I was watching one of the recordings I have of Oprah’s show the other night and this particular episode was dedicated to watching successful celebrities re-visit the workplace of their first-ever job and, although I’m not a fan, Suze Orman, one of the celebs, said something that really resonated with me and that was, “When you make average great, your dreams become a reality”.
I thought about how that has been true for me and how, upon landing my first job at 14 yrs old, scooping ice cream at a Baskin-Robbins off tony Michigan Ave on Chicago’s Gold Coast, I took so much pride in being and doing my best. Although frightening, even the application process was uplifting to me – that I had to qualify and explain why I felt they should hire me was such a valuable experience – a chance for me to think about and articulate my worth and the value I would add to their business if they took a chance on me. I remember practicing with my dad to prepare for the big interview which turned out to be nothing more than a very friendly and casual conversation with the owner of the store.
I was so proud that I had a real work schedule and real co-workers and that I was learning so much about the business of how to serve, stock, supply, process, and inventory a product – and the free ice cream didn’t hurt, either! And I will never forget the day a limousine pulled up and out came the one-and-only Ann Landers who’s column I read religiously. She entered the store with a smile on her face, greeted me as if we were old friends, and ordered a Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream pie. I remember proudly packing it up in dry ice for her and, in return, she handed me a $10 tip – about as much as the cost of the pie back then, which was mind-boggling to me that someone would appreciate my service so much they would give me as much money that the item was worth. And, back in 1975 that was some sweet cash!
One year later, I wanted to try my hand at flipping burgers at “Big Daddy’s – Chicago on a Bun” (I’m not kidding), so I requested a letter of recommendation from Baskin-Robbins and Russ, the owner whose name I never forgot, told me to write the letter myself and then give it to him for approval. At first, I was discouraged and intimidated by his response to my request, but then I excitedly took it on and loved it because it forced me to think and write about all the things I liked about myself as a worker and it helped me articulate my skills and abilities.
I landed the job at Big Daddy’s and poured my heart into it until I became assistant manager. But, even more memorable was that I took some of my earnings and bought my dad a fancy schmancy, solid gold chain necklace at Henry Kay Jewelers on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile for a whopping $100 (pretty much one of the cheapest one’s they had) for his birthday. Needless to say, I felt like a million bucks!