In an exclusive Q&A with Renée Ward, Dave Asprey founder/CEO of The Bulletproof® Executive, creator of Bulletproof® Coffee, and author of The Bulletproof® Diet, shares his first job experiences and what he learned along the way that still help him today. This is the 10th in a series of articles about the “first paying jobs” of successful people, their advice for today’s teens, and the value of work early in life.
Ward: How old were you when you landed your first paying job?
Asprey: I first earned money as an entrepreneur. I drew pictures of rocket ships and sold them door-to-door for a nickel. I must've been about six. I kept trying to get a job when I was 15 but no one would give it to me unless it was something like mowing the lawn. My first "paying job" I landed at 16, the legally allowed age in the state where I lived.
Ward: What work did you do?
Asprey: I worked in an auto parts warehouse filing thousands of pieces of paper. It was mind-numbing and boring. I thought about ways to save time doing the job because it was so boring. That is the only thing that saved my sanity.
Ward: How did you learn about this opportunity?
Asprey: I applied for a job at Dairy Queen, and mentioned it to the guidance counselor at my high school. He knew that I had decent grades so he figured I might do okay in an office job and referred me to it. The job was not posted anywhere. You had to know someone to get introduced.
Ward: What qualities did you bring to the job? That is, why do you think you “earned” the job?
Asprey: It was the recommendation from the guidance counselor and the fact that in the interview, even though I was nervous, I came across as capable.
Ward: Did you have a “mentor”? If so, how did that help you?
Asprey: In this job, there were no mentors. It was a dead-end job and most of the people I worked with had been there for a very long time with no career movement. I would have really benefited from a mentor, but I did not have one of those until a couple jobs later.
Ward: Did anything go wrong on the job? If so, how did you overcome the challenges?
Asprey: One of the problems I ran into was that I knew more about computers than anyone else at the company, so I was suddenly in charge of helping everyone on the computer, but I still had to get my boring job done. It took forever to teach people to use a mouse when they had never seen one before. I did not know at the time that computer support people made about five times as much as paper filing people. They were getting a good deal.
Ward: What did you learn from this job that has prepared you for what you are doing now?
Asprey: There was an unfortunate amount of political back fighting and name-calling and backstabbing in that company culture. I learned to identify it and to see who was playing that kind of game so I could avoid it or counter it later in my career.
I also learned that I should've been more aggressive about finding a job that would teach me something instead of wasting my time. I worked there for five summers to make sure I could pay my way through college, even though I did far better when I started my first company towards the end of college.
I also learned that most people don't think of better ways to solve problems. Even though I was only 17, my suggestions for saving time and resources in the warehouse were implemented and one of them was qualified for a regional award. I realized the people that had been there for 20 years or more never tried to think of a better way.
Most of the entrepreneurial successes I have had since have come about from thinking of better ways to solve existing problems.
Ward: What advice do you have for teens and young adults today seeking their first jobs?
Asprey: Do whatever it takes to stay out of food service. There is very little upside for you there and it is hard on your health. Think task rabbit or other task-based jobs where you can get paid a set fee for doing a job.
The Internet has changed the game and if you do 40 tasks for 40 different people, the odds are one of them may want you to do several more tasks in a row, and you may get a much more interesting job that way than by slogging fries.
The other most important piece of advice is a simple one but it is hard to do when it’s your first job yet it is very simple.
Always do what you say you will do, or let your boss know that you are not doing it.
If you can just do that one thing, you will progress in your career rapidly. Everyone will promote a reliable person who gets things done. Everyone is frustrated by someone who means to get things done but never quite finishes and then forgets to mention it.