Maybe you’d hoped for a different job by this point in your life, but here you are, still waiting tables, and it feels like you will never move up in the world.
But here’s the good news: While serving people may not be what you want to do forever, you will learn some important lessons along the way. These will not only make you a better person, but are also likely to make you more successful later in life.
1. You learn to be polite to everyone
When you’re serving people, you have to be polite, even when they aren’t polite to you. Customers can do and say some horrible things, but you still have to smile and do your best to get them what they want. Sure, it’s frustrating at the time, but these are skills that you need to learn. There are, unfortunately, rude people in every walk and station of life, and learning how to deal with them will make you happier and less likely to lose your cool later, when it could matter more.
2. You learn to prioritize
When the restaurant rush is on and you’re slammed, you have to figure out how to be as efficient as possible. Instead of running to the kitchen seven separate times, you learn to do things in batches. Instead of bringing all of the condiments individually, you learn to grab them all at once. Working in the service industry, especially during busy times, helps you decide quickly what is important, what can wait, and which tasks best go together.
No matter what you do later in life, these skills will help you do it better. They will make you a more productive employee, whether you are deciding which arguments are the most important in legal cases, or triaging injuries in an emergency room.
3. You learn which battles are worth fighting
At some point in your service industry job, people are probably going to treat you poorly. While these can be miserable experiences in the moment, they can help you learn when you need to stand up for yourself and when it’s better to just smile, nod, and be on your way. This will help you to be a calmer person, and also to be more confident about when you should take a stand.
4. You learn to embrace pressure
Service industry jobs come with a lot of pressure, especially when it’s busy and people are putting in complicated orders or making very specific requests. If you stay long enough, you will learn to thrive under this kind of pressure. You will become someone who is unruffled, even when things get hectic, and someone who can be relied upon even when life is challenging.
And life is challenging. So learning how to function well, how to control your stress reactions, and how to be kind and polite even when the heat is on will serve you throughout life. It will make you the kind of person who doesn’t melt down simply because things got hard for a little while.
5. You learn empathy
I have found it to be universally true that everyone you meet is fighting a battle of some sort. When you work in the service industry, you will eventually learn this. That customer who reordered her food five times just found out she has a severe allergy and is terrified of eating something that will make her sick. The child who screams for the entire dinner just got out of the hospital. The harried parent is involved in a messy divorce.
As you work, you will hear people’s stories and sometimes they will involve hard, awful things. Hearing these, and seeing how so much of our bad behavior comes from stress and pain, will teach you empathy. It will help you see things from a different perspective, which makes you a better person overall.
6. You learn humility
You are more than your job. But while you’re at work, you still have to do that job. And service industry jobs are not about you, but about whatever product you are offering, and about the people you are offering it to. Service industry jobs teach you to step outside of yourself and be about something else for a little while.
Anyone who can step outside of themselves for a job can also do it for their spouse, their children, or for another job that means more to them. While you should never sacrifice yourself long term, being able to do it for a period of time means that you understand that it’s not all about you all the time, and you can let life — even your life — be about someone or something else in certain times and under certain circumstances.
7. You learn the importance of manners
It only takes someone being rude to you once or twice for you to learn the importance of good manners. Even the difference between an order given gruffly and one with a “please” will astound you. As you take these lessons to heart, you will learn to use your own manners, no matter the circumstances. Being rude never makes things better.
8. You learn to work with people you don’t like
You will be on a team throughout life. Even in your home, as you marry and maybe have children, you will be part of a team. Sometimes, you won’t like the other people on your team (even when that person is your spouse!). But you will still have to work with them. A service industry job can help you learn how to do that.
There will most likely be people you don’t like at work. But learning how to communicate with them, and how to break up the necessary workload with them, will help you succeed later in life, when working as a team may be even more important.