Everyone’s career starts somewhere, even if that somewhere is a summer gig behind the counter at Starbucks or as a server at a local diner. We spoke with three fabulously successful women about their very first jobs and how they informed (or didn’t) their current careers. And, oh baby, have these ladies come far!
Lena Kanise Jensen
CEO of LENAJAPON U.S.
Brookline resident Lena Kanise Jensen runs the U.S. branch of LENAJAPON, a skin care brand focusing on products to soothe and heal dry and irritated skin.
Jensen, however, started out her career in pointe shoes. “I was a professional ballet dancer in Europe,” says Jensen. “I was an artist for 20 years.” She started dancing when she was six years old, and it quickly turned into a life calling.
After decades on stage, a neck injury cut Jensen’s dance career short. That’s when she turned to skin care. Jensen had suffered from horrible acne as a dancer, and her mother, a veteran in the cosmetics industry, set to work making a product for challenging skin conditions. Jensen shared the product with some of her friends and noticed what a difference it made in their confidence. “I saw how happy these products were making people, and I thought, this should be my next job.”
Though she doesn’t work for standing ovations anymore, Jensen says she has earned a few valuable lessons from her first gig. “[I learned] how to present myself and how to connect physically and mentally to a task,” she says.
It seems like backstage life is working out just fine for this cosmetics mogul.
Polly A. Tatum
President and Founder of Mediation Advantage
Polly A. Tatum founded Mediation Advantage: The Law Offices of Polly A. Tatum to specialize on divorce and mediation matters. “I focus on helping couples with a healthier approach to separation,” she says.
In addition to mediating legal separation, Tatum’s firm also offers a six-week course in co-parenting to help the whole family work through the change. She also works with families and individuals on estate planning.
Turns out those communication skills were developed in Tatum’s early work experiences. Tatum’s first job as a teenager was a summer gig swapping out towels and assisting visitors to local pools and recreational parks. A few years later, she started her professional career in an operations role at a factory, which exposed her to people from all different walks of life.
“I think it was the interpersonal and people skills that I learned in those early jobs,” she says. “Everyone has problems, and they want someone to listen to them.”
Lovern J. Gordon
President of the Love Life Now Foundation
Lovern J. Gordon’s very first job focused on shoes. “I worked as an executive secretary for the customer service department of Filene’s Basement,” she says. Remember that gem? RIP. Although she did get a juicy employee discount, she also had to deal with irate callers who wanted to speak with a manager about their purchases.
Today, Gordon’s career is all about social justice. She established the nonprofit Love Life Now Foundation to educate the Boston-area public about domestic violence, after surviving an abusive relationship herself. Her company runs events, educational programs and workshops to teach community members how to support domestic violence victims. In January, Love Life Now will launch an apparel line to continue the campaign.
“Fielding all those calls, I had to talk people down from the ledge and assure them that we could find a solution,” says Gordon. “I think to this day it’s helped me not be ashamed to talk to anybody.”
Her current job doesn’t come with an employee discount, but it does come with something better: The satisfaction of knowing she’s helping women feel safe again.