Even very, very famous people have to start somewhere.
And for a lot of them, "somewhere" is a summer job. For some, those high school and college gigs were obvious steps toward incredible careers. For others, the path to success was...a little more winding.
But while Madeleine Albright may not have found her ultimate calling in bra sales, and Christopher Walken didn't go onto have a lucrative lion taming career, everyone learned something from the experience — even if it was what they didn't want to do.
We combed through interviews with business leaders, political leaders, artists, and tech stars to figure out what some of America's most successful people did over their summer vacations when they were younger.Microsoft founder Bill Gates served as a Congressional page.
Already an accomplished computer programmer — he'd started at 13 — a young Bill Gates spent the summer of 1972 working in Washington, DC, as a Congressional page, according to CNN's timeline.
At Inc., Bill Murphy, Jr. speculates that this might have shaped Gates more than one might guess. "It wouldn't seem to have much to do with starting Microsoft," he says, but "it could have sparked an interest in public policy that led him to launch the Gates Foundation."
Actor Christopher Walken started his performance career as a lion tamer.
Before he was Academy Award-winning actor Christopher Walken, he was Christopher Walken, the 16-year-old lion tamer.
"It was a touring circus that was owned by a man named Terrell Jacobs," he explained to Vanity Fair. "It was just one big tent, and he was a lion tamer. He didn't have any kids, but the bit was that I would dress up as his son in an identical outfit. When he would finish his act, there would be one lion left, and I used to go in and have this lion do tricks."
It was not, he claims, as dangerous as it sounds. "It was a female named Sheba, and she was very sweet. Like a dog, really. I would wave the whip, and she would run and sit up and roll over and do things."
Amy Poehler scooped ice cream.
The summer before college, the comedian scooped ice cream at Chadwick's, "one of those fake old-timey restaurants."
In the New Yorker, she recalls the rise and fall of her brief ice cream career. She liked the "performance aspect" of the job. She didn't like the rest.
"I quit when the summer ended," she writes. "I had started forgetting to charge for whipped cream. I was failing to use the ice scoop. A customer told me I was banging the drum 'too hard.' She was right."
Media mogul, philanthropist, and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg was a parking lot attendant.
As a student at Johns Hopkins University, the then-future mayor of New York City spent the summer working as a parking lot attendant, according to his LinkedIn bio.
Whether or not this early experience contributed to his status as "public transportation's loudest cheerleader" remains a topic for further debate.
Apple founder Steve Jobs talked his way into a job at HP.
At 13, the kid who would go onto found Apple got HP founder Bill Hewlett's number out of the Palo Alto telephone book and called in a favor. According to Wired, he wanted Hewlett to give him "a part for a frequency counter he was building."
Impressed by the 8th grader's chutzpah, Hewlett offered him a summer job. "I was putting in screws," he told Playboy in an 1985 interview. "It didn't matter; I was in heaven."
Former Boeing CEO Jim McNerney was a cattle rancher.
Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, McNerney worked the usual teen jobs until he "called up a Colorado rancher on a whim," reports USA Today.
"I'm 6-foot-2, strong, and I like to work," he told the rancher. The rancher asked if he could ride. He could not, but he answered "enthusiastically enough" to get the gig anyway.
By the end of the summer — a summer he spent baling hay, clearing land, and branding cattle — he'd learned to ride well enough to enter a local rodeo.
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was a grocery store cashier.
Before Google and Yahoo, a 16-year-old Marissa Mayer got her professional start as a checkout clerk in the County Market in Wausau, Wisconsin, reports Fortune.
"I learned that speed mattered," she said of her summer gig. "They measured our items per minute rate during each shift, and the only way to be eligible to work an Express Lane was to do 40 items per minute consistently over an 8-hour shift."
Other lessons from that summer: work ethic is important, families sometimes have to make tough decisions, and it's best if all the bills in her wallet are turned the same way.
Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein peddled soda in the stands of Yankee Stadium.
In an interview with NPR, Blankfein recalls hawking soda to baseball fans throughout his early teens.
"You'd get a tray full of sodas and it was covered by cellophane, which would slip off, and so you'd get yourself wet and sticky," he says.
"I would make, like, three cents for carrying that tray of soda straight up these steep steps, sell it to them and come walk down," he continues, "and I tell you I learned what a dollar was worth because I learned how to make it three cents at a time carrying trays of soda at Yankee Stadium."
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings sold vacuum cleaners door to door.
The Netflix spent the summer before his freshman year at Bowdoin selling vacuum cleaners door to door, and liked it so much he deferred admission for a year to keep his vacuum sales career going.
"I loved it, strange as that might sound," Hastings tells the Bowdoin Orient. "You get to meet a lot of different people."
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sold bras.
The summer between junior and senior year of high school, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made "probably under a dollar an hour" selling bras at Jocelyn's Department Store in Denver.
