From Waiter to Executive Director

Before finding your true career calling, it’s likely that you held a job that seemed unrelated to what you hoped to do. Though you probably didn’t realize it at the time, the job may have helped you develop skills essential to success in any career.

Here are three common, character- and skill-building jobs that can lead you to be successful in virtually any career field.


Michael McCauslin, a San Francisco teacher, says his babysitting experiences during college helped him learn patience and diplomacy. He recalls taking care of some children who were heavy manipulators: “It took a great deal of patience to deal with them, and diplomacy to let their parents know about the behavior.” He continues to practice these skills in his classroom every day.

Skills learned: Diplomacy, adaptability, patience, performance under pressure, responsibility, self-confidence, strong work ethic.

Retail Salesperson

Long before Heather D’Eliso Gordon became a registered dietician, she worked as a retail salesperson for a custom framing shop. In this role, it was D’Eliso Gordon’s responsibility to work with each customer and assess “what ‘they brought to the table,’ both figuratively and literally.” She needed to be “open-minded and let go of any pre-conceived ideas to help clients create something really special and customized.”

She uses this same skill today as a nutrition health coach, coming to the table with an open mind to meet people where they are. “This allows clients to make changes to their eating habits and lifestyles as they are able, which leads to lasting change.”

Skills learned: Open-mindedness, problem-solving, communication, good judgment, persistence, positive attitude, self-confidence.


According to John Lipp, executive director, PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support), the greatest skill he learned in the restaurant business was the importance of listening to people. “No matter who your customers are, we all share one common need — the need to be heard,” he says.

Listening is still at the core of what he does. “In order to make decisions and move our organization forward, I need to listen to the public, to my staff, to our donors, to our volunteers, and most important, to our clients. People trust me to lead our organization because they trust me to listen first.”

Skills learned: Listening, endurance, people skills, teamwork, strong work ethic, performance under pressure, problem-solving, time management.

If you’re still trying to figure out what your true calling is, a free career interest test can help. In the meantime, you can take heart in knowing that whatever job you do, you will have many opportunities to cultivate valuable skills that can take you to the next level in your career.

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