By Shaun Ritchie
This is part of a series where CEOs and entrepreneurs share their first job experiences, what they learned and the importance of a first job.
Even for your first job, a good hustle can pay off.
I got my first real job while I was in high school. It was an unintended result of some early entrepreneurial efforts. I recognized an opportunity to leverage an asset into a business opportunity.
Growing up, we would spend a month during the summer at my grandparents’ house in a different state. One summer during my freshman year of high school, my mom and I started exploring the woods around my grandmother’s house. There was a challenging, county-owned golf course that bordered the other side of these woods, so we started to find golf balls throughout the underbrush close to each hole.
As we continued to venture through the trees, we found more and more balls. When our pockets were full, we found out way back home to show the family what we had found.
Over the next several weeks, while staying at my grandparents’ house, we would put a few plastic grocery bags in our pockets and head back to explore more areas around the golf course, usually filling our bags within a few hours. The underbrush was pretty thick, so we were rarely seen by the marshals or the players.
Consequently, they also rarely found their lost golf balls. It was a treasure-seeking adventure eery time we went. After every outing, we would return home with a grocery sack or two filled with golf balls that we would pick through, sort, wash and put in boxes.
We began the endeavor primarily because it was fun and provided a bit of sense of adventure, since we were on the course during the day and had to stay out of sight. I hadn’t really been golfing before , and didn’t really know what to do with all these balls. But we took them back to Arizona at the end of the summer.
Living in Arizona you’re never far from a golf course. I had a bunch of golf balls in the garage and nothing to do with them. One Saturday, I asked my parents to take me down to the closest course to our house and drop me off with a box of balls, a card table, card stock and a Sharpie.
I decided to set up shop on the shoulder of the road that was close to the entrance to the course and the #3 tee box. As players were teeing off, I sold them golf balls for $.50 each, which happened to be $.25 cheaper than the pro shop sold used balls for. Business for those few hours was pretty strong, until the course marshal came rolling up and promptly asked me to leave the course. When he did, I told him I wasn’t on golf course property and he couldn’t make that request. However, after a few more intimidating threats, I used my dad’s call phone he had left with me to call for a ride home.
I returned to the course another weekend with the same goal in mind. Business was good for a few hours, but just like the previous time, I was run off by the course marshall. This time, however, he also brought the general manager, who was not very please. She told me not to return, and made sure my parents understood the same when they picked me up.
A few months later, I was looking for a job to cover my burgeoning high school expenses. I saw that the course was looking for someone to turn golf carts. I applied. The general manager remembered me, and she must have respected my prior endeavors, because she hired me on the spot.
It was a small course with only three of us working at any given time: the pro shop operator, the snack bar gal, and me. I did most everything besides manage the tills: turning all the golf carts; cleaning the cart barn, the bathrooms and facilities; and picking up the balls on the practice range.
Working at a golf course offers all the perks you’d expect, like using the course, range and facilities in off hours, discounts on food and beverage. It also gave me an opportunity to work with the golf pro here and there on my nascent golf game.
I knew I didn’t want to bag groceries or work in fast food. I wanted a job where I could maximize the opportunities for learning. I learned that I could handle a lot of varying responsibilities and have them be fairly nebulous, as long as I made the operation look and feel like a real golf course operation, that was my responsibility.
I found out how to be successful in my role there. The general manager was very particular about how things were done, but I learned how to meet and exceed her expectations every time, in the right time frame. I outperformed my coworkers, who worked the days I wasn’t there.
My philosophy is “you don’t get a job, you make a job.” Even if you were hired for a particular position, you don’t just do the job you’re hired for. If you’re successful, you’ll make it into something that works for you and the company, so you can be outstanding in that role.
The more valuable you are to the company, the greater impact you can have in that organization. And people who have the greatest impact on organizations are compensated for that.
That’s why, in my opinion, a job in fast food, for examples, should not be your first job. Be creative and go out and find an alternative job. You want to find out, as quickly as possible, what kind of role you can be successful in.
A first job has a big impact. It sets expectations about what you think employment should be, whether it’s a good or bad thing. If you have a crappy first job, that sets expectations for crappy jobs in the future. If you have a good one, you expect way more.
Shaun Ritchie is CEO and cofounder of EventBoard, a software platform that provides employee-focused meeting tools and activity-driven insights.