We believe that a paycheck is more than just money —it empowers individuals to express themselves and become the person they want to be. For each individual, nothing represents the growth and dignity that comes with earning a paycheck as much as the memory of earning a paycheck for the first time in one’s life.

We asked many influential people in different industries to share their first paycheck stories, and how those stories shaped the person they are today.

Bonni Pomush; CEO of Working Wardrobes

Bonni’s first job was a front desk associate at a local salon. She was initially motivated to apply by the lure of the benefits. As she experienced the work, she realized it was more than a sum of her tasks — it was a way for her to demonstrate and live her values. “One of the most important things I learned while working there was that my contributions mattered,” she told us. “Although my role was only one part of a customer’s experience, what I did made a difference to them, to the other employees, and of course to me.”

John Bisnar; Former Partner of Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys

John had a childhood laced with difficulty and struggle, so for him, earning a paycheck was a necessity from an early age. Early jobs included working full-time at restaurants to make ends meet. Over time, he was able to become a successful partner of his own law firm, and the journey changed his perspective about money as time went on. “What earning money meant to me was food, necessities of life, security, and surviving another day,” he told us. “Slowly, over time, I learned to enjoy the fruits of my endeavors, developed self esteem, and learned to relax in the quiet confidence that I wouldn’t be hungry and that I would have a place to sleep.”

Dita Von Teese; Model, Burlesque Star and Lingerie Brand Owner

Dita grew up around her mother’s nail salon and the lingerie store next door, where she landed her first job. Given the exposure, she grew to love all things feminine and powerful. Getting her first paycheck meant that she was able to express herself in the ways she chose (even if that meant putting her entire paycheck right back into the store). “I actually still have that first set, and even based a design from my own lingerie collection on it,” she told us. “My longtime love of lingerie is what sparked my entire career as a pin-up and burlesque star, and now to have come full circle with my own successful lingerie label is really something!”

Robbin Narike Preciado; Managing Director, Regional President – MUFG Union Bank, N.A.

Robbin grew up with a single mother and always knew the value of hard work. When she was fifteen years old, she applied for a work permit and got her first job at Winchell’s Donuts in the Westminster Mall. She describes loving the work, the schedule, and the environment. The job solidified her passion for retail. “My job taught me about leading with customer service and how to treat the regulars,” she writes. “Now, instead of serving up coffee and two glazed donuts, I get to help clients with important life decisions that shape their financial future.

Dr. Mildred Garcia; President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities

For Dr. Garcia, her first paycheck motivated her in a different way when she worked tirelessly for hours for meager pay. At fourteen, she worked in a factory sewing handbags. “The paycheck I received after countless hours of labor was the best lesson my employer could have given me. It served as a constant reminder of what my future might look like without education,” she writes. She became a first-generation college graduate and then the first Latina president in the California State University system at CSU Dominguez Hills.

What is Your First Paycheck Story?

How did your first paycheck shape your life? We’d love to hear from you. Read more first paycheck stories, and tell us yours.