At Your Service

Today’s Daily Post prompt asks us to discuss a good or bad experience we’ve had as a customer. In over a decade of waiting tables, I saw a lot of different types of customers, and learned the kind of customer that I wanted to be pretty early. One thing you figure out when you decide to be a good customer is that it’s really difficult to get bad service if you decide you’re going to have a good time. I think that many customers fail to understand the complexity of table service, especially in a nice restaurant that is also busy. That failure to comprehend how the world works leads to unrealistic expectations, which one might assume leads bad customers to exhibit poor behavior elsewhere in life. But that’s not why we’re here today. Today I want to talk about my first job in the restaurant industry, and how it’s led me to become the mental wreck I am today…

I started my career as a restaurant dishwasher. My grandfather had given me an old car a few weeks before for my 16th birthday, and my mother subsequently decided that I’d have to start driving myself to and from school so that she didn’t have to wake up early every morning. To pay for the gas to run the car, I’d have to get a job. To make time for the job, I’d have to quit running track and doing a few after-school activities, and do my homework after I got off of work at 10pm.

I thought it was a pretty shitty deal then, and almost 16 years later, I’m still do. Even though independence is huge, and teenagers should definitely learn the value of hard work, I’m not sold on the idea of forcing a kid to quit playing sports and drop out of school activities just so you don’t have to drive them to and from school any longer. Especially if you (the parent) don’t have a job or do anything constructive with your time, and your kid is an academic overachiever who could really use more experience on the athletic side of things.

But what did I know? And the car did come in handy for makeout sessions and shopping trips, which I’m sure my parents weren’t factoring in when they made me quit the track team.

After six months of washing dishes and helping out in the restaurant kitchen, I moved up to become a server. We were called waitresses then, though. This was was the only “fancy” (meaning no cut-off sleeves) restaurant in town to grab a sit-down dinner, and I’d been eating a couple of meals a week there since I was a baby. I suppose everyone had known that I’d work there one day, even the managers, who still treated me like the little girl who’d always requested a strawberry candy instead of a peppermint when the check came. That mindset didn’t excuse the treatment we all got as employees, though.

The boss was ex-Navy, and it showed in every action. He was a wound-up ball of anger, disguised behind ironed jeans and tucked-in polo shirts. His was by far the cleanest restaurant I ever worked in. Like all servers everywhere, we had a specific roster of tasks that had to be taken care of at opening and closing, but sidework at the restaurant was an AFFAIR. In some ways it was the best possible place to start a career in the service industry, because forever after I felt lucky when I only had a few small tasks to complete outside of waiting on tables. Here, before and after each shift we had so much work that we’d often show up a couple of hours early and stay a couple of hours late. From washing the windows, washing the menus, cutting veggies and prepping the salad bar, refilling condiments, disinfecting tables and chairs, making/storing tea and coffee, wrapping silverware and folding napkins, mopping, vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms, dusting light fixtures, scrubbing out the drink coolers and freezer, and about a hundred other small tasks, it was a HUGE responsibility to keep the place running to the boss’s specifications. But it worked. We worked. We were all kids, too, so we didn’t know it was borderline insanity. It was just our job, so we did it.

The one job that I absolutely hated was cleaning out the kitchen’s walk-in cooler. To this day, I’ve never seen a cleaner cooler. The cooks kept everything labeled correctly, and nothing was allowed to go even slightly south of perfect. Wilting was not allowed in the boss’s kitchen…unless you were an employee. We all wilted in private from time to time, mascara running, sobs muffled in the walk-in. It made a great place to cool down after he screamed at you in his office for the umpteenth time about how lazy, inefficient, inept, etc. you were. Towards the end of my employment, as business got worse and he began taking it out on the little girls who worked for him, the boss’s task list grew longer. He assigned cleaning tasks as both chores and punishments, and soon they both started to blend together.

