The best lessons I learned, I learned in food service

4582925_blogI was discussing with hubby the other day that everyone needs to have a crappy job some time in their life and have a bucket of bolts for a first car. Why? he asked. He had plenty crappy jobs and also spent plenty of paychecks to fix his clunker so he could drive himself to said job, yet he didn’t quite agree.

For the stories, I argued.

It builds character when you have to stick your hand into one of those giant industrial dish wash-o-trons to pull out twisted silverware and broken glasses. And skills like changing flats and duct taping broken lights — these are life skills they don’t teach in school!

On a related note, I’ve been having a back and forth on LinkedIn with a former co-worker. We worked together in college in the Rieber Hall Dining Services. From his online resume, he’s a pretty successful technical guru type now. He jokingly told me he did some of his most meaningful work at Rieber. Hey, come to think of it, so did I.

Here’s the scenario: Doors close at 9:00 and you want to clean up and get out of there as fast as you can so you can either stay up all night studying for that Chemistry exam or go hang with the college buddies. You’re competing against every other team to get to check out first. There’s a limited number of mops, brooms, and carts to get the job done.

Cue Mission Impossible theme. I had every task mapped out in my head. I put people where they were best suited and planned around those liability newbies that could slow you down. I remember showdowns between myself and other TLs (team leads) as I tried to corner the right stuff to get my team out fast.

Go ahead and laugh. I’m sort of laughing now. 🙂

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to mop floors and refill ketchup bottles, but I learned something about efficiency and putting your head down and getting your hands dirty. I learned how to negotiate and collaborate and coerce. That has to somehow, somewhere, translate into leading a team of professional types in the day job today.

I also have great stories to tell. Not everyone can empathize with the difficulties of learning different system architectures or of writing fiction, but almost everyone knows what it means to have that crappy job and that crappy first car. So my final argument was that when you’re sitting in front of someone in an interview or you’re out there networking, that connection might just pay off.

But going to the top schools and rubbing elbows with Ivy Leaguers and the upper crust from the beginning would help even more, hubby argued. If you could get there by skipping all the hardship, wouldn’t that be better?

Right. Fine.

But the stories can’t be as good.


  1. Dara
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 10:11:11

    Not only would the stories not be as good rubbing elbows with Ivy Leaguers, but the majority of people wouldn’t be able to identify with it. I don’t know anyone personally who’s rubbed elbows with the “upper crust” of society.

    But I do identify with the crappy job. I worked retail–Wal-Mart for a summer–and that definitely taught me a thing or two about people. And most of it came from the creepy co-workers I worked with rather than the customers 😛

  2. Lisa
    Jan 26, 2010 @ 20:48:06

    This is so funny! MY mom just sent us an e-mail begging us to write a blog about the many craptastic jobs that Laura and I have held together over the years. We were receptionists in a dentist’s office, a waitress and a hostess at the same restaurant and even secretaries for a mail order diabetes company. And we did it all together. Man, we really ARE weird.

  3. Jeannie Lin
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 04:08:37

    Dara – The great thing about writers is all those experiences feed the idea machine. I worked with people in the dining hall that I would have never met otherwise.

    Lisa – That’s so hilarious! Totally made me think of that show “The Simple Life” with Paris and Nicole. There has got to be a story in there somewhere. I worked at the YMCA one summer with my sister. My kids were the older ones and loved me. Her kids were the bratty younger ones and were out to get her.

  4. Jax Cassidy
    Jan 27, 2010 @ 08:17:45

    I totally agree with you. I was working in restaurants since I was like 6-7 years old and it taught me to work hard for what you want. Along the way I met some amazing people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. All the things that you experience shapes you as a person and a writer.

    Your hubs mentioned that it would have been better if you could skip through all the hardships but it wouldn’t have made you the person you are today.

  5. Jeannie Lin
    Jan 30, 2010 @ 07:38:05

    Working in restaurants is a great boot camp into personalities and high pressure situations. And you were only six! The would definitely provide some early training into dealing with people.