April 1, 2015 / 2:26 PM / 4 years ago

How humble first jobs motivated these inspirational speakers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - What inspires you?

Alison Levine (third from left) at the New York International Auto Show in Manhattan, March 28, 2002. REUTERS/Chip East

It’s a simple question that is not always easy to answer. That’s why there are professional speakers who fill stadiums - and get paid tens of thousands of dollars - to light a fire in you.

For more than a year, Reuters has been talking to America’s greatest achievers, asking about the first jobs that set them on the path to success.

This month we talked to a few of the nation’s most prominent inspirational speakers. As you might expect, they didn’t start out at a podium with a microphone.

Tony Robbins

Claim to fame: #1 New York Times bestselling author, life and business strategist

First job: Busboy

“The restaurant I worked in was very slow, so I was always sitting there wanting to do something more productive. I washed all the dishes, I delivered fresh water to all the tables a trillion times. It was clockwatching, and it made me crazy. I swore I would never live my life that way.

“My next job was as janitor for a bank in San Marino, California when I was 14 or 15. What I liked was that they didn’t care about my hours, as long as I got the job done. That made me happy, because I did things my way, and felt like a business owner.

“I decided to do more for that bank than anyone had ever done. I made everything shine, I wrote notes for the people who worked there, I gave their kids candy canes at Christmas.

“Eventually, I worked cleaning two different banks in the middle of the night, while going to high school at the same time. But I loved it, because I was my own man on my own time.”

Mark Victor Hansen

Claim to fame: Co-author, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series

First job: Greeting card seller

“When I was nine, I decided I had to have a racing bike, and my dad said I could have one if I earned it myself. I discovered that I could sell greeting cards on consignment, so I didn’t have to pay for anything upfront. How exciting!

“There I was, a little kid in Waukegan, Illinois in 1957, knocking on doors after school and on weekends. The snow was deep, and I was wiping my nose on my big furry mittens, asking all my neighbors, ‘Would you like to buy a box of greeting cards?’

“It was so easy. The ladies took one look at this cold little boy, and couldn’t say no. I sold 476 boxes at $2 a box, and got to keep a dollar a box. That’s how I bought my first bike, for $175. I still remember it, and even had a picture of it on my wall: It was a Pinarello.

“I also remember that my dad, who was a baker and didn’t have much money, told me to save half of what I made. I said ‘Hey, wait a minute - you’re cutting my proceeds in half!’”

Dan Millman

Claim to fame: Author, “Way of the Peaceful Warrior”

First job: Volunteer coach

“This was back in 1967, when I was a senior student and gymnast at UC Berkeley in California. I volunteered to coach kids at the Berkeley YMCA, and that was what first whetted my appetite to teach. It gave me the bug.

“I actually gave the YMCA all of my trophies and medals I had won because I didn’t care about those things. That way, they could get them re-engraved, and use them for their own competitions.

Alison Levine

Claim to fame: Climbed the highest peaks on every continent

First job: Steakhouse hostess

“I was a senior in high school and worked at a steakhouse in Phoenix called Feeney’s. It was the first time I had worked with a team: Setting tables, helping prep cooks and dealing with obnoxious old drunks sitting at the bar.

“Everyone should have the experience of working at a restaurant, because it really teaches you how to interact with people. As hostess, I was the first person people saw coming in, and the last person people saw going out. You had to work with your team to make sure everything flowed smoothly.

“I’m sure my old steakhouse colleagues would be surprised that I became a mountain climber. But I’m still a big red-meat eater. I love a good bone-in rib eye.”

Editing by Lauren Young and Paul Simao

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