It’s talent planning season at work, which means everyone is reviewing their career goals and updating their internal resumes with accomplishments and desired roles. This exercise made me think of all of the odd jobs I had growing up in Republic, Ohio. I know from talking to other small town alumni that this list can get even more interesting. I encourage you to comment below with the highlights of your small town resume. Here are my top 4 small town roles:
Cleaning crew (1991-1998) – I referenced in an earlier post Boogers on the wall that I cleaned houses and offices growing up. My favorite story from cleaning Uncle Bob’s house was the day I cleaned the porcupine. My sister and I were a cleaning pair. She cleaned the upstairs and I cleaned the downstairs, which housed my uncle’s office. Some of the special touches in his office were: a fish tank (oh, how I hated cleaning the white, scaly crud that accumulated on top of the tank), a stuffed bobcat, and a stuffed porcupine. And when I say stuffed, I mean by a taxidermist, not JoAnn Fabrics. I had been cleaning Uncle Bob’s office for a couple of years and never had a problem – until the day I decided to clean the base of the porcupine a little more thoroughly than normal and got stuck with a quill. I looked down at my hand and freaked out by the sight of the quill sticking out. I immediately called my mom and said “come help, I got stuck by the porcupine”. She drove as quickly as she could, probably wondering what she would encounter. Without any drama, she easily removed the quill, trying to hold back her laughter. She went back home and I finished cleaning for the day.
Lesson learned: Sometimes it’s ok to do an average job. Going the extra mile might get you stuck.
School picture cutter / stapler (various dates) – My daughters just got their spring pictures back from school. Lifetouch provided the entire pack of photos and then parents are on the honor system to take and pay for what they want, returning what they don’t. My next door neighbor, Linda, worked in our local Lifetouch office and they had a different process. They didn’t simply hand out the entire pack, but instead stapled a sample picture to an order sheet. This required a workforce of three kids (me, my sister, and my neighbors’ daughter) to sit around the kitchen table cutting out and stapling school photos. I’m pretty sure I got paid a small token for this work, or perhaps I got paid in bowls of ice cream, but what I remember most are the laughs. Occasionally there was a photo that got a chuckle, but mostly we were sharing stories and giggling about nonsense.
Lesson learned: It’s not the paycheck that matters at times, it’s the camaraderie and laughter.
Piano teacher (1994-1998) – I took piano lessons starting in 1st grade and by the time I reached junior high, people decided that I could teach them. I had a couple of students and my favorite was Tracy. She was learning the piano well enough, but what I discovered was that she had a beautiful voice. We worked in secret for 2 months so she could surprise her mom with a solo of “Wind Beneath My Wings” at church. Her mom thought she was going to play a song for the congregation, but instead ended up singing to her mom. It remains one of my proudest “managerial” moments.
Lesson learned: Many times you start a job thinking you’ll have one outcome, and end up with an even better, unexpected outcome.
Church choir director (1995; 1997-1998) – Notice the break in dates here? In my About the woman behind Small Town Leadership blog I said that I have worked since I was 12 and been fired once. That would be this job. I was the choir director and accompanist at Bloomville United Methodist church starting my sophomore year in high school. I was a good piano player, but it’s not something that comes naturally to me. Simultaneously add to that leading a group of singers, and I was fairly challenged. I’d rate myself a low-3 on a 5 point grading scale. A couple of months into the job, the minister’s daughter moved to town and quickly replaced me. It was a relief at the time because I wasn’t comfortable in the job. That year I started accompanying the high school choir, quit taking piano lessons, and learned how to improvise when I play. That shift in activities allowed me to come back strong my senior year after the minister’s daughter moved away and I called to see if I could have the job back. They took me back with open arms and we had a great year making music together.
Lesson learned: Sometimes you just aren’t that good at something and need to move on. You can either take steps in the interim to improve like I was able to do, or recognize your strengths and seek out roles that utilize those skills.
Small Town Leadership Lesson: Two things stand out for me as I review this “small town resume”. First, the overarching theme is that I was working with people I liked and respected. Second, networking combined with a specific skill led to these jobs. 20+ years, four organizations, and a dozen jobs later, this pattern still rings true in my corporate America resume. This reinforces the importance of seeking out teams where you are a good fit and continually engaging your network to help you grow your career.
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