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One of my earliest jobs was as an office assistant at a small accounting firm. My job was to make copies, keep the conference room organized, and be a general helper to the three partner accountants. I learned that I could do any task set to me, and after just a few months, the partners saw that I could handle more and kept increasing my task list and my salary.

One of the partners in the firm, Allen, differed from the others in that he treated the staff in the office like professional colleagues. This was my earliest experience of professional respect. Allen took the time to converse with the staff, and I learned from him an important lesson:

Your work is an integral part of your life and you should approach it accordingly.

This was the matched pair to an important lesson I learned from my father, who was very successful in his career as an insurance adjuster, but was unfulfilled and even unhappy doing it. He tried several times to change profession, but the need to earn a living always brought him back to insurance. And so his was a lesson taught by demonstrating exactly what not to do:

Work is a life sentence, so choose something you enjoy.

Merging what I learned from my father and from Allen led me into a strange patchwork of a career that was intensely rewarding as well as lucrative, but that’s another story. I’ll add to the above lessons a few others I’ve learned or developed along the way:

Your professional reputation is one of your most valuable assets.
You can get far with kindness and respect.

In some ways I’d say my little job at that accounting firm in the ’80s was pivotal, as Allen’s example and focus on professionalism made a huge impression on me and helped me forge my own successful career. [Here’s more about Allen and why meeting him ended up having a big impact on my life.]