#firstsevenjobs — How being a dish pig taught me everything

Credit: Wikicommons

I was 14 years old and not legally able to have a job, but I convinced a restaurant owner to hire me off the books as a dish pig (bus boy) for $5ph (about half minimum wage).

Dish pig, Burger King burger flipper (age 15) and Hoyts cinema staff (age 16/17) were those type of part-time jobs during high school that every young adult MUST do to help prepare them for the real world.

After high school I joined the Academy and embarked on an 11 year career as a Naval Officer leading teams up to 30 people on operations at home, in Iraq and the Middle East.

I left the Navy in 2010 and transitioned to a second career in the corporate sector, with a brief sojourn into start-up land, where it was like starting from the beginning again.

Throughout these seven jobs, these are five keys lessons first learnt as a dish pig.

  1. Learn to follow

Not everyone can be the boss and sometimes you just need to follow.

This can equally apply as the boss because you can’t and will not know everything, which means you need to follow the advice others.

Watching the owner of the restaurant follow orders from the head chef exemplified this leadership dynamic, thus proving that the best leaders surround themselves with people smarter than them and get out of their way.

2. Don’t take fair or unfair criticism personally

I often hear stories about how teachers are not allowed to use red pens when marking primary school homework as it might hurt the kids feelings —if this is true, I’m sorry, life is not fair and kids need to learn to take criticism.

As the dish pig, if the glasses were dirty you’d cop an ear full from the restaurant owner, take it on the chin and get back and do it better next time.

I’ve been yelled at, cursed at, rejected and snubbed and no matter how fair or unfair you think the criticism is, sometimes you just have to take it and learn from the experience.

3. Treat people with respect

I remember watching the sous chef yelling at staff and treating them with such disrespect that often when he was out of the kitchen, the staff would stick god knows what into his drinks.

I only raised my voice 2 – 3 times throughout my 11 year career in the Navy, mainly because I believed that a true leader should be able to motivate their teams without having to resort to authoritarian power.

Whether it was that rude customer at the cinema or that sailor that just gives you the shits, treating people with respect will always result in higher performing teams — especially when giving constructive criticism.

4. Be humble

Dish pig, burger flipper, cinema staff and even being a Navy Midshipman are pretty low on the food chain, but you need to start somewhere.

When transitioning from a relatively responsible mid-senior position in the a Navy to the corporate sector, the one thing I had to learn very quickly was to be a little more humble and realise the need to take a few steps back to prove myself in a new environment before leaping forward again.

I went from being the head of a department with 20 direct and indirect reports and responsibility for the safety of 200+ people and a $700m asset, to not being trusted to run a team greater than 1–2 people and a budget of $100–200k p.a.

That transitioned required me to be humble and think back to the days I was a dish pig starting from the bottom again and having to learn and gain people’s trust.

5. Set expectations

It’s important to set team expectations right from the start because once the team, both collectively/individually, agrees on the what is expected, it is much easier to have authentic conversations with people when the expectations are not achieved.

The restaurant owner shouting at me because there were watermarks on wine glasses may have been avoided should the expectations been set before I started my job (let’s bare in mind I was only 14).

I’ll be interested to see if these five lesson’s remain true in 20 years time. What have been your biggest lesson’s from your #firstsevenjobs?

Hugh Simpson is an intrapreneur, innovation coach at the University of Sydney Business School MBA Program and veteran.

Follow me on Twitter @hughasimpson or @disruptwithin

All views are my own.