Making It Work

(my chief weapon is ruthless efficiency)


I was born outside of Atlanta, GA; when I was a year old, my family moved to Jupiter, FL, which proved to be fortuitous. Jupiter was five miles inland, and you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a place selling bait, tackle, and bait buckets. That last one is important because when my father came home from a sales call with a carload of flour and cherry-pie-filling-encrusted buckets, it wasn’t hard to figure out what to do with them. And so at the tender age of 5, I started my first company.¹ 

Pam’s Buckets—as that business became known—sold clean², white, 5-gallon buckets with handles for $1/piece. I eventually expanded from just selling to fishing and hardware stores to sell to florists and other businesses as well. Three years later, when my family moved from south Florida, and I handed the company over to someone else, I’d made thousands of dollars, had customers over 90 minutes from our house in all directions, and was fielding requests to export buckets to Haiti.

Having moved to Missouri, I proceeded to start a variety of small businesses in elementary and secondary school—everything from custom jewelry to web design. But more often than not, I could be found working with non-profits and organizations like the Missouri Department of Conservation.³ I worked as an intern for the Academy of Science - St. Louis and served on the executive board of the Mastodon Art/Science Regional Fair.⁴ During my time at the fair, our visitor attendance reached 4,000.

For five years, I did research in microbiology—competing in local, regional, and national science fairs, symposiums, and paper competitions. I went all the way to Intel ISEF in 2000. In an era of fast-food scandals involving food poisoning and contamination, I convinced the VP of an international fast-food chain to let me do testing in their restaurants. I was eleven at the time.

At roughly the same time, I became heavily involved with a community theatre company, which performed on the director’s driveway.⁵ Over the next twelve years, I helped them fundraise, successfully apply for grants, develop stage, set, and costume crews, and produce shows in churches, amphitheaters, school auditoriums, and performing arts centers. It was not uncommon for 5,000 people to see one of our shows.

From the fair and the theatre, I developed a deep love of production work, which I pursued in college as well as by working as the Production Manager at a 3,000 attendee church and in the school’s own Special Events department. While doing that, I did freelance work, got an associate’s degree, two bachelor’s degrees, and a certificate in English.

Whew. Believe it or not, all that only takes us through age 23.

Since then, I’ve worked in graphic design, communications consulting, audio engineering, technical direction, lighting design, volunteer management, public relations, event coordination, strategic planning, technical writing, organizational development, and video production. And I’ve gotten to work with ballet companies, cultural institutions, financial planners, churches, engineering firms, universities, and theaters all over the country. I’ve taught, developed, and led teams of every age and stage—from elementary school students to retirees.

I’ve seen first-hand how the systems in our businesses and organizations either help us fulfill the mission or hinder us and how frequently our greatest resource—our people—become just another thing to manage, rather than unleash. No matter what my title is or where I am on the org chart, I wind up involved in these sorts of areas—the HOW of work area—because they’re what I notice. And it doesn’t hurt that I never met a challenge I didn’t like.

What I’ve learned is that while I’m good at a lot of different things, I excel at solving problems, and the thing I’m most passionate about is making work better. I enjoy digging into organizational challenges and companies whose focus has drifted. I like helping people get unstuck in their careers and sole proprietorships. We can create companies where we would love to work. It’s what we should be aiming for, and it will allow our people to achieve more than we could dream possible.

The average American will spend 90,000 hours at work.⁶ How that time is spent matters. The WHY of our work matters, and so does the HOW. Because ultimately, tasks and systems are how we experience work.

So let's make it better. Together.


¹Yes, you read that correctly.

²Clean, because I hand washed them in my kiddy pool.

³In 1997, I became the 28th person in the state to receive the highest award in the Department's Frontiers Program, State Conservationist.

⁴What's a regional fair, you ask? In the case of science projects, it's a fair that feeds into the International Science and Engineering Fair.

⁵The director was 11 years old, it's really no wonder we're still friends.


©2020 by Pam Smith and PS Communications.