I got my first real job at age 16 – bagging groceries at the local supermarket.

The experience taught me a lot about business and how to work.

Lessons like:

  • How easy it is to stand out among peers just by working hard.
  • How attitude about work is a personal choice.
  • How decisions are made about which items go where and why.
  • How a customer’s journey impacts their buying behavior.

But the very last lesson I learned proved to be the most important.

I graduated to stocking shelves several months in. I loved it. Walking up and down a perfectly-faced aisle brought me untold joy. I gained responsibility fast.

Until one day a manager issued a strange request. He asked me to peel date labels off an entire shelf of expired items, then put them back.

This posed my first real ethical dilemma: Should I do what I’m told or what I think is right?

I chose wrong. Afraid of performing poorly at my job, I peeled the labels off.

The decision haunted me the rest of my shift.

So I went back. I took down every item and threw it away.

Then I quit. But I never forgot.

The situation taught me why I should trust my conscience and take ownership of my actions.

It’s easy to become complicit when you blame someone else’s judgment. Don’t give away your power.

It takes courage, but you always have a choice. You can walk away.

*This post originally appeared in my weekly Crash Newsletter earlier today – where I share inspiration, and the week’s best content on careers, personal growth, and how to get ahead. If you’re interest in learning more, sign up here!