The first job I ever had was shoveling horse manure in a barn and feeding feral cats that the owner kept around to eat the barn rats. I made five bucks a day and loved the way I felt when the stables were all clean and the cats were all fed. I had a sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride. I went on to other jobs; I built trophies for a while and shoveled fast-food during high school. My parents always taught us the value of hard work. Like so many young people I had no sense of career; work equated to a pay check and a paycheck equated to freedom.
When I got my first real job I still had no concept of a career. My aunt worked for a large national insurance company and she helped me get a job in the mailroom. Twenty-six years later I still recall sitting in HR and the lady said “We can offer you $5.83 an hour. Will that be OK?” Will that be OK I remember thinking, heck yeah! I just struck gold. I really did not understand the significance of what had just happened. I was given an “opportunity”. Someone had just taken a chance on me.
Opportunities are often overlooked. For me personally I did not see where this opportunity could lead me if I focused and worked hard. The sense of accomplishment and pride I had taken from my horse manure days had long left me and I saw work as a necessary evil. Despite myself, a power greater than I was watching over me. I fumbled and stumbled through that file clerk job. I did just enough to get by, but I always seemed to find mercy from those in leadership who saw something more in me. As time went on I moved into new positions at that same company still without any concept of the opportunities being afforded to me.
Then one day after being there for many years another opportunity presented itself. This time there was an open supervisor role and I wanted it. This was the first time I had thought about my career as opposed to thinking about my job. This was a significant moment in my life. I went into my manager’s office and said “I would like to be considered for the supervisor role”. I was not prepared for what was about to happen next.
She had been watching me for many years. She had seen me prideful and she had seen me play the part of a rebel without a cause. What she said next forever changed me; she said “How will you win the respect of those you work next to today when you are called to lead them tomorrow?” That really stopped me in my tracks. How would I go from “one of” to the one in charge? To make a long story short, she stepped out on a limb and promoted me to supervisor. I was given the lowest performing team and tasked with doing just that, earning their respect. I started by identifying with them, setting mutual goals and not pretending that I knew it all.
Over time I became more comfortable with the position and learned what it meant to be a leader. Even though this event happened so long ago the lesson is still relevant today. Each time I am called into a new leadership role I recognize it as an opportunity; an opportunity to serve and to grow.
When I have a young person on my team who is prideful and borderline rebellious I try and share my experience with them. I see clearly today that this is an opportunity to take a chance on someone else.
Has someone taken a chance on you? How did that go?
Have you taken a chance on someone? Share your story.
IllustrationS: Mynameisrene; Mylot.com