Failed first jobs don’t dictate future

May 10, 2011

You may know him as Captain Jack Sparrow or Edward Scissorhands but before he was the Mad Hatter and Willy Wonka, Johnny Depp had a different title: ballpoint-pen salesman. There are many people who, like Depp, have gone on to fame and fortune after enduring first jobs that were less than thrilling. Before he became one of the most well-known actors in the world, Brad Pitt started out on street corners dressed as a chicken advertising for El Pollo Loco Chicken. Even Rachel McAdams, before she stole the big screen in films such as The Notebook and Mean Girls, once asked customers if they would like to supersize their meal. That’s right, Rachel McAdams used to work for McDonalds.

Your first job is not always an indicator of how your future career will pan out. Jonathan Acuff, of Stuff Christians Like fame, is a national best-selling author and now works as a contributor for The Dave Ramsey Show. But as he writes in his latest book, Quitter, success has taken a long time to catch up to him. Before he landed his dream job in Nashville, Tenn. writing best-selling books and working for a nationally-syndicated radio show, he went through eight jobs in the eight years following his graduation from college. Most of those jobs included technical and copy writing work for companies like AutoTrader.com, Home Depot and Staples – hardly thrilling for most.

Sometimes a first job can be a launching pad for inspiration or a big break. Author Stephen King was inspired to write his first novel, Carrie, while cleaning a girl’s locker room as a janitor. Stephen Colbert started his career at the famous improv academy Second City ,(which also helped launch the careers of Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Mike Myers) not onstage but by selling tickets at the box office and selling souvenirs.

Failure at a first job doesn’t always spell disaster for a future career either. Walt Disney had difficulty finding a job in the newspaper industry as a cartoonist and ad creator and eventually was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He also had many failed business attempts and bankruptcies before he opened the world-famous Disneyland. MIT actually has offered an entire course on failure entitled “The Fine Art of Failure” because as Diane Garnick of Invesco muses, “We learn more from our failures that we could ever learn from our successes.”

Before you are the CEO of a Fortune-500 company, you may find yourself selling computer software over the phone for several hours each day. Before you own the dream house with the dream car parked out front, you may be living on ramen noodles and driving a Kia to your job that requires a 30-minute commute. But before you give up on your dream of success at a job that is meaningful, fulfilling and well-catered to your talents, you should know that taking a less-than-desirable first job will put you in pretty good company.

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