Reconsidering “Valuable” Experience

For two years during college and one year after, I worked as a waitress. During school it was a chain restaurant in Springfield, and after graduation it was a local cafe in Town & Country, St. Louis.

Tiana: my new favorite Disney princess, and singer of my new anthem "Almost There"

Tiana: my new favorite Disney princess, and singer of my new anthem “Almost There”

Admittedly, I initially saw my year at the cafe as a failure on my part. I naively expected to land a “professional” job a couple months out, despite my lack of internships or skills, simply because I was a hard-working and intelligent student. Ha! As my fellow millennials can attest, this sort of thing hasn’t happened since the 90’s.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m the only one who thought it was a failure.

During my time at the cafe, I often ran into former teachers, parents of high school acquaintances, and some Westminster kids themselves (my private Christian high school). It was always a sort of humiliating experience to be asked, “Is this what you’re doing now?” from a face that half pitied me and half enjoyed the experience of seeing me less “successful” than themselves or their children. “Oh, my daughter is in law school.

Fantastic.

In addition to those blows to my ego, I served a clientele that consisted of several older ladies from the nearby wealthy neighborhoods. While many of these ladies were very kind, some would’ve given Emily Gilmore a run for her money. At my lowest point, a group of ladies literally stood over me, barking orders as I knelt down, cleaning their mess from the floor and listening to them tell me how horribly I was doing.

I hid in the bathroom to cry bitter tears of self pity.

The Queen.

The Queen.

So far, it probably sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself, reflecting on how hard it was to be in the real world and work as a graduate in the service industry for a whopping 10 months. Keep reading because that is not what this post is about.

I actually want to make the case that these “sorts of jobs” can be extremely valuable experiences for anyone looking to see outside their own privileged bubble. I say this as someone who grew up in a comfortable (but not excessive) home and who enjoys many privileges that others don’t. Working in a place that didn’t care what my GPA was or what area of St. Louis I grew up in was eye-opening. I learned a great deal about myself, made friends with some of the most humble and kind people I’ve ever met, and changed my outlook on the importance of status.

Americans are seriously obsessed with status. Anytime our country is not at the top of the list in something, we have a collective panic attack about our impending downfall (ie. education, gasp!). Racism, sexism, and [insert your favorite “ism” here] persist because we’re fighting subconscious battles to keep at least someone below us on the food chain. (And probably for several more complicated reasons as well). We’re told to do whatever makes us happy but simultaneously assume people in “certain jobs” are either unambitious, unintelligent, or have “made some bad choices” (and therefore don’t deserve a living wage?).

The people I met don’t fit those narrow, outside interpretations of their lifestyles. Like all humans, they each had their own unique stories ranging from the adventurous to the miraculous. Some had masters degrees, and some were supporting kids and/or spouses. I especially loved getting to know the cooks, many of whom traveled an hour by bus from the city everyday (which was only a 20 minute drive away), and who showed me what a passion for good food looks like. Away from the elitism of academia and the cut-throat competition of the business world, the people of the service industry master their skills, put in a hard day’s work, and have fun together.

Which part of that is something you should look down on?

I didn’t grow up thinking that status mattered. I am lucky enough to have a kind, intelligent, and loving mother who always cared more for our spiritual and personal growth than our interest (or lack thereof) in esteemed careers. Because of this, and because I had never really experienced financial insecurity beforehand, I chose a college major that I loved. I studied history (and no, not to teach) simply because I loved learning about people. Studying history opens intellectual doors to worlds of different cultures, circumstances, and philosophies and pushes you to empathize with people on the other side of the world who died a thousand years before you were born.

Unfortunately, my empathy skills aren’t very marketable.

Yep.

Yep.

And financial insecurity forces us to focus less on personal growth and more on becoming profitable. I think it’s definitely possible to find a career that does both (which is why I’m pursuing work in youth development), but when the bills need to be paid, all that can really matter is getting money into the bank. I wonder how many people would be in jobs or lifestyles that they loved (including stay-at-home parenting) if our capitalism-obsessed world didn’t force them to pursue something more profitable and respected. What might I have majored in if I didn’t have my support network and comfortable upbringing, taking classes with the impending reality in mind that I would soon be completely on my own?

