When I was in college studying to get my BA in Communications, I always fantasized about giving it all up to be a bartender. It just seemed to me at the time to be a happier life.
It seemed the whole reason to get a college education was so you could go out into the “real world” and go work in an office, which I have never wanted. So, what was the point? For me, the point was that I had to finish what I had started, and my parents expected it of me, so I did finish. After college, I worked in a few offices and ran my own business for a few years, but that original feeling, that bartending might be a better way of life for me, never really left.
Five years after graduating from college, and having tried multiple “real jobs,” I decided to go for it and get a bartending job. I hated my office job, and while resigning and telling my boss my plans, he said, “You’re too smart to be a bartender, you are going to get bored.” I’ll never forget that. I actually take that as a compliment, and I have to say, I think it is a misconception that bartenders aren’t smart or fulfilled.
I had a little bartending experience, and being a Public Relations pro (which is where I ended up as a result of college), I was able to finesse an impressive embellished resume, and give a good enough interview to basically lie my way into my dream job. I was pretty “green” when I began, but I learned fast and was almost immediately in my element.
That first 6 months making a living as a bartender was definitely the happiest of my life. I liked sleeping late, going to the bar in the afternoon and opening and setting up for happy hour several days a week, and talking to and meeting brand new people all the time. Moving around constantly and never knowing what a typical work day/night would bring definitely suited me.
I later ended up changing jobs and working nights at live music venues. Having loved music all my life, and having a past working in nightclubs before college, I felt right at home. I loved never knowing what I was walking into every night, and never knowing what entertainment I’d see. The only real drawbacks I saw were the possibility of damaging my hearing, problem customers, and not having my weekend nights free to meet Mr. Right or see my friend’s bands. I missed a lot of parties and events I might have liked to go to, but the money was high reward for small amounts of time, it was exciting, and I met some great friends, co-workers and learned a lot n the process. It was worth what I was giving up, and I gained more time to enjoy my life when I wasn’t working.
A few very surprising things happened to me as a result of being a bartender for almost a decade. The first was I suddenly became good at Math for the first time in my life. One bar I worked in for a long time was cash only, and the prices were random– drinks for $4.50, $6.50 and $8, were some of our typical prices. When I had large rounds of multiple drinks with odd prices, I learned out of necessity to calculate in my head accurately and quickly. If only they would have created a simulated bartending experience in school, I might have become good at basic Math much earlier in life, instead of struggling with it all through school and not seeing how it applied to my life. I was always one of those people who saw no point in Math since calculators exist.
The next surprising thing that improved in my life as a result of bartending was my patience. I have always been a fast paced person, which served me well when speed-bartending at busy clubs. But as a bartender, you end up serving all types of people, and you really have to adjust your pace and reactions to your customers. For example, there is always the girl who can’t find her money in her bag, or the guy that orders a big round of drinks and tries to hand you a credit card while you are standing right under a sign that says “CASH ONLY.” I may have served these customers in a timely manner, while 10 people behind them that want drinks, but I have to wait for their money at their pace, and there is nothing I can do about it. I would always keep an eye on them and serve everyone around them, while keeping track of all the new orders and prices, and remembering what that original round was and it’s price, until I finally got paid. I don’t think these customers have any idea that they are inconveniencing you, and as a bartender, you just have to keep doing your best job, not get impatient, and work a little harder because of these people.
The other thing that happened as a result of being a bartender that changed my life forever, is that I learned to barely react. A lot of different unexpected situations arise in bars. I’ve been screamed at, insulted, had glasses thrown at me, etc.—and I learned to not give people a reaction most of the time. The amount of shit I learned to put up with was really crazy. Honestly, you wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve seen, heard, or been bombarded with, but I rarely ever let customers see if they affected me. It’s a challenging thing to learn, but most of the people trying to incite a reaction don’t deserve my energy, so I learned to suppress and stay in control.
I don’t think I could have learned these skills in any other job. The extremely fast pace makes everything different than in a normal paced job or life situation. The ability to have more patience than I had previously possessed and not let things affect me immediately as they happen, and to have power and control over my emotions and reactions is something that now carries over into every aspect of my life. These are skills I don’t think I’d have now if it weren’t for learning them through bartending.
These acquired skills give me more power in my relationships with people. Being cool, calm and collected in extreme high pressure and explosive situations are real leadership qualities. I never could have guessed that bartending would have resulted in these communication and life skills being improved, but it has definitely been a valuable and surprising growth experience.
And as far as people like my former boss, who think a smart person will get bored bartending, I can tell you, it wasn’t boring. I can also tell you that although some people may look down on bartenders or people in the service industry as uneducated or unskilled, or lesser than themselves, in most cases, they’d be wrong about that. Most bartenders I know don’t do the job because they have to; they do it because they want to. It’s pretty great to be able to make a living working only 20 hours a week and have days free to go to school or for creative pursuits, or to bask in the sun while the professionals are stuck in the office. Although it can be a tough or dirty job, for those of us that have creative interests or are pursuing various life goals, bartending affords us to do that, where as holding a full time job can burn you out and take up all your time. Maybe it never occurred to Mr. Corporate VP, but some bartenders really have life figured out. Mr. VP may make more money and have a more impressive title, but that doesn’t guarantee he’s happier or more fulfilled than his bartender.