I had forgotten my purse, and nearly panicked on the way home until I could do a U-turn to get back to work. The restaurant was closed, so I beat on the back entrance door until the owner popped his head out. He let me in to find it, eyeing me with a deep suspicion I felt crawl up my spine.
I walked into the dark restaurant, an edgy fear tingling my head. This was an unusual place, only two full time waitresses until they hired me. A husband and wife team, no chefs. A toddler play pen in the kitchen with an infant, and a young daughter who meandered around the restaurant all day by herself.
I found my purse, but then I stopped. There against the steam tables was her: the waitress, leaning over half way to pull the piping hot pans out from the steamers and dump the water. She froze halfway, holding her breathe when she saw me.
A single mom of two children. I remember I had watched her earlier in the morning sit down for less than five minutes with her parents and children at a table to take a bite of food with them. I will never forget what she told me: “This is the only time I have to be with them. I have to work like this to make it.”
But standing there
watching her after hours pull on heavy, hot pans after she had worked far more than me, I gawked in silence. She had already been doing this well over ten years. I had just worked my first ever thirteen hour shift, fresh out of high-school. My legs cramped. My head hurt. I was hungry. I made so many errors trying to get people’s orders right that day. I dropped a tray of tea, I spilled the coffee. I made so many mistakes.
I asked her: “What are you doing?”
She pulled the pan out and sighed. “You were supposed to empty these before you left.”
Then it hit me. No one told me that. I have received no training on this job. This job sucks. She works too hard to put up with this nonsense to just make pennies with two kids. I refuse to work like this.
“Think big and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. Life’s too short to think small.”-Tim Ferriss
I went home and never went back. I spent the rest of that evening writing down what I wanted in a job, as far as my eighteen year old mind could figure out at that time. That following week I was offered a position at a major department store, full time with benefits, and I stayed there until we moved out of state.
Now there is nothing wrong with being a waitress, I know some of my friends make really good money at it and enjoy it. But it was never in my character to do those type of jobs, and today, my husband and I make sure we leave generous tips because of our own experiences in the kitchens. It is hard work.
Looking back now, I cringe and then laugh at some of the jobs I had when I was a few years out of high school. I didn’t have guidance when it came to a career. It was like I was surfing waves of mass proportions with no proper surf board to stand on. I had no training, I sunk many times. I almost drowned professionally a few times more.
“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow.” -Robert Tew
Years later (many, many years later) I gained experience working at nursing homes. Those first few jobs taught me things about myself I would have never known if I had not have experienced first hand that type of work. Double shifts, low pay, no benefits, working holidays and weekends. You name it, I did it. And yea, I was a single mother of two at those times too.
We gain insights into who we really are professionally when we do jobs or take employment that is not what we want for ourselves, but it may be all there is to offer.
We can learn from those positions that teach us life lessons about perseverance, empathy and professionalism. Some of the jobs I had in my younger years showed me what I did not want to be when I grew older. And some jobs showed me what I hoped to be somehow with hard work and perseverance.
I think what makes a job great is if you believe in what you are doing to help others, and if you are helping yourself to grow professionally while at it. You look at the whole
picture, not just what is in front of you.
So if you believe that by waiting tables is helping those who may just need a night out not cooking and someone to wait on them, or if your goal is to be the sou chef one day, then by all means keep moving forward.
Every single step we pursue in a job, as long as we are willing to learn, will teach us things about ourselves that forge who we will be one day. Even if you are starting out with a job you hate, take what you can in life lessons from it and keep setting goals for yourself.
Keep moving forward. Just don’t give up.