During the summer of my senior year in high school, I worked in the facilities maintenance office of Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC. Spread over 1,750 acres, this city park was the 3rd national park designated by the federal government in 1890 and it is much beloved today. This job assignment was under the auspices of the Summer Youth Employment Program spearheaded by our then-Mayor Marion Barry. I mostly performed clerical tasks, such as typing memos and letters, filing, and answering telephones. I worked 5 hours a day. Having worked in similar positions the previous two summers, I was highly efficient at my job at that point. I also happened to be the oldest summer intern at that location. The Chief of Facilities Management would often walk into the area where I worked with some of his staff members. Apparently, he was making observations. As the end of summer approached, he ventured in again and struck up a conversation with me. He was surprised to learn that I had just graduated high school and was heading to college in the fall. He declared, “You work hard and you need a real job.” He went on to say that his wife worked in Human Resources at regional National Park Service Headquarters. He wanted me to prepare a formal application and submit it to her immediately. I followed his instructions without delay and was hired the following summer for my first real job (i.e., 8 hours/day) at the regional Branch of Employee & Labor Relations. I kept that job throughout my four years of college. If I came home from school for even two days, I was allowed to work. Of course, I worked there during all summer and holiday breaks. The money I earned came in handy, allowing me to cover my incidental expenses while my mother paid my tuition.
Looking back, I realize that position provided so much more than monetary compensation. I learned how to be a real professional. I became proficient in word processing, business communications, and other administrative tasks. I learned a bit about human resources and labor relations along the way. I also gained confidence interacting with peers and senior officials. My daily walks through the verdant park land and forests on the way to the office and the reflective lunch breaks by the Potomac River brought rich rewards as well. A few months after I graduated from college, I reluctantly left my position to explore my field of study. The professional skills I attained there provided a solid foundation on which to build my career. A year or two later, I returned to government service through a training program with the Department of the Navy. My previous government service placed me ahead of my peers in terms of salary and benefits. That was a pleasant surprise. I would soon find that the personal connections I had made with my supervisors back at the National Park Service were continuing to pay tremendous dividends. When I applied to graduate school, the Branch Chief I had worked for provided letters of recommendation, about 6 in all. Upon completion of my graduate degree, I landed a position in a management training program with the U.S. Postal Service. Again, my previous government service, this time with two agencies, placed me in a different benefits category than my peers. I have since left government service and launched two companies and a radio show. My approach to business communication and collaborating with others is very much rooted in my early professional experiences.
I look fondly on that summer internship at Rock Creek Park though I had initially hoped to earn more money working somewhere else. While it was in my nature to put in an honest day’s work, I didn’t expect much more from that assignment than a little extra money to take with me to college. I had no idea that it could lead to a series of fulfilling career experiences, long-term. I suppose my biggest lesson from that experience lies in these words from Mahatma Gandhi — “The future depends on what you do today.” #WeeklyPrompt