My First Job Was Picking Up Trash

My first job was picking up trash along the roadside for Sugar Grove Cemetery in Wilmington, Ohio.  I was ten years old, and my grandfather was the Superintendent. I took over the job for my big brother when he started a lawn care business (a fancy term for mowing neighborhood yards); and I became the youngest employee on the company’s payroll.

My parents instilled a strong work ethic in me at an early age and taught me to always take pride in my work. Picking up trash was certainly not the most glamorous job and after a couple of years, I moved on to becoming the best babysitter in town; some fun product marketing for a local grocer; and eventually working for a photographer before heading off to college.

What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that my employment at the cemetery prepared me for some really valuable lessons in business:

Get an early start.  My job was to pick up trash that littered the one-mile stretch of land between the cemetery fence and the road. I was responsible for maintaining curb appeal. I lived about a mile from the cemetery gate, and the route ended at my grandparents’ house, so it was approximately a four-mile walk round trip. Not counting my treasured visits with my grandparents afterward, or my scenic adventures off the beaten path, I could complete my job in about an hour. I worked every Saturday morning, so if I wanted to go somewhere with my friends that day, I had to get an early start.  And I discovered that I always accomplished more when I made my job my first priority that day. I got up, ate breakfast, and got to work – no procrastination.

Take pride in your work. After retiring from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, my grandpa took great pride in creating a beautiful sanctuary where loved ones could pay their respects; and I was honored to be a part of it. My grandfather set high expectations for maintaining beautiful, well-manicured grounds, and as a result of his leadership, his employees worked to exceed them.

Little details make a big difference.  Grandpa didn’t have to pick up the trash along the roadside – it technically wasn’t part of the cemetery. It was important to him, however, that visitors had a lovely first impression. He invested extra time and money in staff and equipment to keep the cemetery beautiful. The grass was always trimmed, the flowers were always fresh, and the trash was always picked up. What first impressions are you making with your customers?

Face the challenge.  I walked uphill both ways. In rain or shine. Seriously. And I walked along a busy street. I was a young girl who was active in dance lessons, cheerleading, Girl Scouts, fun, and fashion – but on Saturday mornings, I wore work gloves and carried a trash bag. You may not always have the easiest route in your career, but face your challenges head on – and with your head held high.

Do a great job and the rewards will come.  I received $3.35 for one hour of physical labor. My path, however, ended every week at my grandparents’ house… a house filled with unconditional love, laughter, a beagle dog, and freshly-baked cookies. (Those perks were all part of my employee benefits package.) Oftentimes, the gifts you receive as a result of your hard work are priceless.

Picking up roadside litter was a small task that made a big impact on me as a child and on the overall customer experience for the business.  I’ve come a long way since picking up trash, but I’m still mindful of the smallest details that provide lasting impressions in my own business.  And I’m so grateful for that experience.

What’s one thing you can change right now in order to create a better experience for your customers? Put on your work gloves and get started.

Michelle Joyce
About the author: 

Michelle Joyce is a Professional Speaker Agent, Coach, and Consultant. Whether you’re looking to hire the best speaker for your event, or you want to learn how to run a successful speaking business, you can reach her directly at and follow her on Twitter.