What's behind that Social Security Statement?

Career path sign (med)

Twenty Five Ways To Make a buck and develop A Career

Not long ago I recieved the annual statement from the Social Security Adminsistration that recaps all the years that we have paid into the struggling federal retirement system. You know the one – we all get them. They list the years we worked and the amount we paid into the system. It even gives us an estimate of benefit that we will someday hope to collect. Frankly, it’s pretty depressing.

As I looked over the statemeent, I thought about all the different types of work that I’ve done and all the jobs that I’ve held. There were jobs that kids have to make a few bucks in the summer, and jobs that develop into a career. I decided to make a list and see how much I could remember. The first social security payment was in 1968 and the time frame spans over fourty years. No wonder I feel so tired!

I suspect that each of these endeavors could be a story in their own right. Maybe I’ll tackle that someday. For now, this short summary is at least a record for my grandchildren to think about someday. A work ethic is something that is built and developed from a young age. I don’t think we see enough of that anymore. Here’s my list… not necessarily in chronological order.

Picked berries. Most of the time it was strawberries, but occasionally I picked raspberries and blueberries too. I remember getting up early and catching the "berry bus" that would take a community of kids off to the wet, cold berry bushes. I think we made something like 40 cents a flat. Good thing I wasn't trying to raise a family when I was 12.

Entrepreneur. A couple of times each year, depending on the season my neighbor/cousin and I set up lemonade / kool-aid / and hot chocolate stands. Most of the time we drank more than we sold. But we had a good time and learned how hard it was to make a buck.

Harvested bark from Cascara trees and selling it to a company that knew how to do something with it. Do you know what Cascara bark makes... Well, let's just say it's a cure for constipation. Rookie Cascara bark harvesters are often tricked into chewing a bit of bark during the work day. Not good. Not good at all.

Recycler. Collected and returned pop and beer bottles for their deposit value. 5 cents for quarts, 2 cents for pop bottles and a penny for beer bottles. Found gold mines at the local park after weekend events. It was stinky and dirty but it was cash. And it was recycling before anyone really called it that.

Mowed neighborhood lawns. Unfortunately, most of the families in my neighborhood had their own kids to mow their lawns. Business wasn't all that good. And I hated it when they wanted me to use hand clippers to trip the grass under their fences and around their trees. There were no weed eaters or string trimmers back then.

Babysitter. I got my start by taking care of my nieces and nephews when they were little. Every once in awhile someone else would call and ask me to help them out.

Food service worker. Each summer there was a community event in my home town. It was called Aquafest. One year, our junior class used the event to raise funds for things we were planning. We had very little money for supplies, but we all had great mom's and sisters who could bake some delicious pies. So while everyone was selling hot dogs, popcorn and the usual fare, we sold home made pie by the slice. We had to call for more inventory over and over again. First lesson in differentiating your product line and recognizing what the customer really wanted.

Grocery boy. It all started when they refused to hire me because I was too young. So, not one to take no for an answer, I took a broom to their store a couple times a week and swept the sidewalks and parking lot. For nothing. Eventually Dick and Sally Glassman (owners) were moved to pay me to do the job. I later got a job as a stock boy for them and continued to work there for the new owners when the store was sold and became Norm's Market.

Split cedar stumpage (log remnants from a cedar mill) into kindling and packaged it for resale at local grocery stores. My uncle got first shot at the stumpage to make cedar fence posts. After he used the good parts, I took what was left over and split it into kindling with an axe and hatchet. Lot's of slivers but made some serious money at 30 -50 cents a bundle.

Service station attendant. Pumped gas, washed windshields, changed and repaired tires and did oil changes at Roaldson's Lake Stevens ARCO station. Those were the days when service stations actually provided service. There was a hose that ran accross the ground next to the gas pumps. When a car ran over the hose the bell would ring and we dropped whatever we were doing to take their order, pump their gas, check their oil and wash their windshields. Those were the days. Gas was under 40 cents a gallon.

Mill worker. Worked as an "extra" at my brother-in-laws shake and shingle mill. Most of the time I was the guy who cleaned up all the work stations at the mill after the regulars all went home or between shifts. Eventually I got to run a saw that was used to make carpenter shims. Running the saw was fun work.

Farm hand. Bucked bales of hay in the Palouse fields surrounding WSU. Once a year alums of the AGR fraternity at WSU would call the house looking for field labor. "Bucking bales" is the act of walking for miles in a hot dry field along side of a moving flatbed truck and picking up bales of hay and throwing them to a guy on the truck who stacked them up. As the load got higher the throw got farther and the work got harder. Might have been the most physically demanding job that I've taken on. This was the best reason for me to stay in college and find a career that didn't include farm work. And I was an AGR!

Washed cars. So what all-american boy or girl hasn't been part of a car wash or ten. I participated in my share for sure. Never liked it either.

Garage sales. After college we never settled down in one spot very long. As a result, we became experts at how to have a garage sale. Unfortunately, it turns out we sold all the wrong stuff. There was a year that we sold a complete set of the original Star Wars figures and accessories that the boys had gotten tired of. To us, it was just an old toy. Today, it is a valuable collectable. And there were many more like that (ie: 8 track collection, old albums, etc).

