INSPIRATION

Life Lessons from My Restaurant Job

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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.

 


 

Feature photo by Rebecca Slaughter, and my deepest thAnks to the team at Avery Brewing Co. for all of the above and all the other stuff I couldn’t put on the internet.

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Gabby
    March 22, 2017 at 11:58 am

    So spot on!

  • Reply
    lynne
    March 22, 2017 at 12:15 pm

    i love this because 1) i worked at a restaurant through college and completely agree and 2) nearly all of these can be applied to life at a growing startup, too. in the past (almost) 3 years i’ve been with my high-growth tech company, i’ve grown so much more as a professional – and person! – than i ever imagined i could.

    thanks for sharing!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:03 am

      I totally agree! These lessons are so applicable to my freelance work and any other job I’ve ever had. An epic and timely reminder!

  • Reply
    Staci @ The Voyageer
    March 22, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    Nice post! I think everyone should work restaurant or retail at least once in their life. SO many lessons there about hustling, teamwork, and treating people with respect even if they are treating you like crap.

  • Reply
    Michael
    March 22, 2017 at 6:05 pm

    Yep!!! Worked at restaurants while in school. Some of the best days of my life. Still remember them vividly. My sense of humor comes in a real degree from those days. Enjoy it, relish it and make it an important part of your journey because it is. I don’t need to tell you, I can see from the picture, you know! As always. Thank you!

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:04 am

      Thanks Michael! I had to quit recently (too much going on) but miss it a ton. Important part of the journey – you bet!!

  • Reply
    Anna
    March 24, 2017 at 4:31 am

    Absolutely spot on. Especially, as someone who also works in “service” the not taking things personally. More often than not people have reasons (albeit sometimes stupid ones) for being the way they are.

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:05 am

      Thank you Anna! Man, that was such a huge lesson for me and totally translated to MANY areas of my life. Allowing myself to not take things personally ended up being the best permission I could have asked for.

  • Reply
    Jessie Squires
    April 6, 2017 at 8:26 am

    We are so much more than people think we are. –> what a powerful statement and so true! People are full of surprises and that includes yourself. I have learned so much about myself and others in all of the different jobs I have had and look forward to discovering more of that in whatever other directions this path leads me. I love your perspective on this one :)

    • Erin Sullivan
      Reply
      Erin Sullivan
      April 23, 2017 at 9:25 am

      People are SO full of surprises. I am constantly so humbled by other people– I think I am learning to know less every day!

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