I should have listened.  I should have been content with my nine-to-five that paid the bills and part time job, always available when cash got tight.   Life was simple.  There wasn't a lot of room for frills but I was comfortable, until I wasn't.  


It didn’t happen all at once.  It was a gradual transition until eventually, what was once pleasant became insufferable. I began to struggle socially to participate in activities and conversations that were once pleasurable.  Work was easy and that was the problem; I didn't have to think at all, just follow instructions.  I was hungry for something that I couldn't define so I took the only practical step I could think of and went back to school.

It had been two and a half years since I loaded that U-Haul and returned to college as a non-traditional student. The validation of earning my degree was beginning to grow stale after fourteen months with no viable career options.  I had exchanged a secure job and a cozy life for student loan debt and a piece of paper that was supposed to open doors.  That degree taunted me on my wall each day as I left my apartment to serve tables at a restaurant just off campus.  There was no 'abracadabra' or magic fairy dust in that golden seal, only ammunition for those who had advised against this transition to say, "I told you so."

I was one of a number of servers, bartenders, and hosts at this restaurant, most of them younger than I, all degreed and competing for work in a dwindling job market.  Several of my colleagues had altogether stopped applying for jobs and who could blame them?  The process of reworking resumes, dedicating hours to submitting online applications, and selling oneself at career fairs only to be rejected with the automated 'we’re just not that into you' email, was an exercise in humiliation.  It had become our daily routine to gather in the alley before our shift to trade stories of demeaning experiences with guests who would snap their fingers and call, “hey you,” like it was our legal name. We compared notes about our worst interviews and fruitless leads.  There was relief to be found in our shared frustration but privately my thoughts were somber.  My experience was different from theirs.  If they didn’t land a job by conventional means, they had a Plan B, a family business, or some well connected relative or family friend.  If cash came up short at the end of the month, they could make a phone call. I respected their desire to make it on their own and envied their worse case scenarios.

I had submitted dozens of applications and gone on several interviews to no avail.  There were a couple of close calls.  The most memorable was the verbal offer that got revoked one week after it was extended.  It was a solid, entry level position with a Fortune 500 corporation and I was ecstatic. I had received the 'unofficial' offer after interviewing at a career fair.  The recruiter wanted me on his team but would need to debrief at headquarters to iron out logistics.  He assured me that I would be contacted, within two weeks, with further details.  A week later I found myself on the receiving end of that call.  A professional voice met my “hello” with a friendly greeting. “This is it!” I thought.  After a bit of nervous small talk, the recruiter transitioned into a statement, read verbatim, “I regret to inform you that due to restructuring, we are currently undergoing a hiring freeze.  The offer that was previously discussed, has been rendered null, indefinitely.  I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”  That last sentence reverberated in my ear as I mustered a polite, “Thank you, for the call, “ and hung up the phone.  I pulled my uniform out of the dryer, and took extra care in getting ready for my evening shift.  “Who do you think you are,” I curled my hair.  “You thought you could do better than this?” I ironed my shirt with extra starch.

That evening, every guest that ever had a bad mood and needed someone to take it out on, conspired to sit in my section.  It had to be a conspiracy because there is no other way to statistically account for that many crabby people gathering in one place, on one night, in one section, of one restaurant, one rotation after another.  It was during this shift that a child threw up on me for the first time in my extensive serving history.  I was lifting the toddler out of the booth and into a high chair to assist his mother, who had her hands full with two other restless kids.  Once we were eye to eye, he vomited in my face.  The mother gasped as I put the child down.  I excused myself to the restroom as she apologized profusely.  

The instant I knew that I was alone, the tears poured uncontrollably.  I was powerless to stop them.  I cried the humiliation, frustration, and disappointment that I had masked behind smiles and covered with sarcasm.  I cried the guilt and embarrassment for indulging the notion that I could do more.  I cried until I was dizzy until just as suddenly as the hysterics began, I was done.  I couldn't cry anymore.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with a transcendent sense of serenity.  

Standing there with a visible chunk of regurgitated tater tot in my hair, I felt the  purest sense of gratitude that I had ever experienced. I was thankful for my job, thankful for every tip, thankful for my apartment, thankful for transportation, thankful for groceries, thankful for family, thankful for air, just thankful. From that moment onward, my perspective completely changed.  I no longer participated in self-deprecating conversations; I couldn’t afford to flirt with self-pity.  I refused to indulge in gossip; I found no amusement at the expense of others.  I didn't need to win.  I had nothing to prove.  I focused on delivering impeccable service to every guest, every day, no matter what.  It was an honor to serve. The sudden transition was off putting to some, but I met rolled eyes with indifference.  I didn't care if I fit in. My guests were happier, my tip percentages increased and thus my income.  

In less than a month I received a call back from the company that had revoked the initial job offer.  The hiring ban had been lifted and they were still interested in bringing me on-board but it would mean flying to their corporate office to compete with a new slate of candidates for a different job than previously offered.  I had three days to prepare a presentation, participate in a case study, and ready myself for interviews.  By the end of the intense evaluation process I was presented a job offer on role for which I had no educational background or experience.  The salary was well above market average and there was a signing bonus to boot.  I would later learn that there was a bidding dispute between two departments over which one would get me.   This experience would mark a turning point and set into motion a series of events that would change the trajectory of my life.

And that's the way it seems to go, just in the nick of time, always against the odds, and never without the uncomfortable period of limbo-when reality and the vision don't quite line up.  I find myself negotiating this vulnerable stage again having resigned my role as a corporate HR Manager to pursue writing as a full-time career and I admit that I don’t like it.  The uncertainty, the well-meaning loved ones regularly questioning my sanity-I wish I could hibernate through it, but I have a countless well of experiences to remind me that this is the best part.

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