I’m a lucky guy.  I grew up in a small town during the last era of America where it seems employers were willing to take a chance on employing a 14 year old.

I know many kids today who don’t work until after they graduate High School, and I don’t blame them.  The fact is that most employers won’t take on the added liability of employing anyone under the age of 16 and since the laws have changed regarding how long it takes to get your license many don’t have a car or the ability to drive one until much later.  My own High School parking lot (GO PANTHERS!) was once a crowded place where kids fought to get the last remaining spots.  It’s now sparsely populated on an average day with nearly half the spaces empty.

I’m also lucky because I had connections.  My early jobs were achieved because I and my parents knew people who were looking to hire (and because they usually knew what a computer nerd I was) which means I was there with Resume in hand right away.  I had my baby blue 1981 Malibu Classic station wagon (bought for a whopping $1,000) and a tank of gas at $0.99/gallon.

That luck has translated in to a lifetime of mostly rewarding, sometimes painful, and always interesting work.  I’ve had more unplanned, unexpected experiences because of it and met more amazing people through it.  It’s also left me with a  ton of great stories about people and places.

Like that time where my internet bubble popped…

I know this is hard to believe, but at one time I was young and naïve.  I know, right?  Who would have thought?  That’s exactly how I spent an entire summer in Nashville, TN trying to build a website that would help farmers sell their cows online before the internet bubble popped.  I was chief programmer despite the fact that I didn’t know how to set up a database or use ASP, PHP, or ColdFusion.

That, in a nutshell, is how I ended up sealing and striping parking lots with my business partner instead of retiring to a beach somewhere on all that well earned cow-money.  If you’ve never done this job or been around someone who has then you don’t know about the heat, the chemical burns, the hot summer days starting early in the morning and going late at night, and you sure don’t know about the smell.  I still recoil when passing a freshly sealed parking lot.

This was the first time that I ever learned the hard lesson about not knowing what I didn’t know.  I had just come from winning 2nd Place in a national competition for Web Design after my senior year of High School, but I didn’t understand the technology that I hadn’t been exposed to.  This experience has taught me the hard-won lesson of research before committing to new ventures.

Like that time where I hated school(s)….

In college, in the summer of 2002, I knew I needed to make some money to pay for an engagement ring so I set out to find any and every job I could.  I managed to find out a local contractor was updating the middle schools in the area and needed some help.  I already worked for my University, but I had a flexible schedule and my own office so I could choose when I worked.

Each day I went to my office from 8-12, walked home to get changed and eat lunch, and drove to whatever school we were working on.  I would leave that job around 6:30 and go home to shower and move on to the next job building computers for a local company until midnight or 1 am.

What’s that?  I haven’t told you what I did at these schools or why I hated it?  Oh.  Well, to make a long story short: my entire job that summer was to rip up low-pile carpet that had been glued down to cement floors.  They put this carpet everywhere in this 10,000 sq ft building – even in the cafeteria.  Each piece of carpet ripped up released a plume of dirt and debris that I can only imagine is dried ketchup dust and french fry salt.  That’s what I keep telling myself.

The lesson learned?  Sometimes you do crappy work because it gets you the result you want.  My girlfriend at the time (wife of nearly 15 years now) missed me, and would sneak over to my third job after her work to just spend time with me.  She didn’t know for sure why I was putting so many hours in, but she figured it out after I proposed.  It’s not the most amazing engagement ring, but we both know what it took to put that ring on her finger and it shines all the brighter for it.

Like that time I saw my first American Express Black Card…

After college, I spent nearly a year commuting 100miles a day to a retail management job with a company that no longer exists (let’s just say they sold Linens and other things).  At some point my wife and I determined that the rising gas prices and my relatively low wage meant that I could work any old job at a lower wage closer to home and we would clear the same money or more.  Once again, I set out in search of jobs and found some.  I worked part time at a Golf Course in the clubhouse and part-time at a gas station as an attendant and cashier.

I’ll be honest with you: I wasn’t feeling the best about myself.  I had just graduated from college and I was working low wage jobs.  I was just kind of muddling through when I went to pump gas for a man one day and to pay for it he used his AmEx Black card.  If you’re not familiar with these then I’ll give you a reference: Jay-Z raps about them.  That put it in context?

I decided there and then I was moving on and moving up.  There is something incredibly humbling and yet at the same time motivating to be in a position where you’re only acting tangentially to success.  You run up against it on accident.  You make decisions each time that happens about where you’re going to be next.

I could go on and on about jobs.  I could tell you about being a radio personality and having stalkers, about working in high tech companies with video game rooms, or I could tell you about crazy bosses who didn’t understand the products they sold, but the truth is this: each of these experiences created new opportunities, and I wouldn’t trade a single one.

What lessons did you learn from “bad” jobs?  Tell me about it in the comments below…