On September 10th, 2010, I moved to New York City to become a famous actress. To pay for this new thing in my life called ‘rent,’ I got my first serving gig. And luckily…or not so luckily… I was very good at it. For better or worse, serving has been my day job for the past 9 years. In a lot of ways, it’s great. It’s incredibly flexible, and offers one of the highest hourly rates of any ‘day job’ I know. Plus, you get to learn the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay and flaunt that knowledge to your friends. But, is it fulfilling? Not for me.
I’ve noticed that in the US, particularly in large cities, Food Service and Hospitality is an industry of necessity, not necessarily a chosen career path. Most servers, even the ones making six figures at a fine dining establishment, have something else they do on the side. I’ve worked with the most fascinating people: poetry translators, authors, comedians, reiki healers, clothing designers, you name it. But because this job hasn’t been my passion, it has been very easy for me to despise it.
I’ve hated my job on and off for nine years. Serving is not that fun once the thrill of nightly cash tips wears off. It’s hard on your body, people are incredibly rude, and it’s not very mentally stimulating unless you have a table willing to nerd out about the various Beaujolais Appellations. On top of that, a lot of management has fallen into the job without any leadership training, which can change the nature of your day job for the worse very quickly. (I learned recently from a leadership coach friend of mine that this lack of leadership is a common problem in almost every industry, go figure!). Anyway… the money is great, and usually the colleagues are awesome. But frankly… the job sucks.
I first looked for an escape in 2015 when I started my network marketing business. I had found that secret job that could, with work and dedication, pay me more money than bartending! Huzzah! But I was impatient to leave. And I was miserable and mean. I was single during this period, and some men I’d been dating would say they might stop by the bar to say ‘hi’ while I was working. I’d beg them not to, for fear they’d take one look at ‘Katie Rage’ and run right out the door, justifiably ghosting me for life. Katie Rage is a legit term that has been coined for me by my coworkers in not one, but TWO restaurants. Y’all. I get grumpy.
My network marketing business was the beacon of hope carrying myself through these shifts. Knowing my days were numbered certainly helped. And finally, just under a year after launching my side hustle, I put my notice in at my restaurant. The last day of work I triumphantly threw away my Danskos, vowing never to return to food service. Some bar regulars bought me a bottle of Dom Pérignon and we drank it together while I had steak tartare on the other side of the bar for once.
I have a secret. My business had not replaced my income yet. I was doing a big, crazy leap hoping it would motivate me to work harder and reach my desired income. And unfortunately… motivate, it did not. To close that gap, I worked at a barre studio instead, making about half of what I made at the restaurant. It was even less mentally stimulating, and… it was barre. This is my least favorite workout. Isn’t the point of group fitness that it’s supposed to be fun? I remember being in the middle of class, white knuckling the ballet barre as we pulsed our thighs. I looked over at the women next to me, and we all had the exact same horribly miserable expression on our face. What happened to Jazzercise and Zumba?! This seemed like something pulled right out of Guantanamo Bay. I quickly realized I hated this job, too! And what’s worse, it didn’t even help me make rent.
Then guess what I did? In the fall of 2016, I also quit that job before my measly bit of income had been replaced. I had had two great months, and I thought surely my business would do nothing but keep growing. We’d elect our first woman president, and I would promote to Regional Vice President. A flashy title with a flashy Mercedes, and a flashy paycheck to boot. What a time to be alive! Well, we all know that didn’t happen… (yet). My business sadly did not grow.
I tried other odd jobs, like walking for Wag and catering. Both incredibly flexible, but again never really paying enough. I just kept hustling and kept ignoring my rising credit card statement. Finally, a year after leaving my first restaurant job, I realized I was close to the limit on my multiple credit cards, and I had gotten into ca-razy debt. Like, a number I’m too embarrassed to write here. I had basically lived in a deficit in New York and ignored that fact until I was crying in my room at the end of my financial rope. I was so far in the hole, it made me want to slap my friends crying over their $5,000 credit card problems. (I’ll just spoil it for everyone here, I find a way out of debt, so don’t worry about me!)
So, I went back to the only thing I knew could fix the problem quickly. I bought some new Danskos, and landed a job back in food service. Oh joy. This was super humbling and incredibly depressing at first. But here’s the thing I didn’t know until this time around. You can be grateful for a job you don’t like. You’re probably reading this going… ‘Wait, you seriously didn’t know this was an option, Katie?’ Nope! I thought you had to hate any job that wasn’t your passion or directly related to your dreams. You had to ooze from your very pores that this job was beneath you in every way, that you could be creating ART or making a DIFFERENCE, but you showed up ANYWAY because you’re not a MONSTER. (And because this serving job has given you a taste for expensive White Burgundy Wines…) I didn’t realize I could just clock in, do my work, kiss my paycheck gratefully each week, and go build my dreams once I clock out. It’s not taking time or energy away from my creativity, like I thought. It was providing the foundation and the stability for my creativity and passions to thrive.
Coming back to serving was a huge hit to the ego. But it was a necessary lesson in the fact that success is almost never linear. There are peaks and valleys. And in my new restaurant, there are lots of entrepreneurs, just like me! It’s awesome! I still totally hate it at the end of a long shift when my body is about to turn to actual dust, and I suddenly have to make a Ramos Fizz. Or five. But I am so so grateful for this job. I’m so grateful I only have to work three days a week and afford to live in New York City. I’m grateful it leaves me with enough mental energy to pursue everything else. Case in point, I’m writing this article at the end of a loooong day in a SweetGreen before I head to a networking event to pursue my passion. And you know what? There is absolutely no shame in working another job while you’re dream takes off. A lot of writers, artists, and entrepreneurs did it in their day. And when this day job finally gets fired forever, I’ll look back on this time with a bit of reverent nostalgia. So to all the servers folding napkins after a long and hard shift, I raise my glass of Chablis Premier Cru to you. Cheers.