In an exclusive Q&A with Renée Ward, Michael Lowe, President of A Parent Media and Founder of Kidoodle.TV™ shares his first job experience and what he learned that still helps him today. This is the seventh 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?
Lowe: My first paying job was when I was 12 years old and for about a week. I helped the janitor in my dad’s office building with the extermination of a moth infestation.
Ward: What work did you do?
Lowe: I had to work at night to exterminate the moths hiding in the air vents. I noticed that as soon as it became dark, the moths would flutter to the ceiling lights. We put utility lights in the corner, turned off all other lights and went at them with shop vacs. It was the 80s. I kind of felt like a Ghostbuster.
Ward: How did you learn about this opportunity?
Lowe: The janitor saw me hanging out at my dad’s office and asked me if I wanted a job.
Ward: What qualities did you bring to the job at that time? That is, why do you think you “earned” the job?
Lowe: I was “there”. I was willing to do the work and I had a good attitude. To quote Woody Allen, “80 percent of life is showing up”.
Ward: Did you have a “mentor”? If so, how did that help you?
Lowe: I did not have a mentor at my first job (other than maybe the actor Bill Murray) but my parents were both important mentors to me over the years, each in different ways.
My mom was solid, holding a steady city job. She taught me about hard work, responsibility to others, and the value of being reliable.
My dad was the dreamer and the entrepreneur. I learned so much from him about working with people, vision seeking, and the amount of work it takes to build a vision that entices others to follow. Together, they gave me great balance.
Ward: Did anything go wrong on the job? If so, how did you overcome the challenges?
Lowe: I was scared and had nightmares about moths for months. I still get a ‘lil’ twitchy when I see flying insects.
Ward: What did you learn from this job that has prepared you for what you are doing now?
Lowe: A lot of times you have to do things that you don’t expect. Sometimes you have to work odd hours to get things done.
You also have to work smart. Without the utility light, the moths would scatter, making it difficult and time consuming to trap them. The light at night made it easier for us to work. So, I always question what I’m doing and determine if there is an acceptable, smarter way to do the task. I also learned about perseverance. Just when you think you’ve got all the moths, another one pops out. Like my mom always says, “You just have to keep at it.”
I’m always seeking mentorship, even today, and I try to learn what I can from everyone that I come in contact with. Every day, I’m amazed at the things I learn from my team. They make me stronger. It’s important to try to take away something from every relationship.
Every odd job that I have held has helped prepare me in some way to be an entrepreneur, whether it’s because it taught me to persevere, how to get along with different people and different cultures, or because it caused me to be open minded and try new tasks. I also got to see the inner workings of different businesses and organizations, which I emulate in different aspects of my business now.
Ward: What advice do you have for teens and young adults today seeking their first jobs?
Lowe: Put yourself out there. Pick a job and go after it. If you have to work for no pay to get an ‘in’ or to gain experience, do it. This will build your resume, show commitment and provide you with knowledge and skills that will be useful to you later on in life, even if you don’t yet know how they will come in handy. Be on time, do your best, and learn what you can while you’re there.
Work at many different jobs to figure out what you like to do. Take risks and go out and fail. Failure is a tool that will ultimately guide you to an area where your talents and passions lie. Failure also teaches you to reframe and rethink problems.
Lastly, be respectful and courteous, even if you don’t feel up to it. It will pay off in the long run.
A lot of times, landing a job happens through who you know or by showing up and being “present”. Hang out with the group you want to work with. Opportunities will arise... like being a MothBuster.
Additional tips for teens as a result of this interview:
Not sure what you want to do or what kind of job to pursue? Take a look at the Association for Career and Technical Education’s (ACTE) career clusters and take a Career Clusters Interest Survey. This may help give you focus and direction in your job hunting. The Career Clusters Interest Survey