It’s funny. You never really know when you’re in the middle of a life-altering moment. It’s not until you look back and see the situation from a distance that you understand the true magnitude of that moment.
I had one of those moments when I was a 19 year old cocktail waitress at a sports bar. Who knew?
It was a Sunday night during football season. The bar I worked at in Northeast Phoenix was huge, but not usually full. So I was the only waitress on that night. The only other people working were the bartender and a brand new cook. A cook who had never actually been a cook anywhere else, I might add.
One of the owners was also present. Of course, by present I mean he was sitting in his usual seat at the bar enjoying the endless supply of beer that his partnership provided.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
It was football season. And through a stroke of luck – and certainly not well thought out business planning – our bar ended up being the only bar within miles carrying a pivotal NFL game. A game that was not being televised on network television. A game only aired on satellite. Satellite that our bar had.
In poured football fans from all over and there I was, trying to keep up.
Of course, the cook was trying to keep up, too. But he barely knew how to push the buttons on a microwave, let alone deal with all the orders that were piling up. The owner left his place at the bar and tried to help. But alas, it was the proverbial blind leading the blind.
Running around, taking orders, and trying to get them delivered to people was turning into a nightmare. People were waiting 30 minutes for an order of wings, and sometimes just as long for the next round of drinks.
Everyone was complaining, customers were grumpy, and I was the first line of attack.
In the midst of it all, I went back into the kitchen where the owner saw how overwhelmed I was.
“Jacki, how can I help?” he asked.
My answer? I said it all through the tears that began gushing out of my eyes. I can still remember the panicked look on the owner’s face when he realized that not only could I not handle the customers, but I couldn’t handle my emotions. Man, I wish I had a picture of the terrified look in his eyes when he realized he might have to calm down a crying 19 year old girl.
So I took a deep breath. I wiped my eyes. And I told the owner to help me deliver as many meals as he could. Then I turned around and began picking up napkins, silverware, and ketchup bottles to deliver to my waiting customers.
As I stood at that counter and tried to compose myself, I recognized how DEEPLY over my head I was. There was no relief in sight. The place was packed, and there was no one that could help take the burden off my back…they all were dealing with their own burdens to get through the night.
That’s when I made a decision that changed the course of my life.
I knew that there was no getting out…only getting through. I also knew that acting like a stressed out, overwhelmed girl was making those around me equally stressed out. No one was having fun, people were leaving and walking out on their bills. I wasn’t having fun, I wasn’t making money, and the whole thing was terrible.
To heck with it. I knew I couldn’t change the circumstances. So I decided to put on a smile and start joking around and having fun…even if no one else around me thought I was funny or wanted to join in on the fun.
Here’s the thing….suddenly the attitudes of my customers started to change. Somehow they now saw themselves on the same team as me, instead of treating me like public enemy number one. They began laughing when I teased them or made jokes about the situation. They started offering to help me. And they not only began to tip me…they started tipping me WAY over the customary 15-20%.
Nothing changed. I still remember one couple who had to wait 45 minutes for their plate of nachos. Of course, since our cook didn’t have a clue, the nachos were literally a plate of tortilla chips with Velveeta cheese melted over them, and a side of salsa. It was embarrassing to serve! And of course, the customers were NOT happy. They left after that. But they paid their $20 check by leaving me $40….a 100% tip!
These were the kinds of things that continued to happen all night. Somehow I made it through to the end of the game. The place started to clear out. By the end of the night, I remember sitting down on one of the bar stools and just staring out at the empty bar, wondering how the HECK I just made it through the insanity.
But what I learned that night was the circumstances around me were out of my control. What I DID control was my attitude. And I saw the power that CHOOSING to have a positive attitude made. It gave me the power to have fun in spite of the situation. It gave me the ability to relate well to those around me. And it helped me see that people will respond better to me AND make life easier if I stayed positive and simply smiled a genuine smile.
Those skills have certainly helped me throughout the years in my career. But even more so, that life lesson has helped me more than words can ever express as a single mom.
I share the story for two reasons. First of all, I KNOW we all have those life-altering defining moments. I want to hear YOURS! Leave it in a comment below. I may even feature it in an upcoming post.
Also, I want to encourage you as a sister Strong Single Mom. Encourage you to choose the right attitude. Encourage you not to get caught up in your circumstances. Remind you that no matter HOW much of a storm you may be in right now….it WILL end. I promise.
So choose to laugh in spite of it all. Decide to have fun with your kiddos, and make the most of the moments you have. Because one day, you’ll be sitting in an empty house, wondering where the time went. Wondering how you survived it all. And knowing that it was one of the most amazing things you’ve ever done.