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Lessons from My First Job (at Wal-Mart)

Back in the day, it was time for me to start looking for my first job. So one of my best friends and I decided to apply at the closest place to our homes — Wal-Mart. We dropped off our applications, and a couple of hours later we got a call from one of the assistant managers asking us to come in that afternoon for an interview.

After my answers to the first few questions convinced them that I was someone they could hire, they got to the tough part of the interview: placement. The thorough and extensive process went like this:

Manager: Do you know anything about hardware?

Me: No, not really.

Manager: Well do you know what a hammer is?

Me: Yeah.

Manager: Ok, hardware department it is.

I went home that day proudly holding my fresh new blue vest.

Now the interviewing manager also had it in his head that I was some sort of genius. Clearly my answer to the hammer question was peculiarly profound. So after a few days of basic training it was time for him to teach me how to mix a can of paint for a customer. He walked me through the process of finding the right paint and putting the right combination of tint in to produce the right color. I’d passed all those steps with flying colors when he then told me to start mixing it.

I closed the lid on the paint can tightly, and then proceeded to pick it up and shake it up and down violently. After a couple of seconds, I un-scrunched my face long enough to find the manager looking at me quite quizzically. I stopped and he said,

“You’re kidding, right?”

Suddenly realizing that there was a much stronger machine right next me whose sole purpose was to shake a can of paint, and not wanting to shatter the genius image that had been placed on me, I responded to him with a very confident,

“Yeah, of course.”

He looked relieved, and I kept my job.

At some point or another, we’re all put in a situation or given an assignment where we feel out of place. We’re not always going to have the perfect job where we feel completely comfortable.

But that paint can provided a lesson that I’ve unfortunately forgotten many many times. The lesson that it’s still important for me to give my best to every assignment, even when there’s a machine that can do it better.

And I’m realizing that many times it’s those uncomfortable or uncertain moments that end up giving you the most challenges to help you grow, the most reasons to make you laugh later on, and apparently the most stories to write about on a blog a dozen years later.


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About the Author

Nathan Zacharias

Growing up, Nathan always had a passion for media, and he believes in its ability to shape a culture. A good word, a good image or good music can help people think, feel and change. Though he’s spent most of his years in Atlanta, he’s also lived in Colorado Springs and New York City. He and his wife, Sarah, married in 2011. They live in Atlanta with their dog, Belle.


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