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Jobs you had in your 20s: What they taught you
Sure, they pay the rent and build your résumé, but jobs held during your 20s also can have a profound influence on the rest of your life. Consider these reflections:
Little actions have big results
Rich Christiansen, now an entrepreneur and author of "The Zig Zag Principle," remembers being a "peon" at a start-up company where "everyone was busting their gut to make this little leading-edge technology business work." As he was leaving one night, he noticed that the office's floor needed mopping and the place as a whole was pretty filthy. With an important potential investor set to visit the next day, Christiansen decided to come back that night and clean up.
The next day, there was a buzz among the workers as to who had secretly played janitor, and someone eventually figured it out. A vice president offered him a promotion and became a lifelong friend and mentor. Christiansen notes that "by being competent and looking for ways to give and do a little extra, I was able to form a relationship that has been mutually beneficial over the years."
Skills are often transferable
During her early 20s, Tracy Brisson of New York City participated in Teach for America. While she discovered that K-12 teaching was not her calling, she still values the experience. Today, she owns The Opportunities Project, a recruitment consulting and career coaching business.
"Working with kids teaches you how to communicate, use data (test scores) to meet an end and think on your feet. It gives you stamina, grit and resilience. I couldn't run a successful business without having learned these skills in the field. When a lesson doesn't go the way you want in the classroom and you experience failure and disappointment, you learn how to get up the next day and try again because you have no other choice."
An end can spark a beginning
Trouble finding a job in her field in the early 1990s led advertising graduate Nancy Sipera to various positions, including waitressing and temping. She then got a job at a small printing company -- only to be fired a month later for spending too much time with the customers.
"That job changed my life; nothing like anger to motivate you to get moving," Sipera notes. "I decided to start freelancing on my own and picked up a few graphic design jobs through local advertising." Today, she owns New Jersey-based First Impressions Advertising and "spends as much time as I like with the customers."
Figuring out what makes you happy is worth the time
Fresh with a degree in computer science, Laura Allan of Seattle, "absolutely loved" her first job out of college as a programmer with a large corporation. "In any given day, I might be writing new functionality, fixing bugs, helping the time clerks in the field use the application or presenting training on the application. I also loved that my customers loved me. I was who they came to for help, and I was always there to support them. It was really nice to feel that what I did made a difference to others."
Not always as happy as her career progressed, Allan went back to school in her late 40s to get a master's degree in counseling. Today, the psychotherapist and coach sees commonalities between that first job she loved so much and what she does now.
"I have variety in my day. I'm always learning something new and teaching it to my clients. And though I may not be fixing computer program bugs, I get to use similar skills to help my clients uncover what is keeping them stuck in a place they no longer want to be. I'm again in the position of being the place of unconditional support for my clients."
The ladder is yours for the climbing
While plenty of people switch jobs during their 20s, some workers find their niche and stay in one place. Jason Coleman of Federal Way, Wash., is one such employee, starting as a part-timer for a sporting goods retail chain and working his way up to overseeing multiple stores as district supervisor. He notes that his initial position influenced the rest of his life, not only because it led to his current duties and responsibilities but also because he learned the value of hard work.
"Oftentimes, people encourage you to 'go the extra mile,'" Coleman says. "I've learned firsthand that the extra mile isn't crowded; not that many people travel it."
So remember that whether you spend two months or two decades at a workplace, chances are the experience will shape you in some way -- even if your 20s are history by the time you realize it.
Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.
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