While the less enjoyable aspects of my job motivated me to pursue other opportunities to amp up my resume, my time there prepared my heart for the work I really want to do. At one point during my first few months on the job, I was reminded of the story of Moses. After leaving his family behind, he worked for years as a shepherd, which unknowingly prepared him to shepherd the Israelites out of Egypt. I feel as though my time working as a server helped prepare me to have a “servant’s heart” in my future career. If I want to help “at-risk” youth in the ways I imagine, I want to have the humility and selfless motives of a servant.

Instead of pursuing the esteem of a highly paid career or the fancy job title, I want to set my focus on the humans I’m trying to help. I’m not saying this to toot my own horn, but I want people to rethink their own career motives. I don’t think a status-obsessed world can create real change for people or give you a fulfilling lifestyle.

More than that, I just want people to rethink how they judge others’ jobs and experiences and how they measure success. Had I not worked as a waitress, I would not be able to adjust my communication method accordingly for each new person I encounter. I wouldn’t have the thick skin of someone who’s been yelled at, demeaned, and sexually harassed on a regular basis. And I wouldn’t have the humility to see each person as the smart, unique, and worthy person that they are, despite the “respectability” of their career. I hope that I can remember these lessons as I enter my professional career and keep some of the friends I’ve made along the way.

In conclusion, tip your server. More than 10 percent.

Guiltman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Imperfection

About six months ago, I made a list in my journal of all the things I felt guilty about.

  • slacking on housework
  • not looking my best
  • not being a fun/laid-back enough wife
  • not being organized
  • not working out
  • being too harsh on my husband
  • not having a job
  • not getting the most out of my classes
  • not praying enough

I had to just stop writing.

For reasons only my future psychiatrist will be able to tell you, guilt has always been one of my most intense emotions. It (along with severe people-pleasing syndrome) motivated me to keep near perfect grades, rarely act against my parents’ wishes, and try really hard to be a nice person. I can remember crying silently during church when I was around 8 years old, thinking that, by sitting next to my mom, I had caused my dad to believe I didn’t love him as much (which was clearly completely bonkers). While it made me a good, rule-following kid, this guilt was a burden I’d carry around with me everywhere, keeping me from making my own decisions, making me hyper-sensitive to criticism, and weighing me down with unrealistic, often imaginary, expectations.

Guilt is also a very isolating emotion. To use an example that should resonate with my generation, guilt was the driving force behind Simba’s actions in The Lion King. Because he felt the weight of his father’s death on his shoulders, he cut himself off from his world, fearing that his failures would be exposed and those who loved him would turn their backs on him. Instead of being open and hoping for forgiveness, he put his behind in the past (wait, no, his past behind him), and isolated himself from everyone he loved. I, like my favorite Disney character, am a chronic bridge burner, and I have often let guilt separate me from friends, family, and God.

Crying.

Crying.

As I’ve become more aware of my guilt and the effect it has on my relationships and decisions, it’s clear to me that the problem isn’t how well I’m “performing,” it’s how I’m measuring my “performance.” If my goal is to be the perfect wife, Christian, friend, feminist, mentor, student, employee, sister, daughter, then I will always be failing and always feel guilty. If my goal is to be perceived as perfect by others, then I will not only feel guilty, but I will isolate myself from the authentic relationships that I so desire.

These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for months, along with lists of “How to be okay with imperfection without becoming too imperfect” and “How to make decisions that aren’t based on what others expect from you but also aren’t overly selfish” and “How to forgive yourself for being so horrible at everything (insert dramatic sarcastic tone).” These efforts missed the mark, though, because I was still just trying to perfect my emotional health. So I knew for some time that I wanted to write about all this, but I didn’t know how to pull it all together, and I didn’t feel I had come to much of a resolution.

Until this morning.

I have this life-changing app called “First 5” that my sister, Bethany, recommended to me. You set an alarm and, upon waking, it redirects you to a devotional so you can spend your first 5 minutes of your day in God’s Word. (I had this bad habit of immediately picking up my phone in the mornings to check my Gmail and Instagram, so the app was an easy way to transfer my phone addiction to something positive.)

This morning, the message was about Jesus’ prayer at the last supper. He prayed for himself, for his disciples, and for us–the people of the world– “that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23). He didn’t pray that we would stop at nothing until we’ve achieved perfection; He wanted us to have unity and know we are loved by God. 

The self-hatred that comes from guilt does not acknowledge God’s love. The isolation does not allow unity. Clearly, guilt is not from God. The world sets all sorts of standards for us to pursue and ultimately fail to meet. In contrast, Jesus offers grace and love, the only things that can lead to true unity.

