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Team Man Repeller on the Lessons We Learned in Our First Jobs
05.09.18

I was 22 years old when I got my first full-time job. I worked for the wife of a high-profile designer who was in the process of launching a brand under her own name. The team was very small — just three people including myself — and as the youngest and least experienced member, I was charged with a lot of what you might call “grunt work”: running errands, dropping things off at FedEx, unpacking suitcases, watering plants, organizing the storage closet, etc.

There was a particular incident when one of my two bosses put a juice in the mini refrigerator that leaked overnight, and by the morning had congealed into a sticky, bile-colored puddle on the floor. I saw it when I arrived at the office that day and promptly forgot about it (after all, it wasn’t my mess…). When the owner of the green juice came in and saw the puddle, she asked me to clean it up. I could sense the annoyance in her voice that I hadn’t done so already. I definitely felt my own share of annoyance as I hiked up my dress, got down on my knees with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex and started scrubbing.

In hindsight, I had no right to feel annoyed. In fact, I handled the whole situation poorly. I should have cleaned up the mess the moment I saw it! Not only because it was literally my job to take care of those kinds of tasks in the office, but also because cleaning up (or helping to clean up) messes that aren’t your own — from small stuff like juice spills to much bigger snafus like actual mistakes that could really impact a company — is a huge part of being a good employee and teammate, no matter what level you’re at or what position you’re in. I wish I had realized that more clearly at the time, but even so, my first adult job was an important introductory lesson to this reality.

With college graduation season nearing, I thought it might be helpful to compile a whole bunch of memorable or helpful things people learned from their first adult jobs, so I asked the Man Repeller team t0 share theirs. Read them below, and add your own in the comments if you have one.


Haley, Deputy Editor

What was your first full-time job?

My first salaried job was at a late-stage tech start-up in the Bay Area. I was the office manager and executive assistant to the CEO, and I thought it was so cool. We had candy and scooters and kegs in the office — I couldn’t believe my luck! The job ended up being really tough though. The company doubled in size the year I was there so I spent most of my time there underwater and behind and overwhelmed.

How old were you then/how old are you now?

I was 21 and fresh out of college on my first day in July 2011. Now I’m 28.

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it? 

I learned a lot at that job, but the thing that stands out the most was learning how to take feedback. The first time I got critical feedback I was totally crushed. My boss told me that people could tell I was frustrated or annoyed when they asked me to do something and that I needed to adjust my attitude. I was so upset and my gut instinct was to defend myself: “But this job is SO hard, and no one respects it! Everyone acts like I’m their personal assistant and demands things of me that aren’t my job and that I definitely don’t have time for!” He told me that none of that mattered, and that the feedback still stood.

I remember mulling over the conversation all weekend, panicking that I’d messed up. As I calmed down it finally became clear to me that he was right. It didn’t matter that I had a reason for doing what I did — everyone has a reason for doing what they do. What mattered is that I addressed the feedback reasonably, methodically, and in a way that made me better at my role. I apologized to my boss, told him he was right, and learned to adjust my attitude without anyone else changing theirs. It was surprisingly easy. Learning to take feedback early on did me so many favors in my subsequent jobs. Once I got into HR, it was wisdom I passed on to others. Over the years, I noticed that those who didn’t jump to defense-mode when they received feedback always grew quickly and surpassed their peers.


Leandra, Founder

What was your first full-time job?

I interned in the marketing department at Valentino Corporate when I was a YOUTH (senior in high school through junior in college) but to be honest, Man Repeller has been my first adult job.

How old were you then/how old are you now?

I was 21 when I launched, and I’m 29 now.

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it?

I am still learning something new and memorable that tends to hit me over the head like a baseball bat being swung in a manner that is both aware of its force and deliberately harsh very frequently. Frankly, when I’m not learning I get anxious because it makes me feel like I am not pushing myself out of my comfort zone. The jury is still out on whether this makes me an elective sufferer, but I digress! The thing that always comes up when I am asked this question is related to working with other people — when I started Man Repeller I did it out of a bed in my parents’ apartment and it relied on no one but me.

But as I started hiring a team and working through how to build a business that is bigger than me, it took some time for me to recognize that I was managing more than just myself and my time and my own feelings. For sure learning to work well with others has been the most challenging (but also most rewarding!) part. It’s taught me and is teaching me what true compassion and selflessness and care is all about and that bleeds into so many of the business decisions that we make. In my opinion, genuinely caring for other people, putting their success in front of your own and the time investment of helping them grow is paramount to the success of any business. You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, right? So why wouldn’t you surround yourself only with people who impress and intimidate the shit out of you with their prowess, both intellectually and emotionally?


Amelia, Head of Creative

What was your first full-time job?

I worked as a public relations assistant at a fashion PR agency.

How old were you then/how old are you now?

I was just out of school, so 22? I’ll be 30 in two weeks.

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it?

