By Kali Rogers
I found myself at a bar.
I wasn’t drunk, though drunk people were definitely there. I wasn’t on the prowl looking for my future husband, though plenty of potential suitors roamed the stools. I wasn’t even with a group of girlfriends catching up on our busy schedules and I certainly wasn’t kicking back after a long day at work.
In fact, I was at work.
Graduating college the summer of 2010 wasn’t the climatic start to my adult life I had envisioned. It was more like a brisk walk up the stairs than a valiant climb up Everest. Most of my friends were off to medical school, buying houses, or traveling abroad for the summer and returning to prestigious jobs waiting for them. I, on the other hand, was destined for a decent graduate program that was inherently part-time and was going to live at home.
As we all spread out across the state, I couldn’t help but notice the metaphorical distance between us. They paired off, renting out lavish apartments in the hotspots of town, and filled their weekends with rowdy pool parties, trendy happy hours, and hitting the town. I filled my time applying for jobs I deemed “worthy” or “adequate,” and practically over-studied for school. I could sense the glitter rubbing off my character, and I quickly realized why. My ego was dictating my self-worth. At the tender age of 22, I had decided that I was behind in life because I wasn’t living on my own, I didn’t have a “big girl job,” and I didn’t have a boyfriend. Those three things decidedly marked my “loser” status. Self-induced built-up pressure was bubbling up to the surface, consuming my every thought.
Here’s a fun game: name the one profession most college graduates pray they never have to resort to once they enter into the real world.
But that was the exact advice I received from my first graduate school professor.
“Why are you wasting your time trying to find a job that will hand you relevant experience? Isn’t that why you are in school? Find a job that makes you some money, keeps you busy, and leave the experience part to us.”
It was the most groundbreaking, brilliant wisdom I could have possibly soaked in during that time. The next day, I turned in my application to work at the neighborhood restaurant. Thirty minutes later, I was hired.
Working at a bar was undoubtedly the best gig I could have asked for during this rocky transition. Did I get condescending and pitiful looks from peers who wondered, “What the hell is she doing pouring my beer? Is this her livelihood now?” Of course. Every day. Did I get so under that I thought to myself, “Hell, you can’t even wait tables! How on EARTH are you going to be successful elsewhere?” Absolutely. But I learned more about myself in those two years than at any other phase of my life, because I was completely out of my comfort zone. Putting yourself in a position that not only exposes your weaknesses, but also mocks your strengths was surprisingly empowering. I learned that work ethic above all else is what matters in this world – not raw intelligence or familial wealth.
Within three months I was promoted behind the bar. It may not seem like much, but it was one of the happier moments in my life.
I went from feeling “above” being a server to the proudest I had been in years. My ego was forced to see itself out the back door – the service industry is not for the faint of heart. I was yelled at, talked down to, and mortified for silly mistakes. People made assumptions about me and wrote me off as a dumb blonde. . To my social circles, I was melted down into a cliché. A friend’s boyfriend even called me “HBT” – hot bartender. But I knew this experience was so much more than that. I was meeting some fascinating people. I learned the core principles of how to run a business. I understood the value of customer service and how to face extreme pressure with grace. I increased my self-awareness and took pride in my work. I was reinventing myself every day behind that bar.
I could never have learned these lessons sitting in a classroom. And I definitely wasn’t going to learn them behind a desk. The magical results of stretching yourself and your abilities inundated my life, and every day I try hard to remember that feeling so I can capitalize on it years later. I often wonder about my formal training and how it impacted my current position as the Founder of “Blush,” but that reflection almost always circles back to my time as a bartender.
Courage to defy schemas and a willingness to be vulnerable are two things you simply can’t skirt around if you want to be successful. Otherwise, life simply won’t turn out the way you envisioned. Because the reality is, college graduates bartend. Entrepreneurs fail. Businesses look much different once they formally launch. I learned that in the gap between expectation and reality lies opportunity. It’s within that distinct, small space that critical thinking, creativity, and perseverance bloom.
I believe that the more opportunities you accept, the more will come your way – even if they don’t come with a pink bow on top. Taking an opportunity that seemed “beneath” me at the time was one of the highlights of my adult transformation. My advice is to take that advice and run with it. Instead of getting down on yourself when the world backs up against you, take a different route. You’ll be floored at how life can surprise you.
Kali Rogers is the Founder and Janitor of Blush Online Life Coaching. She and her team of master’s level coaches help females from around the globe get over their quarter-life crisis, grow their self-confidence, get over nasty breakups, and work on bettering their relationships all via videoconference for only $79/mo. She is also the author of “Conquering Your Quarter Life Crisis: How to Get Your Shit Together in Your 20’s” and has been featured on Bustle, The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Elite Daily, and Thought Catalog.
Kali attended The University of Texas at Austin where she studied psychology and grew accustomed to butting her nose into other’s problems while living in a house of 40 other girls. From there, she attended SMU in Dallas where she received her M.S. in counseling. Kali now resides in Los Angeles, California where she likes to walk around Beverly Hills and wave at the pretty houses, watch reruns of “The Office” and “Parks and Rec” (Leslie Knope is her hero), and attempts to make healthy meals in her bruised-up kitchen.