In a lot of ways, running for President is like the world’s longest, most important job interview. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last year and a half: making my case to the American people – sharing why I’m qualified and what I’ll bring to the presidency.
I’m proud of my experience as First Lady, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of State. But like any job, being prepared to be President is about more than just lines on a resume. And believe it or not, the earliest lessons I learned in my career have been some of the most important. The jobs I had when I was just starting out might not have taught me the finer points of foreign policy – but they did a lot to shape the person I am today.
Growing up, my father ran a small business printing draperies. Like a lot of family businesses, it was all-hands-on-deck – and I can remember helping out. When I was tall enough, I would stand over silk screens on big, long tables, and pour in the paint, then we’d move the squeegee from left to right, then move on to the next table and start all over again. It required patience. My dad was adamant that we couldn’t cut corners, and that we took pride in every step of the process.
When you run a small business, you realize pretty quickly that no one else is going to come along and solve your problems for you. Even now, on days when things don’t go as planned or I want to just throw up my hands, I think about how hard my dad worked – and I take a deep breath, and keep pushing forward.
The second job that taught me a lot about the world was several years later. After I graduated college, some friends and I decided to spend a summer in Alaska. We worked our way around the state washing dishes until I landed a job at a cannery in Valdez. I was tasked with sliming Alaskan salmon. When I showed up on my first day, I was given boots, an apron, and a spoon to clean out the insides of the fish. If I didn’t slime fast enough, the supervisors would yell at me to speed up. It was not glamorous work, by any stretch of the imagination!
I soon noticed that some of the fish we were packing didn’t look right – they were purple and black, and sort of gooey. When I pointed this out to my manager, he fired me and told me to come back the next afternoon to pick up my last check. But when I showed up, the entire operation was gone. I learned to trust my gut – and that sometimes, doing what’s right means standing up to people in powerful positions.
It wasn’t until my first year of law school that I found a job that felt like it could become my career. A civil rights activist named Marian Wright Edelman came to campus, and gave a speech that forever changed the course of my life. She talked about faith, social justice, and public service – and something just clicked.
Afterwards, I introduced myself, and asked if I could come work for her. She said sure – but she didn’t have the money to pay me. I was putting myself through law school, so working for free wasn’t an option. Undeterred, I found a grant and went to work for her the following summer, interviewing migrant workers about their lives and working conditions.
Taking the job with Marian at the Children’s Defense Fund wound up being one of the best decisions of my life. It taught me that few things are as fulfilling as work that provides a chance to serve others and make a difference. Finding a job that spoke to my heart motivated me more than a paycheck or prestige ever could.
While I don’t think I’ll be screen printing or sliming fish again any time soon, I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today without these experiences. These three jobs and these three lessons – to work hard, to stand up for what’s right, and to strive to make a difference for others – have guided my life. And they will guide me in the future.
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