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My first job in high school was working at a small grocery store in town. I remember there were only eight aisles, so it wasn’t long before I had most of the place figured out. Unfortunately it wasn’t very complicated, and when I wasn’t assisting┬ácustomers in the front, I was usually walking through the aisles pulling the products neatly to the front of the shelves. I’ll be honest, I hated it. I kept wishing I could be working with my brain instead of my hands. In fact, sometimes when I’d see friends come into the store, I’d find something to do in the back so they didn’t catch me doing such a menial task.

Fast forward several years. I was serving in Iraq with the Army. I was proud that my Special Operations job allowed me to work in an advisory capacity with both the State Department and local NGOs. One day I opted to work from the base instead of going on the mission, only to find out that all the soldiers remaining behind needed to help with a special project: sandbag detail. When I tried to get out of it, my leader gave me a pretty healthy tongue-lashing and appointed me sandbag project leader for the day.

How did I get so mixed up about what was really important?

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Several years ago when I was in graduate school, I invested a summer at a major restaurant franchise with the hopes of landing a corporate role after I graduated. I worked with an incredible operator who went out of his way to help me build my network with the corporate staff. Through one of the connections he shared, an area director agreed to stop by the restaurant to chat with me one Friday.

I still haven’t forgotten that day, but not for the reasons you might expect.

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