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.