Back in the Day Series: Kim’s Life Lessons from Behind the Deli Counter

Scan 1The summer I turned 16, I bought a car. It was a dirt brown, 1982 Mercury Capri that I bought for $700. The car I nicknamed Milton smelled terrible, had no stereo, and a white tube sock stuffed in the door jamb to keep the wind from whistling when I would drive over 40 km/hr. It represented independence and freedom, and I loved it.

But Milton needed gas which meant I needed money. I started working part-time in the deli department at a grocery store. I worked there from the age of 16 until I turned 26. Admittedly, 10 years is a long time for a person to hold her first job but what started as a way to put gas in my car became a way for me to make friends and pay my way through university. Yes, I spent a decade roasting chickens and slinging potato salad but the job was more than that; it has recently occurred to me that, as unlikely as it sounds, that job prepared me for my career as a digital strategist.

Here are the top 4 lessons I learned from working in that deli:

You can’t fake caring

Whether you are making a vat of Greek salad or designing a fresh digital strategy, finding a way to be enthusiastic about the project at hand has a direct impact on the outcome. At this point, I’ve worked on countless projects, some much cooler than others (e-commerce for ceiling fans, anyone?) Finding a way to connect with the property or product is the key to success. Not to mention that when you’re enjoying your project, your day-to-day work life is much more fun.

The extra mile isn’t extra

Be the one who’s willing to stay late, to help out when it’s needed. Be flexible and understanding. As we used to say, “Are you a work horse or a show pony?” Show ponies didn’t last long in the deli department and I can spot them a mile away now. They tend to self-identify as gurus or ninjas on Linkedin.

Multitasking is more than a buzzword

Anyone who has worked in the food service industry has probably heard the saying, “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” As much as I hated it back in the day, I know now that it applies to working in social media as well. Even on those (rare) quiet days, when the reports are all filed and the content calendars are set, a strategist’s job is never done. I like to fill those moments with real-time engagement on behalf of the brands I represent. Twitter and Instagram are my “time to lean, time to clean” platforms.

Knives are sharp, keyboards are sharper

During my time in the deli kitchen, I was rushed to the emergency department no fewer than six times. This doesn’t take into account many small nicks and burns. While the job taught me to be efficient, I also learned to be cautious. When communicating on behalf of a brand, particularly when a crisis happens, the stakes are high. There are no stitches for a broken brand reputation.

ScanMy years spent behind the deli counter were formative, sometimes frustrating, and they helped me clarify and build on my strengths as an employee. There aren’t many photos from me back in the day. (I’ve always been more comfortable on the other side of the camera.) In lieu of photographic evidence from this time in my life I would like to present this photo of myself learning the finer points of hula hooping and blissfully unaware of just how seriously people take their lunch order.



Posted Apr 26, 2017 Category: