As the kids head back to school and make a fresh start, I’m going to be featuring a series of posts about the lessons we learned at the start of our careers. Specifically, I’m interested in those experiences we had in our very first jobs that we still carry with us today in our creative businesses.
The first story comes from Stacey Trock (who planted the seed for this series – thank you!). Stacey Trock designs crochet patterns for adorable and huggable stuffed animals. Her patterns are easy to follow and take the mystery out of crochet. She is also a teacher on Craftsy, and nationally, and is the author of three books. She has a brand new yarn line with Louet. You can find Stacey online at freshstitches.com.
Today Stacey is sharing lessons she learned from her first job (actually her first two jobs!) and how she applies those lessons to her creative business all these years later.
My very first job was being an html editor for a market research company when I was 16. My current business is running the site FreshStitches: designing crochet patterns, writing craft tutorials and selling craft eyes.
This is a story about how the job came to a quick end. During the school year, I worked part-time from home editing html, but I worked there full-time during the summer, and was given additional tasks to fill my time. One of my tasks was to ‘get information about this list of companies’. This was when the internet was still pretty new and clicking around on websites to find the relevant information was time-consuming.
One company didn’t have much on their website, so I called them, thinking my boss would be delighted with my initiative. Instead, when he found out, he said, “You did what? They’re a competitor and shouldn’t know we’re trying to get information on them!” Ooops. I had no idea. I was SO embarassed, that I left crying and could never show my face again.
As an adult, I know it was an honest mistake (actually, on the boss’s part- he could have been more clear!), and I could have come back the next day, no problem. And I also know that leaving a job could have been disastrous… I wasn’t even thinking about potentially needing reference letters! It all turned out fine, but I learned that you have to put on your big girl pants and face your fears. Put differently, don’t burn your bridges. And sleep before making a huge decision.
This issue comes up at least every week in my business now! It’s not uncommon that I would love to make a quick and temporarily-satisfying decision: quit working on an annoying task, give a very mean customer a piece of my mind… but that’s not professional. This is a job, and that means showing up and putting on a smile every day. I’m always glad looking back to see that I’ve taken the high road.
Stacey’s new knitting patterns that support her yarn line with Louet.
My second job was working for my first boss’s father in law at the company down the hall (I was very lucky!).
This boss was wealthy (especially by 16 year old standards!), and he gave me the task of going on eBay and buying his grandson a set of coins for his birth year. My instructions were to buy the coins and not go above $38. (This must have been before the bidding process worked smoothly or something!). The bidding hit my maximum and was at $39. I thought if I went to $40, I could nab it, and make my boss happy. But my instructions were to stop at $38. In the end, I followed my instructions and felt AWFUL that I hadn’t gotten the coins.
When I told him, he was so happy. And he said something like, “A lot of people get sucked into bidding a few dollars higher. And even though $40 isn’t too much, it’s more than they are worth. You did a great job by stopping at $38 and another set will come up”. It made him trust that I could follow directions, and I was delighted.
The real lesson was to follow directions, and you don’t always know someone else’s goal. I thought his goal was to get the coin set that day, but in fact, it was more important to hit a price target than win the auction immediately.
As someone who occasionally employs contract workers, I wish all of my contractors had learned this lesson. I explicitly tell each of them, “Please follow these directions exactly and if you have ANY questions, feel free to ask”. I would say about 50% of people I work with end up making a judgement call that’s completely wrong. For example, “I know you said they were due on this date, but I figured it would be okay to get them 2 days late rather than receiving them incomplete”. Nope, I’d rather receive them on time and finish them that night.
If you can’t follow directions, it costs me time and money. And I can’t hire you again.
In my own work, I always ask a lot of questions. “How soon do you need this?” “Do you want me to check with you before moving ahead?” It saves lots of time and everyone ends up happy.
Now it’s your turn. What lessons did you learn from your first job? Are there any that are still applicable today?