Do you remember what your career dreams were when you were a kid? Chances ar you had high aspirations to become a doctor, an astronaut, a ballet dancer, the head of a company and so on. But did these dreams ever include starting as an assistant to learn the ropes, or working as a bartender to pay for school or cover the rent? Probably not. The truth is, most people start at the top when it comes to dreaming about the future, but have to start at the bottom when it comes to making that dream a reality. The good news is that if you are paying your dues to get to the top you are in very good company. In fact many of the biographies of the now rich and famous include some not so fantastic experiences.

Before he was a multimillion dollar movie star and household name, Brad Pitt’s work involved dressing up in a chicken costume and trying to convince customers to visit a fast food restaurant. Comedian Jack Black pushed cereal commercials before he was in charge of the “School of Rock”, and Sheryl Crow used to sing ad jingles before making it as a big rock star. Sometimes you have to do the unglamorous to help you get to where you need to go. Countless celebrities and successful businesspeople took jobs just to pay the bills while waiting for their big break. For example, Willie Brown, the former long time mayor of San Francisco, shined shoes for quarters in high school and worked as a janitor to make ends meet while enrolled in San Francisco State University. While you might not need to go as far as opening a shoe shine stand, you might just need to take on a job outside of your field to help make money while you are finishing school, looking for a great opportunity, or completing an internship to help you in the future.

Usually starting at the bottom means working your way up the ladder in your industry, taking any entry-level job you can get just to get enough experience to move on to bigger and better things. Before Oprah Winfrey was the queen bee of daytime TV, she was a regular reporter at a radio station in Nashville. But starting  as the office runt doesn’t mean you’ll never move on to being top dog. The trick is to treat each and every job like it’s the most important position in the world and dedicate yourself to excellence in any job you take on.  See the value of having employees start at the bottom and work their way up. Enterprise Rent-A-Car for example, says it looks to the company training grounds for the leaders of tomorrow. Nearly all the companies senior  executives started as trainees in a rental car branch, including the company’s President and CEO.

Sometimes celebrity examples teach us you need to take chances in order to be successful. After graduating from law school, Willie Brown was shut out of most of the law firms in the city because of his race, and therefore decided to start his own practice. Designer Donna Karen lied about her age to get her first job working in a boutique, and there learned the basics of the fashion industry. Julia Roberts left her small Georgia hometown at the age of 17 to move to New York to pursue an acting career.

Famous success stories can also show that one of the most important lessons to learn is to give up on your dreams. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter stories, had the idea for a series of wizard books for years, but had to pay the bills and support her daughters. She worked for a long time as a secretary and teacher, but never gave up on her idea. She is now one of the worlds most famous-and wealthiest authors.

The bottom line is that it’s not just your experiences, but how you use them and learn from them that makes all the difference. While it can be difficult to wait for your big opportunity to come along, sometimes it just takes a little hard work, patience, and persistence to get where you need to go!


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