Cleaning the walk-in happened once a week during a mid-week shift, and had to be completed before the kitchen was done for the evening. Since a server had to do the work, that meant that you’d talk to a table, get their drinks, then run back and scrub the cooler while they were looking over the menu. Two minutes, tops, then back to the table to get their order. Deliver order to the table, bring out hushpuppies & butter to the table, check on drinks again, then back to the cooler to scrub. Two minutes of that, then back to the floor to see if you’d gotten a new table and everything was OK, then back to the cooler, then back to the floor, check on the food, see who needs a drink refill, back to the cooler…you get the idea. Oh, and you were scrubbing the cooler with a toothbrush and a bucket of bleach, while wearing black pants, black apron, and black shirt. Any bleach stains would get a demerit. I’m not shitting you.

Eventually, I got tired of getting shouted at and belittled by my boss, and told my mother I wanted to quit. It was my senior year. I was overloaded with AP classes, and after I got home from work at 10 or 11 every night, I’d do my household chores (At the time, we didn’t have a kitchen, and dishes had to be washed in the bathtub. Mum didn’t like to wash dishes. so guess who got to do it instead?) After chores, I’d stay up until 1 or 2 doing my homework, then get up for work at 7 and start all over again.

Just half of the boss’s actions today would be a definite headache for the HR department. Instead of having my back, or even pretending to see my side, Mum told me to stop being lazy, and that I wasn’t allowed to quit. I can only guess it’s because she’s never held down a job in her life, so I think I see the point. I know I’m not a delicate little flower – I’m no more special than any other schmuck who needs a job, and I definitely needed one then since I wasn’t getting to and from school, otherwise.

But I don’t forgive her for forcing my hand. I can’t. That imperative to stay, despite how I was being treated, has stuck with me. It just took me FIVE YEARS to quit a job I hated from Day One. Because of my first job experience, I am unable to handle confrontation, and definitely unable to define that line where it’s time to just go. I don’t know when to physically quit, even when my mind has been disengaged for some time.

Part of learning to lean in will be figuring out the healthiest way to lean back without feeling guilt or remorse for things I can’t change. How to make this happen?

The truth is that I just don’t know, and that I’m scared that when I start saying exactly how I feel, when I feel it, I’m going to burn every bridge I’ve ever built in my life. That’s not exactly reassuring.

But hey, who doesn’t love a clean slate, right? (There’s a laugh there somewhere, I think.)

Getting Constructive

Hello Lovely Readers,

Just wanted to let you know that some big changes are going on right now that may or may not affect what you see on Compass & Quill for the next little while. Actually, let me rephrase that. You will be noticing changes soon, but I’m not quite sure how soon. So if things go wacky for a little bit, sorry!

I’ve decided to move my blog over to WordPress.org so I can make a few moves to start earning a little income via becoming an affiliate and maybe incorporating an ad or two. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing, but I do want to make some promises to you:

  1. The design of this site will always be tasteful, if not exactly amazing. (Sadly, I’m not a graphic designer or a miracle worker, so don’t expect anything groundbreaking in the imagery department.)
  2. I will never compromise the content of this site in order to make money. In fact, I’m hoping that going “pro” will actually help me improve content and increase readership.
  3. I will never post ads or paid content that do not directly relate to who I am and what I write about. All advertisements, affiliate links, promotions, etc. will be useful in some way to most readers. I don’t like mass-produced crap, and I’m not going to start promoting it. I do, however, love giving presents, so hopefully I can start to find a way to give you guys cool stuff that you’ll love. Cross your fingers!
  4. In relation to both #1 and #3, I won’t post any ugly ads. I might not be an artist, but I know hideous ads when I see them (and unfortunately, I see them pretty often). I’ll try to keep your eyes from screaming in horror. Compass & Quill is my happy place, and I want it to be yours, too.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.