To replace my less nuanced “how to’s”, here is my own personal “How to stop feeling so irrationally guilty” list to remind myself of what God wants for me (and you):

Have I mentioned I'm a chronic list-maker?

Have I mentioned I’m a chronic list-maker?

  1. Be openly imperfect. While exposing your literal and metaphorical dirty dishes to others may bring unwanted criticism, take the risk. Authentic relationships are based on grace and forgiveness.
  2. Stop pursuing perfection and pursue unity instead. Imagine if every Christian on the internet was no longer pursuing a world of perfect people and, rather, pursued a welcoming, united church community? And what if, instead of trying to perfect your marriage by logically arguing why your husband should be more _______, you pursued reconciliation with him exactly how he is? Speak your truth and express your feelings, but keep the end goal of unity in mind.
  3. Give grace freely both to yourself and to others. If there is one truth that God has been drilling into my head since that first guilt-ridden journal entry, it is the reality of His grace. Grace is not earned, and it doesn’t run out. You will not make any [workplace, relationship, community, etc.] better without the reconciliation and unity that is accomplished through grace.
  4. View yourself and others as Jesus does: worthy of LOVE. This one is easy to say, but it is not often easy to do. I hope that, while holding true to my beliefs, I can accept people (and myself) where they are in their own journey.

Obviously, I won’t be able to keep my head in the right place all the time. I fully expect to fail at being open and pursuing unity. I can only ask that you all show me the grace that I do not deserve and the love we are all worthy of.


Thanks for reading this extra long post and coming with me on this journey to embrace authenticity! My goal is not to preach or pretend I have all this figured out but to connect with people by sharing my experiences. Please help me do that by commenting, liking, and sharing!

Crossing the Bridge

I have a need.

It’s this incessant, existential longing to be understood and make real connections with other humans. I imagine this is easy for a lot of people out there. They make friends within minutes, say what they think and feel in the moment, and go out to bars on the weekends. I am not one of those people, and I’m totally okay with that.

I am someone who normally likes alone time, only needs a few good friends, and prefers a meaningful conversation over bungee jumping (although I’ve never gone, so I really can’t say for sure).

I was the girl growing up who never got in trouble, who was mediocre at sports because “being aggressive” was against my nature, and who cried, like, every day.

I’m an INFJ personality type (which basically means I’m a space cadet with a plan), a Ravenclaw (though the Sorting Hat considered putting me in Hufflepuff), and a cat lady.

These are all things that I like about myself and wouldn’t try to change. The problem is that I moved, with my husband and kitty, 2000 miles away from home last year, and I still haven’t really found my place in my new town. And I am completely to blame for that. I didn’t put myself out there enough, I haven’t put enough effort into my new friendships, and I haven’t gone to church or community group consistently at all.

Part of the problem is also that I just feel like a misfit everywhere I go. I’m scared that my new Christian groups might find out I’m not a Republican, my grad school acquaintances might find out I have some different values than them, and my parents might find out that I’m really far from perfect.

So, instead of putting myself out there, I keep things surface level. I read into every reaction with a new person, immediately shutting down when it seems like they’re not liking what I have to say. I put all the weight of my needs on my husband, who couldn’t possibly understand all the nonsense that comes of out my mouth throughout the day. When I finally get to be with people who understand me, I spew out all the thoughts and opinions I’ve been keeping to myself and overwhelm them. I’m not confident enough to be my authentic self around new people, and I’m too isolated to express myself to the people who I am comfortable with.

That is why I’m making this blog. It is not a plea for attention or a soap box to push my opinions onto others. It is really just my attempt at being open and authentic with the world, despite my anxieties. I hope it helps me to have more confidence in my ideas and gives me a new way to creatively express myself. I also hope it will create new opportunities to connect with others and even inspire someone who has experiences like mine. To use a cheesy metaphor, I see this blog as a bridge to a new way of living and expressing myself. A shaky, scary bridge that’s really high above the ground. (Check out this rad Conor Oberst song for my inspiration).

Here I am crossing a literal bridge at Mount St. Helens

Here I am crossing a literal bridge at Mount St. Helens.

On this bridge-blog, you can expect to find juicy personal stories, random passions and inspirations, and a gratitude journal to keep myself positive. I’ll come up with some more ideas later on, too. Do I expect anyone to care about my thoughts and experiences? Not really. This is a journey for me, and in the wise words of the late Chris McCandless, “Happiness [is] only real when shared” (Into the Wild, Krakauer).

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll be back for more.🙂