I don’t really talk about my job too much over here on the blog. It surprised me when I realised that, because I about it non stop in real life, but it’s true. I’m not sure why – probably because when I talk about it I’m normally annoyed or frustrated and I’m conscious I don’t want to appear unprofessional or accidentally upset a colleague that I didn’t know was reading, but either way, a lot of you probably don’t know much about what I do for a living. Well, I work in pubs. No longer behind the bar thankfully, I’m not sure I have the stamina nor the patience for that anymore, but still in the industry. It’s all I’ve ever known actually, careerwise, and it is definitely something that has shaped the person I am today.
I don’t know how many of you have worked in the service industry, but those that have I think will agree that we’re a hardy bunch. It comes with the territory that the hours will be long and the customers will be difficult and you will rarely get a break, never mind a day off, and to most of us that becomes the norm – when I made the transition into office hours it took me a good 6 months to settle into a ‘normal’ routine and sleeping pattern. You simply have to have a rock solid work ethic to survive in this industry, and for a long time I saw that only as a good thing. In more recent years though, I have come to realise that it actually has it’s downsides.
There is almost a WW2 blitz-style culture that exists in pubs that consists of the belief that the way to get by is to pull together, put on a brave face and battle through. We are taught to leave our problems at the door. To be calm and collected at all times, especially in a crisis. To push through the fatigue and just keep going, even when you feel like you have nothing left to give. When someone calls in sick on our day off and the team are already short, we say ‘Oh well,’ roll up our sleeves and head into work, much to the annoyance of our loved ones. When we drop a full till down the cellar stairs on the way to cash up after a long day, we just laugh, and maybe take a photo to share our misfortune with our colleagues on WhatsApp. When someone screams in our face for something beyond our control for the millionth time today, we have to grit our teeth and bear it, apologising humbly when really we want to tell them to get stuffed. All of this is not contractual, of course, it is just accepted. It is an unwritten rule that we all should adhere to, and when someone new comes in that can’t hack it, we say to ourselves, ‘They won’t last….‘ It’s a very ‘sink or swim’ approach, and plainly and simply, the ones who last just don’t quit.
In some ways these are admirable qualities – I think most employers would confirm that these days it’s harder than it used to be to get staff that feel genuinely passionate about doing a good job. But in others it can be a millstone around ones neck. Once you have gotten used to applying this to work, it’s only natural that it spills into your personal life, and it doesn’t always benefit you. I have very high standards that only a few of my nearest and dearest live up to in my eyes. I’m eternally skeptical of stranger’s motives and truly trust very few. I’m not always as sympathetic as I could be and I can be terribly impatient with people who I don’t think are on my wavelength. I am easily disappointed by those who don’t put in the effort I do, and that can hit me hard. Worst of all though, is that I’m not great at asking for help, and I’m my own worst critic. I try to cope with everything, all the time, and beat myself up if I can’t. I don’t like to bother people with my problems and a lot of the time I won’t talk about my problems full stop. I’ll tell people I’m fine, when really I’m not, because it feels like my own responsibility to take care of myself, but it can be a lonely existence, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that sometimes it’s ok to be a bit fragile.
It took something quite traumatic for me to realise this, and even then only years later. I’d been in an unhealthy relationship on and off for many years, and we both knew it wasn’t making us happy. I’d hit a wall careerwise, and not knowing what to do next I accepted a promotion I didn’t really want. Somehow, without even really noticing how, I found myself running a pub in London, living in my brother’s spare room and miles away from any of my friends, and I tackled it the only way I knew how – I threw myself in headfirst. Things could have been different – it is almost a fluke that things turned out the way they did – but one by one tiny little events occurred which slowly chipped away at me, and things then started unravelling at speed. I didn’t have time to really bond with the team. My Kitchen Manager was poached on my first day. The company decided to apply for a late licence, instantly making me Public Enemy Number One with the local residents who lived within sneezing distance. I allowed my Assistant to take 2 weeks off because I felt too guilty to say no, which meant I had to work for 2 weeks straight from open till close until she came back. All of this on top of the last 2 years feeling beaten down and disappointed with life took it’s toll, and I was mentally and physically exhausted. So when something quite emotionally scarring happened to me in my personal life, I couldn’t cope. In the end, it broke me, and I did something I have never in my life done before – I quit. I left my job, ended my relationship, and moved home to live with my parents.
At the time I really struggled with the decision. I felt like I was letting people down. I thought it must mean I was weak and not worthy of the job in the first place. I saw it as a failure that I couldn’t just man up and get on with it. I was convinced that all my ex-colleagues must have been talking about me and what a weakling I was and it really affected my confidence – it was a good 3 – 4 years before I had the courage to step back into a management role. In hindsight though, I’ve realised that I shouldn’t have been so hard on myself. Yes, you should always do your best to power through difficult situations, but sometimes you have to be able to take a step back and assess whether or not it is really worth it. I could have tried to carry on regardless of how I was feeling, but I’m pretty sure it would have ended in me having a breakdown and it certainly wouldn’t have done the business any good. In the end, it was the right decision, for me and everyone else involved, so I really have nothing to feel bad about.
While it feels like the noble thing to do is fight, sometimes the bravest thing to do is actually to walk away. Sometimes that is the harder decision of the two. It doesn’t mean you are a failure, it means you have the courage to walk the unknown path rather than continue to stick with what you know best. The decision I made that day was made under pressure, but if I had the choice again today I wouldn’t change it. Giving up on what I had then only opened up more possibilities to me, and I’m very grateful that while the path was rocky, it brought me here today. When faced with a similar and heartbreaking dilemma two years ago, I was quicker to tell myself that I had done everything in my power to change the outcome, so if it still hadn’t happened it was time to throw in the towel. And while calling off a Wedding was undoubtedly the toughest thing I’ve had to do so far in life, the outcome has made me happier than I’ve felt in a very long time. I just had to have faith in myself that it was the right thing to do, even though it felt impossible. Fingers crossed that was the last time I have to rearrange my life and move back in with my parents though!! I would like my adult life to kick in properly at some point!!
So next time you are struggling to battle through and feel like you need to be strong, stop and question whether sticking it out really is the courageous thing to do – maybe that’s actually the easy option? Either way, whatever you choose to do, remember not to be too hard on yourself. We all have to choose our battles in life, and we can’t win every one.
Be nice to yourselves, friends!