Clint Black-The Newspaper SolicitorWhen I was 14, I was hired for an after-school job selling subscriptions to my Hometown paper, the Houston Post. I was sent to some of the city's worst neighborhoods to solicit door-to-door. Even though I was often scrambling around after dark in bad areas searching for garage apartments, I was grateful for the work.
It was a challenge because people didn't like a stranger knocking on their door, especially a kid trying to get them to buy something. One time, a man slammed his door in my face and screamed, "I Don't want no damn paper." I forced myself to knock again and was able to tell him how great the paper was. I ended up selling him a subscription. I was soon among the top subscription sellers and, like other successful salesmen, was given responsibility for training newcomers.
Around this time I started playing the harmonica and guitar. Before long I was playing in a band at chili cook-offs and other events. When I turned 18, I focused my attention on becoming a professional musician. I never lost sight of this dream. I'm sure my perseverance came from what I learned knocking on strangers' doors.
Even though we struggled to make ends meet, my parents stressed to me and my four brothers and sisters how fortunate we were to live in a great country with limitless opportunities. They imbued in us the concepts of family, faith and patriotism.
I got my first real job when I was ten. My dad, Benjamin, injured his back working in a cardboard-box factory and was retrained as a hairstylist. He rented space in a little strip mall and gave his shop the fancy name of Mr. Ben's Coiffure.
The owner of the shopping center gave Dad a discount on his rent for cleaning the parking lot three nights a week, which meant getting up at 3a.m. To pick up trash, Dad used a little machine that looked like a lawn mower. Mom and I emptied garbage cans and picked up litter by hand. It took two to three hours to clean the lot. I'd sleep in the car on the way home.
I did this for two years, but the lessons I learned have lasted a lifetime. I acquired discipline and a strong work ethic, and learned at an early age the importance of balancing life's competing interests-in my case, school, Homework and a job. This really helped during my senior year of high school , when I worked 40 hours a week flipping burgers at a fast-food joint while taking a full load of college-prep courses.
The hard work paid off. I attended the U.S. Military Academy and went on to receive graduate degrees in law and business from Harvard. Later, I joined a big Los Angeles law firm and was elected to the California state assembly. In these jobs and in everything else I've done, I haven ever forgotten those nights in the parking lot. The experience taught me that there is dignity in all work and that if people are working to provide for themselves and their families, that is something we should honor.
Suze Orman-The WaitressIn 1973, when I was 22, three friends and I piled into a Ford Econoline van in my Hometown of Chicago and started out across America. We ended up in Berkeley, Calif, where I got a job cutting down eucalyptus trees with a chain saw for $3.50 an hour.
Helen was in her 60s and had red hair and incredible self-respect, something I was sorely lacking. I looked up to Helen because she was doing what she loved-serving people-and nobody did it better. She made everyone smiled feel good, customers and co-workers alike.
I also learned how important it is to take pride in life's little accomplishments. When I helped out in the kitchen, nothing made me feel better than putting two eggs on the grill, flipping them over easy, and serving them just the way the customer wanted.
Being a waitress changed my life. One of my regular customers was Fred Hasbrook, an electronics salesman. He always ate a ham -and -Monterey-Jack omelet, and when I saw him walking toward the diner, I tried to have it on his table as soon as he sat down.
He walked over to some of the other diner regulars and the next day handed me checks totaling $50,000 -along with a note that I have to this day. It reads, "The only collateral on this loan is my trust in your honesty as a person. Good people with a dream should have the opportunity to make that dream come true."
I took the checks to Merrill Lynch - the first time I had ever entered a brokerage house -where the money was invested for me. I continued working at the Buttercup, making plans for the restaurant I would open. My investments soured, though, and I lost the money.
I found myself thinking about what it would be like to be a stockbroker. After great deliberation I decided to apply for a job at Merrill Lynch. Even though I had no experience, I was hired and ended up becoming a pretty good broker. Eventually I paid back Fred and my customers the $50,000, plus 14 -percent annual interest. Five years later, I was able to open my own firm.
I got a thank-you note from Fred, which will be imprinted on my heart forever. He had been sick and wrote that my check had helped cover his mounting medical bills. His letter read , "That loan may have been one of the best investments that I will ever make. Who else could have invested in a counter girl with a million -dollar personality and watch that investment mature into a very successful career woman. How few 'investors' have that opportunity?"