XO,

A

Dredging Up The Courage To Lean In

I have a confession to make: I’m tired of hearing the term “lean in” in relation to women and careers. However, I think that might be because I keep seeing conversations where “lean in” is being used to say “go balls to the wall, no more relaxing, don’t stop until you’re on top!” In actuality, the idea of leaning in isn’t just about becoming a CEO of a Fortune 500 (although if that’s your dream, by all means, go and do it). Leaning in is bigger than achieving success in the corporate realm – it’s about following your dreams with tenacity and grace.

There’s also another part to leaning in that isn’t being discussed quite as much in the media, and that’s leaning back. Think about it – sometimes you have to lean into the waves to keep standing, but sometimes the force is just too much – it will break you, and it’s much better to lean back and go with the flow. You might be back a step or two, but you’ll be in one piece, and the stress of getting there will have been negligible in comparison to what it would have felt like to get pounded into submission. Too much leaning in or leaning back is bad for you. That’s the nature of life, yin vs yang, light vs. dark, good vs. evil. The trick is to know when to change direction.

Over the past few years, through hating to make a scene (aka. “cowardice”) and my basic nature to be a “team player,” I’ve refrained from making quite a few decisions that would be good for me, in order to not upset anyone too much. I’ve leaned back time and time again, in both my personal and professional lives, and it’s been chipping me apart, piece by piece, until I barely recognize myself some days. Many days, C&Q is one of the only places I feel entirely like me, because it’s the only thing I control.

The thing is, as much as I love this blog, my virtual life shouldn’t be richer than my life in the physical world. So, starting today, I’m going to make a major effort. I’m going to start leaning in, even though it terrifies me. I want to be truthful about who I am, what I want, and where I hope to be going in life. I made my first step towards that goal this morning when I quit a job that has made me miserable for years, and over the past year had actually started to make me physically ill. I was so scared to quit that I ended up writing a resignation letter instead of calling the boss, but as I wrote, I was able to capture the gratitude I felt for my years on the job, as well as the relief I felt for being released from its burden. I think it’s going to be OK. And if it’s not, that’s OK, too. I deserve to be free.

My second major act of the day might seem silly, but for me it’s really scary. I’m going to post a photograph here that was taken on Saturday by my photographer friend Dave Rodrigue. It’s the best portrait that I’ve EVER had. It looks just like me, like how I look when I look at myself in the mirror and think beautiful thoughts. You can almost see my dreams, floating right there in my pupils. It’s also a great photo because it shows me just how I am – a little irreverent, a little snarky, wearing this armor that says I’m fearless even though I’m often cowering just behind it.

You see, I have a feeling that if my grandmother saw this photo, she’d be disappointed in me. I think that if she sees it, she’ll spend some time telling me how I’ll never get a job with a respectable company, because I’ve ruined my “professional image.” I think that maybe I’m scared that my professional image might actually be ruined by posting this photo. But then I think about it again and I realize that I don’t care. It’s a photo of me, being myself, wearing a funny t-shirt that makes me happy.

Bottom line is that I’m not a harmless little bunny. But neither do I want to be. I am Anna. I am my own compass. I know which way is best for me. And if an organization that I’m not even familiar with just yet sees this photograph and decides that I’m not the fit for their team, then they’re quite right. Because I don’t want to work with people who judge books by their covers, who can’t have a laugh, who’ve never aspired to be an adventurer, just for a little stretch of the road. That’s just life, and when I stop to think it over a bit more, it’s sad that more people don’t have the guts to be themselves in the face of this abyss that is time and age and death and someone else’s profit.

I’m done pretending that I’m someone I’m not, and most of all, I’m tired of the world telling me that I’m not allowed to be multi-faceted. If you want to know how professional I am, invite me to a business meeting. We’ll talk marketing strategy. You’ll be impressed. Otherwise, grow up and find something else to be offended by – like people who don’t recycle, or animal abuse, or unwarranted military action, or systematic destruction of creative impulse in our younger generation in favor of teaching better test-taking. Take your pick – the world’s falling apart around our ears. Which, by the way, is the next part of leaning in. But we’ll get to that soon enough.

For now, here’s me leaning in to being me. It’s a start.

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