Fund raiser. Organized the first "Basket Auction" for Washington DECA. It was a lot of hard work to get volunteers to donate a variety of baskets filled with merchandise that would be auctioned to the highest bidder. It turned out to be a big success. And was fun for everyone.

Interstate delivery driver. Transported bottles of Coors beer from Moscow, Idaho to friends who were willing to pay twice what they cost me to buy. Of course, the law of supply and demand was at work. Back then (early 70's) Coors was not legally distributed in Washington State. I think it was because it wasn't pasteurized. I didn't make a lot of money doing this, but I was able to pay for gas back and forth to Pullman.

Gas man. I worked at Adam's Welding Supply where I learned how to: 1) hydrostatically test the strength of oxygen, acetylene, and propane tanks, 2) fill 2 lines of oxygen tanks (20 per line), take the full ones off the line, replace them with empty ones, and never stop the pump... all night long, 3) move two 5-6 ft tall oxygen tanks the length of the loading dock and onto a delivery truck by tilting and twirling them with hands and feet, 4) drive a two ton delivery truck filled with explosive gasses from one company to the next dropping off full tanks and picking up empties. (I can't believe I almost forgot about this job. It was probably the hardest physical work and was very rewarding).

Heat loss expert. Inspected attics for the proper amount of insulation and conducted heat loss inspections for the Snohomish County P.U.D.

Advertising Sales. Sold newspaper advertising for the Snohomish County Tribune, Sedro Woolley Herald, and Fournier Newspaper group. I learned the most in Snohomish, my first job out of college (started at $500 mth in 1975). I disliked the work in Sedro Woolley the most. I stretched myself the most when I managed the Southcenter Mall office for the Fournier Newspaper Group, selling ads and mall promotions to the retail tenants there.

Auto Parts Marketing. After selling newspaper ads, I had a run of jobs as advertising manager or advertising director for retail companies. The first two were both in the auto parts and accessories business.... Al's Auto Supply and then Schuck's Auto Supply. I was never a mechanic, but I learned how to advertise auto parts, oil, wax, seat covers, anti-freeze... you name it. Before the automotive portion of my career was over I would become the Vice President of Marketing for the fastest growing and largest privately held chains in America. Most of our stores fell into three brands... Checker, Schuck's and Kragen.

Grocery Marketing. After more than 20 years from my days as a box boy, I returned to the grocery business as the Vice President of Marketing for QFC (Quality Food Centers) before they were sold to Kroger. I was only there for six months before I determined that it wasn't my calling. But while there, I was able to lead a remarkable transformation of the brand and it's image. That part was a blast!

Software Marketing. And there was the software business. I was very fortunate to get a call asking if I would be interested in rejoining a team that I had worked with at Schuck's to see if we could take Egghead Software to the next level. It was a high growth, uniquely branded software retailer that figured out what service was all about, when everyone else was talking about the code that made their products work. Egghead ruled for several years, and I was as the Senior Vice President for Marketing, Merchandising and Distribution for much of it. I'll never forget "Game Plan '89" and the subsequent "Super Power Summit" ... two events that brought the whose who of software acclaim to Seattle to meet with the leadership of Egghead.

Software sales. The next thing I knew I was at a software conference wearing a name tag that said "Rod Brooks - One Fried Egg". The exec team at Egghead had found ourselves on the wrong side of a failed board battle. We were out of jobs and I was looking. BINGO! Within just a few months I was moving to Sandy, Utah and going to work as the V.P. of Channel Sales for WordPerfect Corporation. My first job was to build relationships with resellers who sold software products to corporate, government, education and retail segments. My second job, after WordPerfect was sold to Novell, was to oversee the distribution of a young WP division that was developing education and entertainment software. That part of the business never really had a chance after Novell stepped in. It was a good time to leave.

Counting Coins. Yep. I actually made a living (a good one) working for a company that was committed to helping people count their coins in an easy, convenient and profitable way. It might have been the work that was both the most stimulating and worrisome. I knew when I started that the company only had enough cash to make the payroll for about 6 more months. We had 40 Coinstar machines installed in pilot grocery chains and we needed several thousand. I joined the company as VP of Marketing and Sales. While there, our network of machines stretched across the US and into Canada, totaling 4000+ when I left the company in 1999. Not only were we counting coins and making a profit, but we introduced a "Coins that Count" program that continues today... raising money for a variety of non-profit groups.

Insurance Sales & Marketing. I don't really sell it to people, but as V.P. and Chief Marketing Officer for PEMCO Insurance I oversee the product management, underwriting, marketing and sales departments. Together, those functions make up the acquisition group and are largely responsible for the continued growth of the company. I never expected to find myself working in the insurance business. For the first few years, I said I was a marketing guy that happens to be promoting insurance. Now, nearly ten years later, I guess you could say I'm an insurance guy. It's been a great decade and I'm looking forward to the years that are ahead of us. It's a marketing puzzle that is filled with challenges and opportunities. And at PEMCO... We're A Lot Like You. A Little Different.

Your comments, suggestions, and stories of your personal edge are always welcome in my guest book.