Many of my high school friends had their first jobs doing fairly typical stuff: retail, food service, clerical office work.
My first job involved helium balloons, deely bobbers and a rainbow wig. Under the clown name Sparkle, I ran games at children’s birthday parties and delivered balloons for special events — what we in the industry called a balloonagram.
How does a 16-year-old girl take up as a clown?
Remember that it was the 1980s in a General Motors town so there wasn’t really room to be picky if you had zero job experience beyond babysitting.
I just naively circled any classified ad that sounded like a high school girl could do it. I don’t remember the Clown Connection‘s ad — I seem to recall they asked that you call, rather than send an application — but somehow I ended up driving to Clown Connection headquarters.
When I pulled up and the address was a private home down a winding, wooded drive, I probably should have left.*
Then I really should have left when I rang the doorbell, the door opened briefly, and SLAM! came back in my face. That was part of the interview, to see how I handled bad treatment, so my soon-to-be boss could feel comfortable putting me in front of a room full of sugared-up 7-year-olds.
Obviously I didn’t leave. I took the job for about a year, and even recruited two other friends to become clowns with me.
Doing balloonagrams and kids’ birthday parties as a clown was a fantastic first job because:
- Did I mention I’m not a great singer? Doing a balloonagram meant walking in, typically to a busy restaurant or office, handing the recipient some balloons then singing a little song. People would gather around to witness the spectacle, and there I was, a capella, singing my little clown heart out. Public speaking is nothing after singing to a hushed crowd at one of the most popular restaurants in my hometown, knowing I can’t sing. I learned it didn’t matter, because it was about the showmanship and about making the event be about the person being honored, not about me.
- Some kids are afraid of clowns. This was news to me, the day I arrived at a little boy’s birthday party and he ran screaming into his bedroom. I quickly cooked up a plan with his parents — I would play games with the guests while they talked their son off the ledge, then I’d herd the kids inside for cake once he was calmed down. This was not Plan A, but working with big groups of excited kids, I got pretty good at Plans B, C, D and E.
- The nicer the house, the worse the tip. I learned a lot about money when I watched the customers who were obviously wealthiest waiting for their five cents in change, while customers in parts of town my dad didn’t even want me in would generously thank me for my time with fat tips.
- Clowns don’t work 9-5. I worked when we got jobs. I learned to be flexible if I wanted to make money and I learned the hustle it takes to be an entrepreneur like my bosses.
* Yeah, I know — 16-year-old girl on her own, long before cell phones, goes to the remote home of some guy she’s never met … if all teenagers died of the bad life choices we made, the human race would die off.
What about you? What did you learn at your first job?
I’d like to kick off an occasional series on my blog about first jobs, so if you’d like to share, tell me:
- Your name
- What you do now
- What was your first job?
- When and where was that?
- What did you do?
- What did you like best about it?
- What did you like least about it?
- What did you learn on that first job that you’re using today?