When I was 17, I finished high school and got my first real job.
When I say “real,” I mean a job that wasn’t serving up Kosher-for-Pesach gefilte fish for my grandmother’s catering company. Nor gluing two-tone fashion buttons for my uncle’s schmatta business. Nor sorting completed surveys for my Dad’s medical research.
A real job, employed by unknown, non-members-of-tribe. In the City, no less.
Every morning I had to look past my recently discarded school uniform and instead put on a big-girl outfit, assembled haphazardly from my oldest sister’s wardrobe. Then I’d make my way to Bondi Junction to catch the train to Sydney’s Central Business District. At Town Hall Station, I’d ride the long escalators back up to the Earth’s surface, gulping for air that didn’t smell like rusty engine oil. Then I’d join the other thousands of grownups marching to their workplaces in the city.
Unlike most of them, I didn’t slip within the sliding doors of the sleek skyscrapers or storefronts, but rather wove my way around some abandoned construction sites until I arrived a dilapidated 5-story building on Pitt Street. I don’t recall if it had an elevator. I do recall the long hallways, the scuffed flooring and the unmarked office doors that were always closed. You could rent them by the day, week or month. A lot of tenants seemed to choose the first option.
Behind one such door cowered the company that gave me my first real job.
It was telemarketing, of course. Cold calling. We were selling subscriptions to this club whose lucky members were entitled to discounts at hundreds of stores around Sydney (at least that’s what the script I was parroting promised them). My job was to call up random strangers ensnare them in my long-winded explanation as to why they should give me their credit card details and purchase a membership for only $29.99 (or only $49.99 if they lived in a posh suburb).
Though my polite schoolgirl background did not prepare me well for this job, next to me sat a gum-chewing Greek lady named Cassie who was a real pro.
“Do you wanna be a smart shoppa or a stoooopid shoppa?” she’d drawl into her headset.
Though I squirmed at her pushy manner, I also admired Cassie’s chutzpah. And her success rate. By following in her shadowy footsteps I did manage to sign on a few bewildered pensioners and low-income housewives. They were the only ones who didn’t hang up on me.
Overall, I was spectacular flop at my first real job. I made barely any sales before my self-confidence and the whole racket unraveled a few weeks later. Naturally, the shady characters who ran the scheme never paid me the promised $10/hour. That was a harsh blow to my fledgling self-hood, though, looking back, I’m relieved I didn’t profit from their shenanigans.
Actually, that last statement is untrue.
I did profit tremendously since I learned a really valuable lesson: that I never wanted to repeat such an anxiety-churning and conscience-battering experience. At the age of 17, I got started learning what I didn’t want and didn’t like in a career, in a business, in life.
What Warren Buffett Didn’t Share
When the incomparable investment genius Warren Buffett was asked what is his secret formula for success, he famously stated:
Rule No. 1: Never lose money.
Rule No. 2: Never forget Rule No. 1.
This is such a clever joke because it tells all, and yet reveals nothing of use.
Because let’s be honest…
In the process of figuring out what you want to do with your life, you will lose money. You will waste time. You will spend tremendous energy barking up the wrong tree. You will get involved with people who will use and abuse you. You will do things that you later realize were evil or just plain stooooopid.
You will lose money!
And that’s OK.
Through failure experiences you learn how not to lose money. That’s something that Buffett has yet to share.
Hopefully you’ll also learn how to make a lot of money.
But here’s the most important point:
Failure costs you but it’s worth the price. Business success lies on the other side.
There is no doubt that the success I have today owes a lot to my experience as an evil telemarketer. Some 20 years later, I am still riding the learning trajectory launched by that job. It continues throughout all my other ventures, be they spectacular successes, humiliating flops or anything in between.
So to my naive, nervous 17-year-old self about to take the creaking staircase up to her first real job, I say:
Go for it!