homework and help with chores. Essentially, when the parents, my clients, came home, they were able to relax and, at least for one night, not worry about those mundane household obligations. Sometimes I think they called me to “babysit” so I would clean their house.

I didn’t really care, since they paid me well: my regular hourly rate plus huge tips.

Even after I took the job in the eye doctor’s office, I kept babysitting. It was good extra money and I really did like being my own boss, something I had been doing since my very first babysitting job at eleven years old. Yes, I said eleven.

It was such a different world back then.

It was a time when you didn’t need to worry as much about identity theft, kidnapping, crime, or all the things we worry about today. Oh, I know there was crime back in the day, but it wasn’t in the forefront of our everyday lives.  And how much you were paid wasn’t at the forefront of the work either – rather doing the work well was more important.

At least it was from the perspective of one so young.  Maybe I was naïve.

I imagine adults didn’t see the world as I saw it at sixteen. I wasn’t yet part of the rat race, so to speak. And I do love the rat race. I love every aspect of negotiations for a job. I love proving myself worthy. I love the feeling I get when selected for a job by a new client. I love sitting down and pressing that first key stroke for a job, no matter the type of work.

Most importantly, I have talents and skills that no one else has. My unique life experiences over nearly thirty years since my first babysitting gig creates in me an enigma of experiences that has prepared me for any job that comes along. If I don’t know something important, I research it, I learn it.

I am not afraid to go outside my comfort zone, which is yet another important lesson.

But this has often left me receiving rejections for office jobs, with a statement that I am simply overqualified. How can I be overqualified for a job I can actually do?

This question has and continues to plague me. If I can do the job, if I have the knowledge and expertise to do said job, then why does all the extra knowledge I have in my head matter in any way, shape, or form. I have been told that higher ups are afraid I will take their job. Well, if I wanted their job, I would apply for their job. I have been told that with the extra skills and experience, I would leave and get another job for more money very quickly. That is not who I am. If I commit to working for you, I stay for a reasonable amount of time and beyond, or until the job is done. I have also been told that they just don’t want to pay me more. Well, if I wanted more money, then I would have applied for a different job.

Isn’t it all that simple? Sadly, not really.

It isn’t just about monetary value, but that is a part of it. It is about so much more. It is about knowing what you have to offer the world. It is about knowing what your skills are and your willingness to learn more. As a business woman it is, in part, about knowing what price I should charge clients. But if I like a potential job enough, I have to recognize that lowering my monetary rate from time to time may be warranted if the outcome benefits me greatly by generating future work or just in making the world a better place.

Knowing your worth, in every aspect, is the most important life lesson I have learned throughout my working life.

I know my worth. I know what I have to offer the world. Most importantly, for me, I know it does not involve me sitting in some cubicle working for someone else. I am now, as I have always desired to be, my own boss.

I have clients for whom I provide the most excellent service. Some might argue that they are actually my bosses since they often dictate the terms of a job. I have never viewed it that way; I view them as a partner, with the work aimed at their success. Sometimes, I am a silent partner; sometimes, I am a visible partner. Even with that partnership, at every step, I decide which jobs I want to apply for, stay with, and when to do the work (so long as I meet agreed upon deadlines, of course). I don’t have someone looking over my shoulder telling me what is best for me, which makes me my own boss with many varying partners.

I like this life and I want many career partners, helping each of us continue to build success in this ever-evolving world.

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30 thoughts on “Life Lessons for Career Success in a Changing World

  1. I am very similar when it comes to a job, I remember my first job was also babysitting, I remember taking it very seriously and was only 12 years old. Every job I have had from waitress to Registered nurse I have always gone above and beyond. I believe in always doing the best I can. When I was 18 years old and a waitress at Father and Son Pizzeria I took pride in being the most efficient fastest waitress they ever had. I soon was asked to train the new waitresses. You see I knew my customers would want extra napkins and condiments with their pizza. I did not waste time and as I waited for the pizzas to come up I brought all the things I knew the customers would ask for to the table. I refilled their drinks and quickly wrapped up their pizza when they were done. This attitude got me many jobs as a waitress and I received phenomenal tips. Now that I am a nurse I continue to go above and beyond. I always listen real good to what my patients are telling me and make sure my assessment is thorough. I know I have much to offer to this world we live in and want to leave a legacy. For me there is nothing better at the end of the day when you know you made a difference in somebody’s life.

