Remember the first time you were fired? How it wasn’t really your fault until the boss decided it was? How it felt so very, very personal, and you felt completely worthless and wondered if you would ever work again? How much it sucked?
Good thing I live 2,000 miles away from RG Daughter. Because a certain restaurant owner would surely suffer the wrath of a mama bear. Or not. This is, I suspect, the first of many adult, real-life experiences RG Daughter must suffer on her own, when I can only be there as a supportive parent, not a proactive one.
I wrote about RG Daughter’s new restaurant gig only a couple of months ago–the 60-hour weeks, the 16-hour days. “When school starts, I really have to cut back my hours,” RG Daughter kept reminding the owners, who assured her they understood. It’s her senior year at a tough school. She’s a Type A personality who demands the best from herself. She knows her limits and refuses to let work or school suffer. And she was very clear with the owners when she was hired that eventually, but only temporarily, she’d have to focus more on school than on serving food and micro-brewed beer.
Problem is, the owners mostly ignored this important fact about the youngest and least experienced employee they had hired, but to whom they gave incredible responsibilities and from whom they expected the most. Because she is one smart kid and an ace with front-of-the-house sales and service and back-office organization and systems. The owners were not blind; they recognized her talents right away.
We need you behind the bar as our lead bartender, they told her after a week. We need you to write the training manual for new hires, they told her after two. We need you to help represent us at a national restaurant event, they told her after three. What do you know about this and can you also do that, they continued to ask her in all the next weeks.
They finally allowed her to cut back to three shifts a week, and this was okay until yesterday. A last-minute paper assignment and a midterm scheduled on the same day along with a grueling pile of other work looming through early December sent her into a panic. She tried to get her shift covered. No one would take it. She pleaded her case to her professor, asking for a one-day’s extension on the paper. Sorry, no can do. So she went to work and figured she’d pull an all-nighter on the paper, but she explained to the owners that she needed to cut back to two shifts a week until school lightened up in December, and then she could work as much as they needed her through January.
What RG Daughter didn’t know was that the owners had just had a meeting in which they discussed their desire to only keep full-time staff members who worked 5 to 6 shifts a week. Thus, her request fell on the deaf ears of an owner who had previously only showered her with praise. Which she could have dealt with had he not followed up with the following barbed question: “Are you sure this is about school and not some new boyfriend you want to see more of?”
RG Daughter was taken aback. She doesn’t have a new boyfriend–or an old one, for that matter. She just wanted to cut back on her shifts for the next five weeks.
Throughout the unexpectedly busy evening during which she had to act as sole bartender and server, the owner hounded her about anything and everything. “You’re flirting with your regulars and letting other guests wait too long,” he said in the first hour. “You let that guy sit too long at the bar without taking his order,” he said in the second hour. “You have to get to the floor faster and not just hang behind the bar,” he said in the third hour. “I think we’ll do a thorough kitchen cleaning tonight and you’ll have to stay an extra hour or two,” he said in the fourth hour, knowing her situation.
“I’m taking you off the schedule for good,” he told her in the fifth hour. “As for coming back, I guess we’ll just have to see.”
And with that, RG Daughter ended a job that she had hoped to keep and in which she had wanted to grow for as long as the owners would allow her to, with an eye toward micro-brew marketing and sales and opening a second restaurant with these owners when she graduated.
Which leads to the very adult lesson we all eventually learn, often many times over: It’s only work. No one is indispensable at work. Nothing is certain for long at work. It’s only work.
When I voluntarily left my most recent restaurant job in order to write full time for the next few months, I had hoped to at least be asked to stay on. I offered to help out anytime and had hoped my GM would at least acknowledge that. Instead, he bid me farewell with a succinct “very well” and easily assigned my duties to someone else.
It’s only work, RG Daughter. And work will never define you or validate the essence of your incredible talent and strength.
If and when you land a job for which you can’t wait to wake up and go to every day–a job that both challenges and excites you–where the boss knows that sucking up his/her own bad mood and being a staff cheerleader and motivator works far more wonders than being Darth Vader and wielding a dark and oppressive stick–then you will have more at work than most of us experience in a lifetime. I have had one such restaurant manager in D.C., and I hope someday to work with him–or someone like him–again.
And knowing you as I do, beloved daughter, you will find exactly that. In fact, you’ll probably be that manager–or more likely, that business owner.