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Archive for the “Small Jobs” Category

StanislavskiThere is a famous quote in the theatre that was said by Constantin Stanislavski of the Moscow Art Theatre in 1924.  It goes, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”  Likewise there are no small jobs, only persons who don’t glory in the chance to learn from all experiences.

Humility is a key entrepreneurial quality.  It keeps you open for constant new learnings and Eureka! moments.  Humility enables you to be unobstructed and present to the accidents of life that often go under the name luck.  Hence, the value of the small jobs most of us started with that often trained us in the importance of the small mundanities of courtesy, care, and listening that are a great aid to the everyday success of the perfervid entrepreneurial striver.

I got quite a good volume of response to last week’s blog, Small Jobs and Great Entrepreneurs. Here is a letter I received from Don Zinn, owner of Exigent Search Partners, Inc. in Westchester, NY. which I thought well worth sharing.


I love your columns – you know I read them and get a vicarious thrill as only a fellow entrepreneur can.  So many today claim to be entrepreneurs, but so few are.

I agree with your premise about small jobs first – I too started as a bus boy at Bar Mitzvah’s when I was 12, also mowing lawns and shoveling snow, until I was 14 and was able to get a job in a union deli – the meatcutters union.  There I felt that same contempt your Harvard professor discussed – those guys looked at me and knew my track was very different.  But I fought to be respected and proved them wrong by working hard.  It was a good lesson.

donThere is another layer to your premise about being young and foolish when we were young, and foolish.  The path to entrepreneurial success is not a straight line.  To get to where I am today – the happiest I have ever been as I run my 7th entrepreneurial venture – I had to go through all the other stuff.  The failures and the wrong directions were part of what got me here.  I wish I had found my place sooner, but I probably wasn’t ready.

Some find that niche sooner, but for me, I had to wander through my own “desert” before I was ready to cross into the “promised land.”

Be well and stay warm


Well said, Don.  Thank you.

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GeorgeWBushJeffrey Fry, serial entrepreneur, investor, and business guru from Austin, Texas, sends out a generous and thought-provoking daily quote to his many friends in the entrepreneurial community.  I look forward to it every day.  Here’s one he sent me on October 28, 2013.  “To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.”  The author is Unknown.  (It does, however, remind me a bit of President George W. Bush, who once said, “When I was young and foolish, I was young and foolish.”—referring to his alcoholism and marijuana use.)

Jeffrey’s quote got me thinking about how important it was for me to go through any number of humble and humbling jobs prior to finding some success in business.  I’ve had lots of jobs, including janitor, fry cook, dish washer, night watchman and catering waiter, just to mention a few.  I honestly think I learned better skills to prepare me for a useful life  from these lowly positions than all my academic training put together.  I learned to truly experience and empathize with a wide array of folks, situations, and cultures.  I learned simple things like being on time, like the importance of getting little details right, like seeing things from a broad array of other people’s points of view and cultures.  I learned to listen and observe.

Wong, Simon - Photo PRI12 SMALLThe Harvard Business Review on-line had a very sweet essay this fall called “In Praise of Humble First Jobs” by Professor Simon C. Y. Wong of the London School of Economics.  (1:00 PM, September 26, 2013)  Wong worries about the growing fixation of elite students on immediate status and careers rather than the broader learning that often comes from the experiential autodidactics of real life.  Though he worked some as an intern in his field when in school, he worked more as a restaurant busboy to pay his tuition, rent, and other expenses.  He recounts:

“At the restaurant, working among a highly diverse group—the staff comprised a motley crew of varying ages, ethnicity/geographic origin, educational background, and ‘life’ experience—helped me realize that people share important traits:  Most of us had pride in our work, yearned to be liked and respected by peers, sought to behave decently, and nursed modest as well as grand dreams, if not for ourselves then for our offspring.

Equally instructive was narrowing ‘gaps’ with some colleagues.  The restaurant’s assistant manager—a tall dignified man who was unlikely to move up the managerial ranks because he didn’t have a college degree–barely hid his contempt for me when I first started.  Over time, as I worked hard to prove that I belonged, he eased up and signaled his approval through the occasional wink and pat on my shoulder.  He even started sharing with me his love of wine.”

Another of Wong’s jobs was as a cleaner in a luxury goods store where he was frequently treated with disdain by sales people simply because his job entailed cleaning the windows, vacuuming the showroom, and polishing the brass door handles.  He says, “That experience seared into my brain the importance of according everyone—irrespective of their occupation, stature, or station in life—a modicum of respect and regard.”

J._M._Barrie_in_1901I heartily share Professor Wong’s view of the value of humble first jobs.  The “little people” jobs, as Leona Helmsly so charmingly put it.  My own humbling first work experiences and my five career failures were by far the most seminal, foundational experiences to what became my ultimate, and seemingly “accidental” success as an entrepreneur.  Humility is a wonderful and underrated business skill.  You don’t learn it in business school or as a cosseted intern.  J.M. Barrie, the Brit who wrote Peter Pan, said, “Life is a long lesson in humility.”  I think Dr. Wong would probably agree with that.

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