    1. I agree with your career insight affirming the analytical process towards prioritizing the future “tasks-at-hand” concept. Personally, I have found the implementation of this critical thinking subset in individuals a monumental trademark to their future success in any tier of work. As my career interest revolve around the ever-changing spectrum in IT, this adaptive ‘life-hack” provides a seamless algorithm to obtain peak performance in a multi-faceted workplace. While also employing a similar process of “Design Thinking”, that emphasizes empathy with an individual’s needs, capsizing on satisfying those client and consumer needs before they were needed.

  2. This is an interesting article about careers. You said “Always do you best, as you dont know where it can lead” I came up with a similar saying, why did they hire you? Because you are the best so be the best. Agree that you need to be commited and to love your job to be successful. Having a postive attiude, being fun and doing your best is what its all about. Like you said, in order to succeed in this ever-evolving world career partners should help each other.

    1. I agree with you when it comes to loving what you do. I used to think it was all about the money and how much I could make but then when I went blue-collar I soon learned how much I really love doing it. In order to be successful, I think you have to do something you love because you know you will put your upmost attention and effort into it and that’s what you need to do to really be good at your job.

  3. I feel I can relate with this article greatly in that I always try to give my all in the workplace, which probably has much to do with me becoming management at my previous job in less than a year. It is always important, in my opinion, to display your full potential in the workplace. If there is something I am not exceptional at or can just use a bit of improvement in, I always seek to find and better those areas. Not only does this let people know that you are a reliable and trustworthy individual but it also shows that you are passionate about what you are investing your time in, and create new opportunity in the future. No matter what field the job may be or how much I enjoy it or dislike it, I feel it is important to always give 110%.

    1. I can relate to your comment as well because in my line of work in construction you are always learning, no one knows everything and that is okay. I give it my all every day and no matter how terrible the job is I never complain and always put in all my effort. Whenever I don’t understand something I ask questions, I ask so many questions almost to the point where they tell me to shut up because I want to make sure I understand fully so that I can do the best job possible. I feel this will benefit me greatly in my career path because it shows I care enough and am persistent and willing to learn as much as possible.

  4. Opportunities are miracles that only come around once in a lifetime. If one has the chance to learn something new, then take the chance. One has nothing to lose. For example, I have been in an after school program for about 12 years now. At first, I started out as a student, then I proceeded into being a volunteer, and now I am an official ‘Group Leader.’ Who would have thought that I would have gotten the chance to evolve greatly in the after school program. I have learn a lot throughout those 12 years. Tips and advices that have shaped my life into what it is today.

    1. I could not agree more with your assessment on utilizing third-party programs apart from a profession. The magnitude of these outlets aspire to critical building blocks for sculpting a wider learning curve and mold newly founded fundamentals within our daily lives. It also keeps us rooted in maintaining a universally connected and diverse outlook by engaging with peers of different backgrounds. These perspectives continue to supplement the ever-growing database in supporting the evolution of learning, specifically found in the recent shifts of formal learning practices, by employing a streamlined approach since technology has provided an effective opportunity to eventually eradicate and replace formal education foundations (i.e. instructors, school-buildings, physical-materials, etc..).

  5. I really love how you see employment, due to knowing what you have to offer to the world, like you said. Too many people today see jobs as just gathering money for college, a car, a house, and other overly expensive things. Most people my age set their mind to earning money for college tuition and being able to pay it off in the future. Therefore, the only concern they have is to make money. That’s it. I’ve never heard one of my friends see it another way, like you do. In my opinion, a job should be something you enjoy and gain through each time you do it. Even though a job is work, it should be seen as more than just work. Maybe a change in perspective will change the way people see their jobs. People should look at the entire world and notice how a big chunk of the population can’t even find a job. Changing their perspective will change their life.

  6. This article REALLY resonated with me. I feel that you and I have a somewhat similar background except you are much more driven and optimistic than I am. This is most likely because I don’t know my skills or my strong points and can’t narrow down my interests enough to pick a career field. Or at least I hadn’t, up until recently.

    The first and only jobs I’ve ever had have been in the service industry, specifically serving and bartending. Over the past ten years in this field, I’ve noticed it’s very hard for people to leave this area of work because their lack of experience anywhere else besides the industry hinders them from getting any other kind of work. Herein lies the predicament I am currently in.

