“I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.” -Joseph Campbell

It’s a commonly held opinion that everyone should have to work in the service industry at some point, preferably when they’re young. Or at least, those of us who have worked in a restaurant or retail store think so. If this is news to you, you probably never had to work in a menial, customer service-based hellhole.

Working in a fast-food place, a pizza shop, a cafeteria, a coffee shop, or a warehouse-style hardware store teaches you some valuable life lessons, first and foremost of which is that people are jerks. I do, unfortunately, actually know this to be true because I have worked all of those jobs. Plus a few others.

It’s important to know people are jerks. You need to know that people aren’t always going to treat you well. You need to know what it feels like to have someone take their bad day out on you. You need to know that you didn’t do anything, and you don’t deserve it, but that it happened anyway.

And most importantly, you need to know what it feels like to take someone’s crap and not be able to retaliate.

Service industry jobs teach you what it feels like to be powerless in the professional environment. This is crucial, because you will carry it the rest of your life. When you deal with a waiter, or a cashier, or the person in the drive-thru window, you will remember what it was like to do that of job. You will understand that person, and maybe not give them such a hard time.

You will be amazed at how many times you use the empathy you learned through a customer-based position. I notice it constantly, even in my current position (which to be fair, Interpreter jobs are largely hourly and very customer-based), whether I’m answering the phone or explaining something to a patient, it’s a constant reminder of what kind of person we should all try not to be.

In fact, I would push this lesson farther: I think everyone should work healthcare positions too. You could probably say that people need to work any job before criticizing the person in that position, but I think working in a doctor’s office should be essential, and for one simple reason: When something goes wrong in a clinic you’re working with a person’s needs, not their food or their clothes. As much as insurance companies try to make it so, healthcare is not a commercial practice, not really. You know how people got upset in your restaurant job? In healthcare, they skip the “irritated,” and “angry” stages, and go straight to “furious.”

But hey, working as an interpreter has taught me some new ways to swear in Spanish, if nothing else.

******Challenge for next Thursday******

Give me an everyday object, and I will Haiku the crap out of it.


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