Everyone Has to Start Somewhere

Jim Carrey took a job as a janitor at a tire factory at age 15 when his father lost his job. He also worked as a security guard. To relieve his stress, he visited local comedy clubs, which instilled his love of comedy – and prepared him for a blockbuster career.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Like Jim Carrey, I started by pushing a broom at an envelope manufacturing company and worked my way into sales in six months. My career path took a different turn, but all in all, I’d say my humble start led to a life I love.

You never know where your career will go once you get your foot in the door and learn about different businesses.

Many famous people started out very small before they hit it big. The main thing is they started and got experience. Pride didn’t get in the way – they had to pay the rent, eat, and work toward their ultimate goals. Consider these examples.

Before Brad Pitt was a leading man in the movies, he worked various odd jobs, including driving limos, moving refrigerators and dressing up as a giant chicken to attract customers to a local restaurant.

Another one-time janitor is Stephen King. He job was cleaning a girls’ locker room, which later became his inspiration for his bestselling novel Carrie.

Rachael Ray started out working at the candy counter at Macy’s in New York City. She later managed the fresh-foods department, which helped pave the way to her sizzling cooking career.

Donald Trump collected soda bottles for the deposit money and later went around with rent collectors to learn about their business. Do you suppose that’s where he got the idea for The Apprentice?

David Letterman, Diane Sawyer, Raquel Welch, and George Carlin were all weather people on TV.

Michael Dell and Suze Orman washed dishes at restaurants.

The late George Steinbrenner, who later owned the New York Yankees among other businesses, helped his older siblings raise the family’s chickens, which he would also kill and dress for customers.

Working at ice cream shops is part of the resumes for Julia Roberts, Lucille Ball, and Robin Williams, who also was a street mime before he got into acting.

And I’d wager that every one of these fabulously successful people would tell you that they still remember the lessons they learned from those early labors – even if one of those lessons was that they wanted more out of life.

Few people would describe their first jobs as their dream jobs. The work is usually hard, the pay is never enough, and the hours are lousy. The experience, however, is invaluable.

As college graduates start to learn the realities of the business world, I tell them that they will have to pay their dues. There is no substitute for real-world experience. Hard work is still a requirement for success. You can’t start at the top and work your way up.

In this economy, I’m frequently hearing stories about folks who are starting over in their careers due to downsizing, restructuring, technology, or belly-up businesses. Most don’t have to start at the bottom, but they aren’t making lateral moves either.

My advice is always the same whether you are starting up or starting over: Keep your options open. Don’t discount the value of any working experience. Expand your network at every opportunity, because you never know who might know someone who could use your talents and skills. Volunteer some time to get more and varied experience. Make sure you have a presence on social networking sites, especially LinkedIn and Facebook.

Perhaps the most important tip I can pass along is this: Never be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of people who have created successful businesses, and even more who have built successful careers. Learning from others is essential, no matter how much you have learned from your own experience.

Finally, don’t be afraid to dream. Long before Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney dropped out of school at age 16 to join the Army, but was rejected because of his age. He became a Red Cross ambulance driver in World War I instead. He wanted to be an artist when he came home, and with determination, an entertainment empire was born. For Walt Disney, “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

Mackay’s Moral: You can’t win the race if you never start.

[Ed. Note: Harvey Mackay has written five New York Times bestselling books, two of them considered to be among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time – Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. His latest book is Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You. Harvey has been named one of the top five speakers in the world by Toastmasters International. He is also chairman of the $100 million MackayMitchell Envelope Company, a business he started in 1960. This article was reprinted with permission from Harvey’s nationally syndicated column.]