Maureen Berkner Boyt
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I called my parents and told them I was taking a job as a stripper.

I had just graduated college and was excited to share the news that I had landed my first job. They were excited for me, too — after they learned that I’d be keeping my clothes on. The company that I’d landed a job with was a larger commercial printer, and my first job would be stripping film in the pre-press department.

Yes, it was an unfortunate job title, but my first job taught me incredible lessons that I still use today. Over the next two-and-a-half years as a management trainee I ended up rotating through 10 different departments in five different locations across the United States. Here are the top three lessons I learned from that journey:

1. How to suck at something.

I came out of college thinking I knew a whole lot about a whole lot. Turns out, I was pretty clueless! I had not learned how to really struggle and grind it out at something I wasn’t good at.

School had been relatively easy for me; I could swing A’s and B’s without much effort. My first job taught me that not everything would come easily and there were some things that no matter how hard I tried, I would never be good at. And that was okay. It was okay as long as I didn’t give up and as long as I was giving everything I had.

The experience of being really awful allows me to feel empathy when I see someone ‘just not getting it’ at something I find easy; I remember what it’s like to suck! I also understand that you can take someone fantastic and crush her by putting her in the wrong role. We really do have to let people play to their strengths.

2. Not everyone wants to lead.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to lead. If a teacher asked for a volunteer leader, my hand was one of the first to shoot up in the air. High school class president? Check.

So I was surprised when I asked one of my new co-workers Lisa what she thought she’d be doing at the company in a few years and she replied, “This.” She went on to share how much she loved what she did and how much she loved the company. She didn’t aspire to more; she aspired to be great right where she was. Wow.

I came to understand that there are more people like Lisa than like me. A lot of folks love what they do and want to stay just where they are. I learned my job as a leader is not just to create more leaders but also to create a place where people who want to stay in place can thrive.

3. Your brand is made up of far more than just your results.

The company that I worked for those first few years threw epic parties. Big budget, free booze, all out ragers. I saw more than a few careers ruined at those bashes.  A good friend, who had been crushing it results-wise in each of his rotations, ended up having to quit after accidentally ruining a valuable piece of art at one such party.

It goes much further than how you behave at the office party, though. I had a great mentor pull me aside and tell me that by answering the simple question “How’s it going?” with “Ugh. I’m SO busy I don’t know how I’m going to get all this done” was NOT helping build the brand I wanted.

I got a quick lesson that you are always ‘on’ when it comes to brand building. Ultimately your career is made or broken by what’s said when you’re not in the room, and being known as the person who is so busy they might not hit their deadlines is not exactly what you want people saying about you!

I learned to frame my attitude and responses through the lens of what I wanted people saying about me when I wasn’t around.

I’m still good friends with a core group of people from my first ‘real’ job out of college. I wouldn’t trade my experiences and the lessons I learned from those early days in my career for anything. And I have the added bonus of getting to say that I started my career as a stripper.

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Mo is the Founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and peer mentoring organization for companies who want to recruit, develop, promote and retain women and create inclusive workplaces. She’s an advisor to CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing companies and is the founder 5 successful businesses. She also been known to sing loudly, dance badly and curse like a sailor.

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