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Commentary

His first job had him in the dumps

Marketplace Staff Aug 22, 2008
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Commentary

His first job had him in the dumps

Marketplace Staff Aug 22, 2008
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TEXT OF COMMENTARY

TESS VIGELAND: All these kids with delusions of becoming the next Warren Buffett?
They may not realize it, but most of them in for a rude awakening. Before they score a corner office with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, they might have to brave a windowless room — like, maybe the basement.

Just ask commentator Robert Reich. He tells us that his first work experience went to the dogs.


ROBERT REICH: My first job was as an ad-man. That’s something of an exaggeration. It was a job in an advertising agency that today we’d call an “internship” — a kind of foot-in-the-door that might someday lead to a real job.

In truth, it wasn’t even a foot in the door. More like a big toe. I was a “go-fer” — someone who’s told to “go-fer” coffee, “go-fer” sandwiches, “go-fer” this or that package. I go-ferred for weeks, running around New York City on errands.

But even though being a go-fer wasn’t glamourous, I was fired with enthusiasm. I basked in the glow of the firm’s worldly-wise creativity, its brand-name clients, and the important meetings I’d supply with coffee, sandwiches and packages.

After a time I got fewer go-fer assignments. I assumed this meant I was now primed for the big leagues, ready to join a full-fledged ad campaign. But the real reason was I didn’t know New York well enough and got lost when I went for a package more than a few blocks away. I was so late with one of them I didn’t deliver it in time for an important meeting. So they stopped asking me to go-fer.

At this point the head of the firm gave me a different assignment, but it wasn’t an ad campaign. It was to take care of his dog, which he brought into the office every day. A big Irish Wolfhound named Prince, who had a bowel problem. My job was, well, you can imagine. I told myself this was a kind of promotion. After all, I was now working for the boss.

But I was actually working for Prince. And one day I was scraping Prince’s bowel problem off the small terrace outside the boss’s office — for the third time that day — in the 95-degree heat and humidity of a New York August, and I finally realized something I should have known all along. This job wasn’t going anywhere.
So, I summoned the nerve to tell the boss I wouldn’t take care of Prince anymore, and he summoned the indignation to tell me I had a nerve, and that was that.

I ended my first job just as I had started it — fired … with enthusiasm.

VIGELAND: Robert Reich teaches public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Anybody else wondering what that boss is doing now? Safe bet he isn’t a former cabinet secretary.

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