The 4 Lessons I Learned During My First Job That Have Made Me A Better CEO Today
My first post-college job was as a reporter for a local Oregon newspaper called The Roseburg News-Review.
I was so excited about that job. I worked as a sports writer and columnist, covering high school and college sports, with the occasional feature on local residents. I had wanted to be a journalist since I was old enough to read daily newspapers. As a kid, I studied the craft of journalism and formed an appreciation of the hard work that goes into it.
By the time I graduated from the University of Oregon — having worked as sports editor of the daily college paper for two years — and started work at The Roseburg News-Review, I thought myself well-prepared for a long and fruitful career as a journalist.
Turns out, this was far from the truth.
I worked for The Roseburg News-Review for three years. For some of that time, I struggled to learn and familiarize myself with the more technical aspects of the job: the computerized newsroom, the telex wire services feed, how to line up photographers to cover a story. I found it challenging, too, coming up with angles and strategies to make my content entertaining and interesting. The job — even though it was what I’d dreamt up — sometimes left me feeling frustrated and longing for more.
Yet, as I discovered after I left journalism — eventually going on to lead BookBaby — my time at the News-Review taught me critical lessons about business, inspiration, creativity, and diligence, all of which have benefited me my entire career. They’ve even made me a better CEO.
Here are four of the most impactful lessons I learned during that first year on the job.
1. Learn and respect the entire business.
No matter how big or small your organization is, having respect for every level of production will prove an invaluable asset to your company culture.
If you’re the Editor-in-Chief of a major newspaper, for example, appreciating the challenges and importance of the folks who work in the print shop or the bindery is critical. For one thing, as a CEO, you need a sound understanding of your workflow from start to finish. But from a cultural standpoint, engendering and encouraging respect for every level of your business more generally fosters collaboration, synergy, and cooperation.
All of those are essential ingredients for creating a productive, safe, and even courageous work environment.
2. People skills are critical.
This is a truth that proves critical to achieving more meaningful levels of success.
Many bosses will remain perfectly pleased with an employee who simply clocks in, does their job well, and leaves. However, in the long run, that only proves a means of professional sustenance. If you want to move forward — make connections, ascend your company’s executive ladder — you have to build relationships. In other words, you have to make people like you.
Of course, this is equally critical for people who are already sitting atop their company’s respective ladder. To garner support and engender enthusiasm among your employees, you have to be able to connect with them on a more personal level.
3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
At The Roseburg News-Review, I tried a variety of different approaches to my reporting.
Many didn’t work out.
At first, when I tried something only to fall on my face, I’d feel this mixture of guilt and nervousness, like I was certain I would be fired. But the truth is, that experience of failing is necessary. It’s fundamental to your eventual improvement and flourishing. That is, if when you fail, you get up, try again, and move on to the next idea.
Clinging to only established ideas and strategies is a formula for stagnancy and regression.
4. Develop a tough hide.
Of course, to pick yourself up when you fall, you’ll need thick skin.
As a young reporter covering high school athletes, I often received angry letters from protective parents suggesting I’d portrayed their child unfairly. At first these, too, would make me uneasy, but in retrospect I’ve seen how critical it was that I didn’t cave in.
Creativity, success, leadership — these things are not popularity contests. In fact, the more successful you or your company are, the more criticism you’ll attract. You must be prepared for that.
Never forget where you came from.
Ultimately, what the first few years of your working life can do — if appreciated correctly — is set the blueprint for the rest of your career.
The lessons you learn through the challenges and struggles of simply figuring it all out will set you up for success. And that’s because your first job is where you’ll begin to foster the habits and principles that will power your work in the future — whether that’s as a creative, a manager, or as the leader of a company. You’ll need those fundamentals to overcome all the future challenges you’re sure to face.
Looking back, this has most certainly been so for me.