    However, I recently took the MBTI and Strong Assessments for another class this semester and I think they are something everyone should take. While it didn’t give me a black and white answer of what I should do with my life, it did point out a few things that I hadn’t noticed about myself previous to taking the assessments.

    This article was inspiring; after reading it I felt motivated and hopeful and wanted really get out there to find out who I am and what I am meant to do with my life. Your drive and confidence is very admirable and kudos to you for all you’ve achieved!

    1. Although I may not share the similar scope in backgrounds I can draw parallels to your obstacles of acknowledging a personal strong suit of skill-sets. I have found the questions provoked by others which often employ themselves into discovering their role amongst life isn’t as important as finding your passion. Once that has been established the pursuit of all future endeavors seamlessly fall into place such as the skills to follow those desires. The key is to never give up trying to accomplish what you are attempting to do, you can never go wrong with a combination of love and inspiration. I have always been a firm believer in the mentality that if you don’t build your own dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs. As Steve Jobs has timelessly illustrated: “The ones who think they are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones who do.”

      1. “If you don’t build your own dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.”

        Wow. This quotation blew my mind. And it’s so so true. How can we every be truly happy if we’re just going through the motions on someone else’s schedule and time and be at their beck and call? This is exactly what most of my previous jobs have entailed and for all of them I developed extreme, crippling depression and anxiety while working there and most strongly in the hour or two before my shifts began.

        You’re right; discovering our role in life is totally different that what we do at our meaningless jobs which we work just to pay the bills; it’s more important to find your true passion and allow the happiness to organically ensue on its own. What a beautiful thing that would be.

        Someday, one day, I’ll grow up and get a grown-up job and it’ll be something I love, on my own time, and with my own rules. And you can quote me on that 😉.

        I’ll send you all an autographed copy of my first book, too!

        God that first quote really spoke to me; very inspiring, motivating, and uplifting. Makes me want to go out and get things started right now. Like right now. I think I’m gonna take a break from posting and check out some job market sites and opportunities.

        Thanks for your insight! Very informative and extremely pertinent to my current situation. You’ve given me a whole new aspect on careers, work, and happiness.

  7. I drew few connections to the article’s synopsis but felt quite familiarized with the author’s intent in correlation to employment. Since the age of 10, I’ve utilized a wide-array of contextualized material, earning a magnitude of IT certifications at an expedited process to eliminate the objective “formal” practice that traditional businesses employ. I determined at an early age in-part by my environment that the world is in dire need of change and understood the only sure way of securing that feat would be under my sole supervision. Therefore, pursuing employment under any other third-party would become futile since that original embodiment may be jeopardized. Those ideals and practices continue to push my self-driven passions in pursuit of sustaining a greater tomorrow in the field of IT, specifically harnessing the full potential of quantum computing mechanics in societies future endeavors. I applaud the admiration for the author’s instinctive ability to reject the status quo, in pursuit of self-interests. There are 86,400 seconds in a day, if society begins to wake up and understand the concept that the effect on others is their greatest currency, the brink of universal potential could be limitless. As one of the most memorable quotes from the movie “Rocky” states: “The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it. But it isn’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward”. I feel that remains true today because our deepest fears are not that we are inadequate but we are powerful beyond measure, since limits such as fears are often an illusion.

  8. I like your point of view and the way it was written. I thought it was interesting and I thought about the jobs that I have had. I feel like I can relate to this article because everyone should have a job since people need money to buy things and you get money by doing a job. Though it is hard to get a job because there are a lot of people in the world which means it is harder to find a job. In the end I enjoyed reading the article.

    1. In conjunction to your comment I also wanted to additionally expand upon the correlation of jobs transitioning to money. Personally, in my experience not all positions are either worth the pay or provide such limited income that the task itself becomes counter-productive. However, they still appeal to individuals at least in my case regarding varying internships that employ valuable insight on to potential future prospects. Just as an advisory note, always remain perspective in scope when analyzing a job’s position in solely monetary terms since that may be destructive to the bigger-picture incentives.

  9. I remember when I first started working at a grocery store near my house. It was an entirely new experience for me, because this was my first job. Going into it, I knew I had to show that I was valuable and able to get the job done better than anyone else. I might have only been a cart attendant, but I quickly became noticed by management. Within a few months, I was everyone’s favorite, and had worked my way up to the grocery department. I had also earned an employee of the month award. Distinguishing yourself is what will get you opportunities like this. If you don’t try, you will not move up in the world. If you show how valuable you are to the company or business, they will take notice of it, and might give you an opportunity you might never get otherwise.

