I’m laughing, because this is a really personal piece for me. Does that seem weird? Does this seem off-topic?
Since I started this blog, it has been the place where I have expressed the discovery of my true self– through travel, the outdoors, and pursuing a path that might be a little more complicated than most. I’ve shared honestly about my freelance career, about figuring out next steps, and about taking risks when you don’t even know if there’s a reward on the other side.
I have had many side jobs on this path. Many of them had cool titles, or seemed glamorous. But the best side job I ever took on was working at a restaurant.
I needed the money and I wanted to tick it off my bucket list. I had been working on the blog a lot and doing some social media freelance work– it was all screen time, and all solo. I wanted something social for the weekends, so I started looking.
The goal was to work at a brewery, and there are lots of options in Colorado. But I didn’t want to work at just any brewery, I wanted to work at the best brewery, so that’s where I applied. And well, that brewery also happens to be a restaurant. A big restaurant.
I was honest– I didn’t know a lot about beer. But I was enthusiastic and willing to learn, and they hired me.
So for the past year, I worked 20 hours a week at a restaurant. And this is what I learned.
I learned how to efficiently do a lot of things at once, because there is no other option. The only room available in my brain while I was at the restaurant was for things that had to do with… being there. It was a constant exercise in prioritization and mental organization. Always figuring out the most efficient way, always reconfiguring and re-inventing.
I learned to listen to people and gracefully navigate conflict. It’s in your face in different capacities all the time– both with guests, and with the people you work with. You can’t delete it and you can’t avoid it, so you better learn how to deal with it or things are going to be really uncomfortable for you.
I learned not to dwell on mistakes. I broke pint glasses, I garnished dishes wrong, I dropped drinks at the wrong tables. My bad. Let go, learn, and move on– that’s what everyone expects of you. It was so weird to me that everyone moved on from my mistakes so quickly when I was used to being hard on myself. It seems simple, sure, but it gave me permission to let go.
I learned not to take things personally. Because it was never about me– it was about the bigger picture. Everyone was doing their best. And most people wanted to make my job easier. Nothing was personal. Everything was about the team.
I learned what happens when a group of people come together who love something a little or a lot (but mostly a lot), and when they are committed to being great. I learned that when it’s for the right reasons, people proudly take more responsibility than they have to, because they know that they can, and that they are supported.
I learned what a real leader does. How a real leader acts when nobody is watching. And how closely a real leader listens to people and actually hears them. I watched with joy as real leaders led, no matter the size of their arena.
I learned what a team actually is. What it looks like, how it behaves. How a team shows up for each other when someone is overwhelmed, when things get complicated, or when life happens. Not because they feel obligated, but because they understand their place within its fabric, and because they know that it’s important.
I was reminded of the story within every individual; the things that make us tick that other people might not get to see from the outside. I wanted to know about the dishwasher’s trip to Australia and the line cook’s Master’s degree and the host’s daughter’s favorite coloring books. How the chef got married standing knee-deep in a glacial lake on a sunny day in the mountains.
We are so much more than people think we are.
And of course, it wasn’t perfect. No company is. But I learned that it’s possible to very quickly become very attached to a large group of extremely different, unique people. That it’s possible to not only call them family, but to feel it and believe it.
I was reminded in a big and bold way, that lessons are found everywhere, especially in places you never think to look for them. And that I have to remember to leave room for surprises– to know that they are not only possible, but probable, every single day I walk this earth.
I learned more in my part-time restaurant job than on any rugged outdoor photoshoot or fancy media trip. No “cool job” I’ve had could ever stack up.
I’m not saying that every restaurant experience is like this one. But I want you to know that it’s out there.
And above all, I want you to know that in life and in any side job you might have, there are always opportunities to learn, and always opportunities to be surprised. They are endless.
It’s just on us to see them.