I learned a lot of things. In terms of what you’re likely to begin learning any first job…

1. What I didn’t want to do, first and foremost — and I started to get a sense of where I might instead want to be.
2. How to work with/communicate with many different personalities and prioritize various immediate priorities.
3. How to delegate (I had a few interns at the time who really saved my life).
4. How to take feedback constructively rather than personally, how to give feedback constructively rather than defensively.
5. How to build a network of people that I trust and respect, not just “to help me get my next break,” but for mentorship, for example-setting, to ask advice, for friendship!

I would clarify that these are all things I STARTED to learn, and that I’m still learning some of them (like delegation), too. Because I was in PR, I was set up in a unique position to understand two different sides of the fashion industry. I learned fashion PR basics (sample-trafficking, how to write a flawless carnet that gets your packed box of designer clothes to a photoshoot on time, rather than stuck in customs); and I learned how fashion market editors work on the publishing side — what they do in their day-to-day.

That last part was important, because when I left PR, I went to New York Magazine, where I became a fashion market assistant. It was an easy transition because I’d picked up a ton of information by working with people in similar roles (fashion PR assistants communicate daily with those on the print/web side). The GREATEST thing I learned, however, is that so far every job has taught me something, even when I would rather not be “learning a lesson.” Every job was a necessary stone on my path — and what that taught me is that no matter what you do, there’s no one perfect career trajectory; I think it somehow, eventually, all works itself out.


Emily, Visual Manager

What was your first full-time job?

Package Designer

How old were you then/how old are you now?

22 then, 26 now

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it?

It really helped me learn that while I love the aesthetic and conceptual side of package design, the limitations around practicality, cost and sustainability were all really challenging to work around. It often became frustrating more than creatively fulfilling. However, as a multidisciplinary designer, I quickly learned that I was going to face these challenges in many creative mediums beyond just package design. so it was a helpful challenge and reminder that creative jobs can be fun, but will not always be all glitter and rainbows. There’s always a balance to strike between the fun aspects and the not-so-fun aspects.


Jasmin, Senior Partnerships Strategist

What was your first full-time job?

National Accounts Assistant at Estée Lauder Companies

How old were you then/how old are you now?

21 then, 27 now

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it?

How important it is to me to be passionate about a company beyond just my role within it. Since I was part of the national accounts/sales team, there was a definitely a lot of overlap between what I learned then and what I do now in terms of account and client management. Looking back, the most memorable part of my time there was how excited I was about the company and the brands I worked on — like Tom Ford Beauty. For context, my undergrad major was finance, and I’d had a lot of finance-focused internships up until that point that were good experiences but never felt right for me. Coming into that role at ELC, I realized that having a genuine, vested interest in my company and its success made me that much better at my job because I really cared about what I was doing.


Elizabeth, Market Assistant

What was your first full-time job?

I was hired to be an office manager and personal assistant, and provide production help and creative help at a jewelry brand called DANNIJO.

How old were you then/how old are you now?

I was hired at 20 years old; I am now 26.

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it?

I learned how to accept critical feedback (though that’s still a work in progress). I also learned that even in an entry-level role you can be useful and make important contributions. I priced the items for one of DANNIJO’s sample sales (with approval from my bosses) and was SO proud when we hit our goal.


Ashley, Social Media Editor

What was your first full-time job?

Publicity Coordinator for a music PR company

How old were you then/how old are you now?

21 then, 26 now

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it? 

I moved to Los Angeles right after I graduated college. I’d always been in such a hurry to start my adult life so I graduated early and moved out right away. It wasn’t until I was there that I realized the structure of college wasn’t stifling but kind of comforting. I don’t know if it was my upbringing or my entire generation, but I felt like I’d always been told exactly what to do, where to be, etc.

My very first job in L.A. was assisting a jewelry designer who basically treated me like her kid, so it was kind of just more of the same. When I started working in PR, though, no one was looking over my shoulder and checking what I did. If things didn’t get done it was because I didn’t do them. There was no safety net and no one interested in how hard I tried to check things off my to-do list. That job taught me to stop making excuses and to take ownership of my what was on my plate. I learned how to prioritize and how to organize 18,000 Google alerts. It was a springboard into becoming a dedicated list-maker.


Patty, Head of Revenue

What was your first full-time job?

Working at an advertising agency in Chicago.

How old were you then/how old are you now?

22 then, 30 now

What was the most memorable thing you learned from it?

That a fulfilling career depends largely on my relationships with my peers. I was lucky to learn this early because a friend and I were recruited together, and we had each other’s extensions on speed dial to talk through ideas/ask questions/make happy hour plans, just like we did in school. After a few short months, there were new friends and colleagues on speed dial in creative, production, strategy, finance, legal, etc.: people who were warm in meetings, who asked for opinions with genuine interest, who told a funny joke, who gave me a beer if we were working late. We were budding professionals, learning more about our specific areas, building trust, getting to know each other and pooling our knowledge to be more effective. I think I had this idea that I would learn and grow the most from amazing leaders, and while that did happen, it’s been my peer group — across teams, companies, and industries — that has always been the most important resource in enabling me to create and share great work.

Feature image by Arnaldo Magnani via Getty Images.

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