  10. One thing I've learned in the last ten years is that if you want something done the best way is to it yourself. My first job was at a grocery store in high school, but I had no chance of moving up in the company so I looked for other routes of work. Eventually I became interested in business but I didn't have the connections or the finances to do it. Nonetheless through patience I found one that would let me invest with them. So I did and within a few months they where selling products to the grocery store I was working at. Since I was earning more from the business than from the grocery store I left so I explore more intellectual pursuits. From this I learned that I should not wait for someone else to give the go ahead or the ok that you have the knowledge to do something. If you really want something but the world is telling you that you are too young, pick up a book and learn about it, and then when you understand it implement it. You don't need a degree to be a good economist all it takes is time and self determination.

  11. I have learned to always do my best, no matter what. I always think to myself, you never know who is watching you. I feel you should always jump at opportunities because you may never know who is watching you. I worked at Jewel while being in high school and while entering college, I became interested in the elderly population. Sooner then later my friend offered me a job at the assisted living home she works at and I took the job. Ever since being there, I have truly found my passion and I am so happy about it. Your message in this blog seems if you put your heart and soul into anything, you will be able to do it.

  12. Not having my first job until college, I think it’s interesting that you were able to know at such a young age what you wanted to do with your life. I am still not quite sure. Even now that I have a job, it really has nothing to do with the field I am studying in college. It is simply a job that as my parents say, is teaching me responsibility. However, after reading your outlook on your various jobs, I am convinced that attitude matters. Having a more positive attitude and always trying your best can make the work experience positive. I have heard many recent college graduates talk about how difficult it is to find a job after college, especially with no experience in their chosen field, they will take anything they can get. They seem so unhappy, worrying about paying back massive student loans. I can understand this but if you put your best foot forward in whatever position you have, you learn more and make connections that could lead you in a different direction!

  13. I remember getting my first job at an office. It was my senior year in high school and I was taking a course where they would help you look for a job and you got a credit for going to work. To me it was the best decision I have ever made. I applied at a law firm in the same town where I live just 3 minutes from where I live so it is perfect. At first I start it out as an office helper. That was my title. I answered phone calls, took messages, made files, which it was just stapling papers on a blank folder, and I translated, Spanish to English. At some time I started doing other smaller things like giving people information about certain cases. When I started to do more my boss, the lawyer, had a talk with me he said that since I am starting to get the hang of new things around the office I will be able to get started on programs on the computer. To me this was the best thing that could happen. I am a fast learner, and quickly on my feet. I love what I do and two years later I am still working at the law firm. My career is becoming a lawyer so I am very happy that my boss gave me the chance to experience and to take advantage of this great opportunity. I have come so far from the position where I started from being an office helper to a legal assistant. I have much more responsibilities that I have to fulfill, but it’s great. I think that many times your first employer helps shape you. Helps decide what you really want in life.

  14. My first job ever was the job that I am currently working at right now. I started working for this large corporation, that I will not name, when I was fresh out of high school at 18 years old. It’s hard to believe that I am 22 now! Working there has taught me many things, especially about large corporations. Many of those working in managerial positions and in the corporate offices forget where they came from and about the employees working at the bottom of the ladder. We are looked at as just bodies used to make them and their business more money. It is amazing to me how many of those who are high up in the corporate offices, will come into the store and check on how things are going, and will not even say a simple, “hello” to the employees. Knowing your worth is extremely important, as I have learned for myself as well. If you do not believe that you can do better than a job such as this and do not value pushing yourself or your education, then that is the life you have accepted for yourself. However, if you believe that you are more than that, have a greater purpose, are educated, and possess valuable qualities, then you will strive to do better. Everyday working there, I am more and more motivated to work hard in college to attain my degree so that I can get the job I deserve to have. It has also taught me that I want to work somewhere where respect is shown to ALL employees and somewhere where I can incorporate my creativity and be valued it in addition to my hardworking qualities.

