First Job

Hi kids,

You probably won’t like your first job very much. My first job was at 3M and its only saving grace was that I met a truly great guy named Chris Rupert. Lacking a car, I was taking extremely long bus trips to work and he was nice enough to give me a ride—he’s one of those people who help out, expecting no overblown credit or glory in return. Just a super nice, stand-up guy. I’m lucky to know him. That’s sort of it from that job, though. I’ll be honest, I did a fair amount of sleeping—3M is where I first learned to sleep sitting up. I’d wear my glasses in the morning, and arrive in the empty, recently sold-off Pharm portion of the 3M building. In a nearly-empty farm of cubicles I’d turn on my computer and then… sleep for about an hour. After that I’d go to the bathroom, put in my contacts, and start my day. During the long afternoons, I taught myself object-oriented programming and wrote large chunks of the software behind this website. None of this, not the sleeping, not the programming, was in any way related to my job. But, I learned the ins and outs of corporate email (send a lot of it, be unnecessarily verbose, CC liberally) and the pure, unabashed joy with which folks greeted “free cake in the breakroom.”

Now, I’m coming to the end of another first job, my first job as a dentist. The owner dentist and I agree on, well, nothing. We don’t agree on anything. I practice in an environment that I could never have even imagined. I never ask my assistant to “go get such and such”—instead, I always ask “do we have such and such?” Sometimes, the answer is yes. I have improved at presenting treatment plans, learned some things about setting patient expectations, learned many technical details of doing the job. And yeah, I’m happy to have learned the things I have, but I’m passionate about not doing good or even great dentistry. I want the products, the physical products of my career, the ones people have in their mouths and use every day of their lives, to be remarkable. It’s time for me to seek out an environment where I can continue working toward that goal. That’s the most important lesson I’ve learned working where I have.

So just remember when you start your job, in your career that you’ve picked, you’ll have big expectations. “This is it, time to shine!” You’ll want to see a sign each day that you picked the right thing. At first, you won’t. Expertise and virtuosity aren’t delivered to you ready-made or fully formed. You have to incubate your nascent skills and interests into your future Power Skills. I made up that term, but it is just a shorthand for the fact that I know you are going to be great at whatever you want to be great at. Your dream matters, so don’t ever take difficulties along the way as a sign that you need a different dream. Be careful not to consider a turbulent start as inauspicious.

Just tie up those shoes, gaze ahead to where road meets horizon, choose your path, and start walking.

Brief Notes Nearby