Summer jobs are the bane of teenage existence, but they're necessary to help fund those important purchases like first cars and clothes. Even stars and billionaires have suffered through their share of humiliating, awkward summer employment. Some of those jobs, however, were a perfect fit for these talented but unknown future stars and moguls. From Steve Jobs working in computers to Brad Pitt's first experience with method acting, take a look at the summer jobs that, essentially, never ended for these success stories. (It only takes a little legwork to land a prestigious career while you're still in college. Check out Internships: Find The Best One For You.)
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Steve Jobs, HP Lackey
While he was still in high school, Steve Jobs worked a summer job for Hewlett-Packard. During that time he met future business partner Steve Wozniak. It didn't take too long for Jobs and Wozniak to decide they could succeed in this computer business out on their own, instead of putting their talents to work for some other tech company. Jobs and Wozniak started Apple together in 1976, and things seem to be going pretty well.
Bill Gates, Programmer
Bill Gates first encountered computers in high school; he was immediately fascinated with them, and he and his buddies started spending all their time in their high school's computer room, to the detriment of their grades in other classes. Though his teachers weren't happy about Gates' inattention to other subjects, Gates soon after landed a couple of jobs identifying bugs in those early computer systems because of his acquired knowledge and experience. However, it was his summer job with TRW (a defense contractor) that started Gates on the road to Microsoft. At TRW, Gates was hired not to find bugs but to fix the bugs that had been found. (Many people want to start a business, but not everyone has what it takes to succeed. See Are You An Entrepreneur?)
Brad Pitt, Chicken
Brad Pitt, multi-millionaire and sought-after actor, started out humbly, but still in acting. One of the many part-time jobs Pitt got while struggling to make it was an "acting" bit that required him to dress up in a giant chicken suit and wave at people outside a restaurant. Anyone who is that dedicated to the craft deserves to make it, eventually, and of course Pitt did make it. Though he's not taken on any chicken-suit-wearing roles since then, his job of acting goes back to those first days of poultry-wearing performance.
Edgerrin James, Watermelon Loader
Some summer jobs have had unexpected benefits that lead on to successful careers. For Edgerrin James, NFL running back, the physically demanding work of loading watermelons one summer was to help him save money for a car. However, all that muscle-building had extended benefits; maybe handling the watermelons helped James easily keep a grip on the football, as well. And even the intensity of pre-season training camp probably looks easier when James thinks back to the 16-hour days of watermelon loading.
Clint Eastwood, Life Guard
One of the many jobs Eastwood worked before being recognized as a hunky and talented actor was a summer gig as a life guard. The neighborhood pool might not have given Eastwood many chances to work on his acting skills, but they did give him a chance to strut the physique and develop that irreplaceable eye squint. We don't see Clint in swim trunks much anymore, but the famous squint is still definitely there. (The glitz and glam of Hollywood could help put some more glitz in your pocket. Check out Analyzing Show Biz Stocks.)
Christopher Walken, Circus Performer
Walken was only 15 when he took on a job with the circus, clowning around and helping out with the lion-taming. It takes a lot of intensity to face down a lion, and Walken is known for his acting intensity and his portrayal of "mentally unstable" characters. His experience with clowns, not known to be the most mentally stable of characters themselves, may have been the inspiration he still channels to get in touch with that unbalanced side.
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The Bottom Line
Summer jobs don't always provide an obvious connection to an illustrious future; but the common trend of being willing to take on an awkward, unfamiliar, or otherwise demanding job can provide experiences and benefits that open doors down the road. Don't look down on that hourly job flipping burgers, answering phones, or folding t-shirts at your local mall; there may an aspect of fame and fortune there, simply waiting to be developed and discovered.