7 Things I Learned Waiting Tables in the Wilderness

After graduating in May, I took a road trip back to Texas with my sister via the beach, traveled in Canada for two weeks, made a two-day pit stop in Cincinnati for my roommate’s wedding, and then headed to Colorado for the remainder of the summer.

As previously mentioned, my job there had absolutely nothing to do with my career field. My parents encouraged me to take a “last summer” away from anything sports or media — give myself some space from and perspective on it (and get in some good mountain time as well).

So for the first time in more than three years, I got a job doing Not Sports Journalism on a guest ranch in rural Colorado. I spent half the summer co-leading the teen program and half rotating between waitressing, housekeeping and kitchen crew. I spent off days climbing the tallest mountain in the state, taking a stand-up paddle board whitewater certification course, horseback riding, hiking and generally road tripping throughout the state.

While I initially balked at the idea of departing from my usual job, I have to admit, it was a valuable learning experience. Learning what, you say? Well, buckle up, kids, I made you a list.

1. Work hard, it’s good for you. My job involved long hours and a lot of tedious, physical work — longer and harder than I expected, admittedly. More mornings than not, I woke up thinking there was no way I could scrub one more bathroom, lift one more tray or scour another bacon-grease-covered pan. Funny enough, though, I always could; and at the end of those doubtful days, I always went to bed proud of and surprised by myself. The job pushed me beyond my usual mental and physical limits, and to clear those heightened bars was an enormous source of satisfaction and confidence. Everyone should do stuff they think they can’t every now and then just to prove to themselves that they can.

2. Be nice to people. This should go without saying, but it takes almost no additional effort to go throughout your day being respectful and kind as opposed to rude or simply neutral. There were nice staff members and not-nice staff members this summer. The former overwhelmingly beat out the latter in overall job success — their quality of work was better, they encouraged better work and morale in those around them, supervisors and managers respected them and guests generally tipped them well. Being nice builds your reputation, strengthens your relationships and connections, and almost always returns to you. If pragmatic reasons don’t convince you, just do it because people are inherently valuable and worth treating well, okay? Okay.

3. I work well under pressure. Maybe it’s a twisted pleasure derived from too many weekends writing on deadline, but I’m at my best when the stakes are high. The only waitressing shift I truly enjoyed this summer was when a group of the ranch’s hostesses and waitresses got stuck in town due to car trouble right before dinner, leaving just three waitresses back at the ranch for one of the week’s busiest meals. In a span of 15 minutes, I recruited one kitchen staff girl to help with drink room, appointed a stand-in hostess, split one dining room between two girls and took all the remaining tables on my own. Where others get heartburn, I get energy. I can’t explain it, but I do know it helps me tremendously in my media work.

4. Sports connect people. I rarely struggled to find common ground with guests — I just commented on their respective team t-shirts and hats. From chirping Dallas Mavericks fans to congratulating Chicago Blackhawks devotees on their Cup, sports were the gateway to relationships (and, oftentimes, tips). Talking sports with strangers can turn them into friends, allies or enemies; but regardless, it provides an instant bond.

5. Civilization is bae. I’ve never thought of myself as a “city” person. I’m pretty adventurous, I like the outdoors, I harbor dirtbag dreams of living out of a van and snowboarding, you get the picture. This summer gave me a chance to test drive living in a small mountain town. Conclusion? I still like adventures and the outdoors, but I also really, really, really, really, really like wifi and cell service and coffee shops that stay open past 6 p.m. and Target and, you know, social interaction. I grew up in an energetic, athletic city with close proximity to “not city” for when I need to get away. Turns out, that’s what I like. No shame.

6. I have a secret talent for catching rodents. I caught a mouse between my feet, another mouse under a bowl and successfully herded a shrew out of the staff bunkhouse. It was a great outlet for pent-up frustrations. It also has nothing to do with anything, really, other than I just felt like that was pretty impressive so I put it on the list.

7. I love sports journalism. I missed my usual work. I missed interviewing athletes, setting up camera tripods, late night editing, even the smell of my hockey rink. If I had any doubts before this summer that I was working in the right field, they’re gone — I love what I do, 100%, and I’m pumped to get back to it.

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