My dad never said, “show up early and stay late.” But, he modeled it in his weekday routine. He left the house at 7:30 even though he started at 9:00, and it was only a 30-minute drive. He was late coming home. I knew because I made dinner for my siblings.

When I landed my first job, an unpaid internship at a local professional theatre, I was always early. My shift was 9-5, but I’d be there at 8:00 am. I wasn’t always productive. I bought coffee from the mall vendor, grabbed a newspaper, and sat in the smoking lounge for 30 minutes. (The smoking lounges of theatres in the 90s is where everything happened. This one had a hammock). I’d plan out my day and be at my desk at 8:40 when the general manager arrived.

As everyone left at 5 pm, I stayed late, often until the general manager had gone.

My dad never told me, “always look busy.” But, when his staff made a big deal about him eating a hot dog at their company picnic one summer, “I’ve never seen him eat lunch before,” they said. I knew it was a smart move.

I ate lunch at my desk most days.

My dad started his career in the railway yard. When I was 5, he had an accident at work where a train ran over his foot. He was wearing earphones during the accident, so he never let us have walkmans. The train wasn’t going full force which made it worse. I went to see him in the hospital after the accident and my mom bought After Eight’s to give to him. I was so scared I’d see his foot, I almost ate the whole box. Hospitals give me stomachaches.

“The accident is the best thing that happened to me,” he’d tell my mom. He walked normally even with the two missing toes. Once he healed, his employer decided it was too traumatic for him to return to the yard, so he got an office job. He started to wear a suit to work. A bonus was that all his socks and shoes were paid for during the rest of his life. Whenever we were at a mall, he’d suggest stopping by the men’s department at The Bay to look at socks. He’d stare at them like men stare at the BBQ models at Home Depot in the Spring and say, “$40 for socks?’ He’d buy a few packs and get a refund cheque a few weeks later, laughing about it, “The accident is the best thing that happened to me.”

And when we walked the dogs and a neighborhood kid would ask, “Does your dog bite?” My dad would get a mischievous look on his face, pull off his sock and shoe, and wiggle the foot with only three toes and say, “Look what it did to my foot.” This sent kids running and crying as my dad laughed, putting his designer socks back on.

When he and my mom fought more often because he wasn’t home as much, he’d still say “The accident is the best thing that happened to me.” She said it wasn’t and eventually left.



So, that was my model for work ethic.

  • Be early.
  • Stay late.
  • Always be busy.
  • Losing some digits at work is the best thing that could happen.

And, I lived the first three work ethics resulting in landing a paid full-time job at the theatre as a School Registrar. This was significant because the role of the registrar was previously done by middle-aged women with University degrees. It wasn’t an entry-level role, my job was to sign people up for acting classes, manage all the school funds, provide educational support to the teachers, and coordinate a teen playwriting festival. I also got to be a teacher’s assistant (TA) for several acting classes, a task the previous registrars did not appreciate. I was thrilled.

The job became my life.

I arrived early, worked all week, stayed late in the evenings, and TAed on Saturdays. And smiled to do it.  My dream career during high school was to teach drama and it happened within six months of graduating. The other TAs were theatre grads. I had skipped it all by showing up early and staying late. I stayed in that job for three years until I left to manage a small craft gallery. I still taught acting on weekends.

The thing about having your career dreams come true at 18 is not that I wasn’t dreaming big enough. It was I didn’t know how good I had it. That happens sometimes. When I spoke to friends about their careers, they were taking new jobs and happy about them, and I thought I should do that too. So I hopped from craft gallery to freelance teacher to a receptionist to another art gallery and so on. And each time being early, staying late, and always being busy got harder.

When my dad said, “The accident is the best thing that happened to me,” he meant it. It gave him a job where he was heard, accepted, and allowed to make a difference.

A few years ago I spoke to my first boss about why she hired me when I was 18. I said, “Was it because I was early and I made that breakfast?” She laughed. “That was the part I was worried about, you wanted to be so perfect. But, in-between that act, I saw you. You laughed as you stuffed envelopes. You got nervous around new directors and actors. And, you had an interest in theatre, it was still magical to you.”

Which is absolutely the best career advice. And, I had done it by accident.