"I learned that you need to be willing to do anything," she told Forbes in a 2006 interview. "You use it as a learning experience; how to interact with people in situations that aren’t always easy.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos castrated bulls and ran a summer camp (not at the same time.)
The Amazon founder spent childhood summers on his grandparents Texas ranch, where he did farm work, like "reparing windmills and castrating bulls."
Later, after a teenage summer stint at McDonald's — he hated it — Bezos and his then-girlfriend created and ran an educational camp for younger kids, charging "$600 a pop" for admission, according to Business Insider's Nicolas Carlson. (The got six signups.)
At "The DREAM Institute," campers read selections from classics like "Gulliver's Travels" and "Watership Down," wrote simple computer programs, and studied black holes.
Director and screenwriter Richard Linklater worked on a Texas oil rig.
In some ways, Linklater owes his movie-making career to a summer gig on a Texas oil rig.
As a student at Sam Houston State — he was there on a baseball scholarship — the "Boyhood" director fell in love with writing. But he lost his scholarship after an injury, and was forced to find another way to pay for school, according to a profile in the New Yorker.
A friend got him a summer job on an oil rig, which paid well, and more importantly, gave him lots of free hours to read and write. Instead of returning to school in the fall, he used the job to finance his passion for film, watching up to four movies a day whenever he came back to the mainland.
Hillary Clinton had a brief career gutting fish.
On summer break from Yale Law School, the former New York Senator and current presidential hopeful got a job at an Alaskan fish-processing plant scooping out fish guts.
"They were purple and black and yucky looking," she told the New York Times. She had a lot of questions about the condition of the fish — too many, according the the plant's owner, who fired her within a week.
She was undaunted by the experience. "I found another job," she said.
Former chair of the Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke took nacho orders.
The former chair of the Federal Reserve spent his Harvard summers home in South Carolina, waiting tables "six days a week" at roadside attraction South of the Border, he tells the Washington Post.
As a server at the "landmark of the southeast" — if you've ever driven between the Carolinas along I-95 you've seen the giant Sombrero Tower — he learned an important lesson. His takeaway? "Work is hard," reports Minyanville.
Ex-Disney CEO Michael Eisner says he learned everything about leadership over summers as a camp counselor.
At 16, the former CEO of Disney got his first gig — as a summer camp counselor, making $100 for eight weeks.
The experience was pivotal, he tells Forbes. At Camp Keewaydin, in Salisbury, Vermont, he learned some of the most important leadership lessons of his career.
For one thing, he learned to be part of a team, he says. "I remember making it through things like rainstorms and big waves in the water. Those issues made an enormous impact on me."
News anchor Anderson Cooper interned at the CIA.
"It was less James Bond than I hoped it would be," the CNN anchor admitted, speaking of his college stint as a CIA intern.
As a 19-year-old at Yale, he spotted "a flyer for the CIA in my college career counseling office," and spent the next two summers at headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Central Intelligence wasn't for him. "I know the CIA may sound more exotic and mysterious, but it was actually pretty bureaucratic and mundane, at least the little bit that I saw of it," he wrote in a CNN blog post. "By the end of the second summer, I realized it was not a place I wanted to work after college."
Slow food doyenne Alice Waters manned a hot dog stand.
The patron saint of the slow food movement spent her teenage summers selling decidedly non-organic meals.
One summer, the teenage Waters "slipped on a plaid skirt and slung fried chicken and biscuits as a carhop at the Country Country Cousin in Michigan City, Indiana," reports the New York Times.
The next summer, she moved onwards and upwards, selling hot dogs at a stand called Winski & Winski Enterprises, where she was "a hard worker, but perhaps not always a model employee."
Journalist Philip Gourevitch skinned bears.
At 20, the New Yorker writer spent the summer as a bear-skinner in the Wyoming mountains, he recalls in an essay for the magazine.
"I knew nothing about bears, and I had never flayed an animal. But I moved through life back then with a dauntlessness born of cluelessness, and I had spent all my money — three hundred dollars — in Denver, on an old car, so I needed to make some more."
It paid "something less than $5 an hour." After his first bear, Gourevitch did not last long."On lunch break, I found another job, as a yard laborer at the sawmill," he writes.
'This American Life' host Ira Glass interned at NPR.
The most famous name in radio stumbled into the field with an internship the summer after his freshman year of college. It was not his first choice.
"I wanted a summer job, and I went to all the TV stations and advertising agencies and radio stations in Baltimore looking for some sort of summer job," he tells the A.V. Club.
"Nobody had anything, but someone at a rock station in Baltimore knew someone at NPR in Washington, and just basically gave me his phone number and said, 'They're kind of a new organization, so call him.'" Glass did, and turned that conversation into what would become a career.
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