I’ve been telling the tale of my first job quite often lately, and seeing as it has served to be rather inspiring for some, I decided to post it here.
Let’s clarify first that this particular job wasn’t really my first one. I’d done short-term jobs before this as a buyer and process controller at the South African energy plant, SASOL, and a lecturer at a business college in my home town of Secunda. The job highlighted in this post was what could be considered my first big city job. It was what brought me to Johannesburg and was my entry into the world of professional web development.
A few months prior, I had signed up with a recruitment agency, specifically looking for IT-related jobs in Johannesburg. My skills at that point were predominantly in front-end development (all self-taught thanks to my trusty library of books and the Internet). In that time, the agency had organised that I come through to Johannesburg, stay overnight and whack out as many interviews as I could manage over a two-day period. At this stage, interviewing for my first “real” job, I was naturally nervous and unsure of the process. Following the advice of my parents, I borrowed a suit, dressed up neatly, and prepared to impress my potential new employers.
I thought the interviews had gone well. There was adequate rapport, I felt that I’d sufficiently proved my programming knowledge, I was polite, didn’t rock the boat, and held myself well in these weird and restricting corporate clothing. And I heard nothing back. Not a peep. Not ever.
A few months went by with no further prospects. Needless to say I was frustrated.
Toward the end of the year was when this successful interview was finally presented to me. My brother was heading off for a gap year in the UK and we needed to do a trip to Johannesburg to pick up his visa. So when the job agency contacted me to ask if I would be will to come through to the city for one solitary interview, Fate was already working with me, and we organised our trip to smash both birds in one go.
This time, I was done with playing these corporate games. I dressed comfortably, neat and tidy, with a button shirt and no tie or suit-like attire. I went into the interview calm and confident, with the attitude of “if they like me, great. If they don’t, great”. I was not trying to impress. I was simply being myself. And, of course, as these things go, I landed the job.
A few months later, somehow the conversation steered around to my boss asking me, “Do you know why you got this job?”
“Because I’m a shit-hot coder,” I replied without hesitation.
“No.” he said.
I’m not going to lie. My little heart was momentarily crushed because, at the time, I really did believe I was an amazing programmer.
He looked at me sideways with a little glint in his eye.
“I hired you because when I asked ‘What your five-year plan was?’, you said that you’re going to become a Jedi and tour the galaxy.”
To this day, I haven’t got a five-year plan. I go where the wind takes me and engage with the activities that interest me in the now. At the time, I was very much in warrior mode, living out my geek life, practising Aikido, and playing pretend saber fights with my bokken. The Star Wars prequels were fresh in our minds. And being a Jedi was my then dream.
I had answered honestly, without expectation or thought of consequence. If he hadn’t liked my answer, he wasn’t the person I’d have wanted to work for; I didn’t actually think that thought at the time but the sentiment was certainly there. I was already starting to be discerning with who I spend my time and energy with. The disappointing result of playing the so-called corporate game with the earlier interviews and not getting any callbacks had left me pondering what the point of the game was, if playing it didn’t get you a win.
That conversation with my boss opened my eyes. I realised then how important it was to be true to myself, and that realisation fuelled my interactions with authority for the years to follow. I didn’t realise how much I was preparing to be a freelancer and an actor (It would be a year later that I fell into my freelancing lifestyle and 4 years before I went on to become a professional actor). As somebody who has subsequently had to interview (or audition) on a continuous basis both for acting gigs as well as other freelancing jobs, it was good to learn that being myself and not pandering was the best way forward.
Over the years, I’ve learned where we do need to play this game of life authentically. In all honesty, I do sometimes fall off the wagon, giving into the voices that demand I fit in with the established rules. But I can tell you that I’ve been happiest and had the best adventures when I’ve strayed from the beaten track and gone my way, drumming to my beat.
The world is a playground, laden with opportunities to experience pretty much whatever we want to experience.
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