  15. When a person wants to become independent the first thing that comes to mind is to look for a job that will take you to be an independent person. In order to obtain a job though there are some things that need to be done. Some people are not able to have the same qualities like some people are able to obtain jobs faster then others because of the qualities. Some people might be shy an others are outgoing and positive in a sense. Well no matter the qualities every person has the same opportunities with jobs as long as you not only meet the requirements, but also make yourself be seen. I have applied to jobs and it has been really easy to get hired because of the way that I let myself be viewed as. Out o all the jobs that I have had one has been the best which is a dental receptionist. It might have been hard at first to learn some codes, but in the end I never gave up and gave it all I had it knowing that it will help out in the future. In the end this was really helpful because it not only connects with me, but it is something that I want to keep doing with my future because I actually want to become a dentist in the later future and this is really great experience. No one should give up on anything whether it has to do with a job that will later be really bright in the actual future.

  16. My mom always told me to always do your best even if its not the right job for you, it will get you somewhere in life. My first job was working at a retirement home as a dining server. Everyday at 3:30-7:30 I would serve the old people their dinner and have some good conversations with them about their past. All my grandparents died when I was very young, so I don’t quiet remember them. But ever since I started working I will admit I wasn’t a huge fan of them because I never got to experience talking to elders. But as the year when on I enjoyed my job everyday. You just have to put your mind and soul into things that might not be your favorite thing in the world.

    1. In correlation with your comment I along with I’m sure many others worked a job that I absolutely hated and that was my first job as a landscaper when I was 13 years old. From day one I hated that job and everyone there but it taught me a lot because I would put in as much effort as I could and I would be friendly towards everyone. As an immature kid I felt it was pointless to do something I hated and thought I would just quit but I worked there for a year and I can honestly say I’m glad I did. It taught me to be persistent when it comes to work and it will pay off in the end.

  17. I’ve had a good amount of jobs during my teens. I took every job very serious, no matter how much work was involved. Every job you get has its ups and downs but it also let’s you think about your future. By having office jobs, it makes you think if you want a future with being in the office area 24/7. Also, having a job comes with a lot of responsibilities. By showing that you are responsible, it will open many doors in the long run.

    1. You make a lot of great points, especially about taking every job seriously. Every job you ever have I feel teaches you a different aspect of work ethic and responsibility and if not taken serious it can hold you back from being successful. Ever since a kid working since I was very young I have gained a very strong work ethic and it has paid off because I am making more money than most kids my age. I do work a ton and it does take a toll on me but I believe if I work hard now as a kid it will pay off in the future when I am older and less able.

  18. As a kid, I started working when I was 13 years old as a landscaper for some real mean stuck up boss that I hated. The job was miserable, the pay was awful, and from then on I knew I wanted to sit behind a desk and make a lot of money instead of hard labor. It was not until last year as a 17-year-old I discovered what I do now and really love and that is being in the construction business and being a contractor. I had the blessing of working with a very close family friend in his small contracting company and working with him side by side hands on blue collar labor. I realized that it was a job that people will always need and there will always be work and I love doing it. Yes I work a ton, a lot of late sleepless nights and a lot of sore mornings but it is something I love and I make a lot of money. I too realized that I eventually want to be my own boss and run my own construction company and that is what I plan on doing as I am partially running the one I am currently working for. This business has taught me a lot and I know I still have a lot to learn and I cannot wait to get my own business started.

  19. My first job was working at chick fil a as a cashier, and I remember being so nervous, because I have never had to talk to so many people in one day. Well, I ended up finding out something new about myself, and thats talking to people. If I had never taken the job I would have never known being social is for me. In other words it’s great to take risks or challenge yourself to something you have never done before, because the outcome might be surprising.

  20. In this ever-evolving world as stated in this article the possibilities are endless. I agree that we have to always do our best to see those possibilities. It is true that our jobs teach us life lessons, whether to connect with people, realize a goal, or grow as a person. I can say that my jobs have taught time to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. This have helped me make important decisions in my life and realize life is full of surprises. I like your view on employment.

  21. So glad you wrote this piece, I am currently going through a similar experience. At the age of 20 I am accepting my first office job. From being a sales manager at a car wash to working in an office answering phones. Big change right? I’ve always set expectations high for myself to venture off and try new things. I’m a firm believer in being able to do anything I set my mind to. I’ve decided that being your own boss is nice but not for me; I’d rather help people. I’ve known since I was younger that I wanted to be a juvenile probation officer, not for the money but to make a difference in the lives of others. My mom always taught me not to dress for the job I have but for the job I want. Therefore, I find it to be very important to carry myself in a respectable manner because I never know where or when I’ll meet my next “boss”.

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