The End of an Era

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Looking at the horizon

Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. — Anais Nin

The day has arrived. Tonight is my last night at the restaurant where I’ve worked for the past 12 years of my life. My first and only job that I’ve ever had! It’s the end of an era, the beginning of a new chapter. As one door closes, another door opens.

I knew that this day would come when I began college five years ago, when I finally took the plunge after a long hiatus from school. I knew that this day would come when I graduated school last year, when I interned at a publishing house and then interned again at a nonprofit. I was ready, have been ready. But I don’t think I have necessarily been prepared. I have looked back on my days at the restaurant that is like my second home, which you can read here if you missed it, but I have not really prepared myself for this final day.

Though I am eager to begin the next phase, the phase where I work Monday-Friday, 9-5:30, where I have weekends off like most everyone else, I am also nervous. Like palms-sweating kind of nervous. I am nervous because after yearning for this kind of existence, I do not really know what it will be like. It will be a transition, that much I know for sure. To go from working nights and weekends for the past 12 years to working a 5-days-a-week-in-a-row schedule will be new for me.

Yes, I have interned twice, so I’m not a stranger to this kind of grind, but I have also never been fully of the workaday world. I have been inhabiting two different worlds simultaneously for a long time. When I was in school, reading the Romantics and learning theory, I would still be at the busy restaurant at night, working fast and hard. When I was interning, arriving at the office by 7:30am in the attempt to avoid commuter traffic, I was also back at the restaurant at night, a participant in an endless flurry of activity, subject to the kind of frenetic energy only restaurant workers understand.

Now, beginning next month, I will be embarking on a journey to a new kind of life. A life where my evenings and weekends are mine and mine alone. A life where I go to bed early and rise early, where I sit at a desk, where I break for lunch. Though it sounds normal to so many, it’s completely foreign to me. Foreign and therefore exciting/frightening. But I will go into this new experience with an open mind, heart, and arms, ready and willing to try everything, to do my best, to give it my all. I may fail, but there’s no failure when you show up and try.

Of course I have done my best and given my all to the restaurant that I call home, where I have the utmost respect for my fellow coworkers and the establishment itself, but after 12 years the shifts tend to blur together, to become more of the same. Every night is different at a restaurant, where there’s no predicting what will happen and when, but when you’ve lit the same candles and walked the same aisles for so many years, it comes to seem like you could do your job in your sleep.

I used to be afraid of challenges, preferring to stay in the shallow end, to keep things safe, but when I started college five years ago, and especially over the past year and a half since I quit drinking, I began to relish challenges. Challenges keep life interesting, exciting. Challenges give you the opportunity to see what you’re made of, to become more flexible, to imagine different scenarios for your life, for everything.

Life is challenging by definition, an unknowable experience of trials and tribulations, and the avoidance of challenge itself, or the attempt to control the outcome, is fruitless. But knowing this does not keep us from trying to do so. But challenges force us out of our precious comfort zones, sweep our feet out from beneath us, throw us curveballs and taunt us into ducking or swinging. After ducking for most of my life, I want to be known as the girl who comes out swinging. I could swing and miss, it’s more likely than hitting a home run, but who cares?

I want to know that I tried, that I tested my resolve, that I stretched the boundaries of my life to accommodate new experiences, people, places, things. And though I will forever value the restaurant and my experiences working there, I know that if I continued to work there I would not be stretching my boundaries. I would definitely be testing my resolve, for that seems to be the definition of restaurant work, but I would not be stretching, growing, seeking. I would not be forcing myself out of my comfort zone. I wouldn’t be continuing in my unofficial pursuit to discover what it is that I am truly made of.

Our work, whether in an office or a restaurant, has value and meaning, and it must be meaningful to us on a personal level. It doesn’t matter if people think working in a restaurant is equivalent to being a servant. It doesn’t matter if people think working in an office is equivalent to being a slave. What matters is what we think of our work, if our work fulfills us in some or many ways. What matters is that we forge connections with ourselves and others, if we shake it up and shake it loose, if we keep ourselves on our toes so we feel alive.

This life may seem long at times, but it is also over much too soon. How we make money has meaning in this stretch of time. Whether we are clearing tables or entering data on a computer, we are working to afford ourselves necessities or, if we’re lucky, comforts. We are working to accumulate the money to pay our bills, or to go on vacation, to spend more time with our loved ones, to see more of the world. We are working because we have to, but we are also working because to work is to define our lives. Not all of us are working our dream jobs, but I’ve learned that even a dream job is just a stepping stone to the next goal, the next dream.

In our endless pursuit to find meaning in our lives, to put food on our tables, to live freely, to be happy, our work is an integral part of who we are. So we must work with integrity, with gladness, with gratitude and humility. We must work with the aim of bettering the experience, whether for ourselves or others or a combination of both. Because if we’re just “working for the weekend,” if we’re just working trying to get from point A to point B, we’re missing all of the beauty that accompanies us on the ride.

The beauty is the relationships we build with our coworkers, fellow employees who become friends or family members, who know us in ways that even our spouses do not. The beauty is the ability to discover new aspects of our very own selves, to be exposed to new situations and new people, which always shifts our staid world views. The beauty is to be.

With all of my searching and yearning for a new job, I’ve come to appreciate the one that was already before me, the one that has been with me through breakups, mistakes, triumphs, failures. As my final days drew near, bittersweet and surreal, I knew that I would miss the frenetic energy, the ups and downs. I already knew that I would miss my friends, my other family, my “work wives,” but I didn’t think that I would ever miss the controlled chaos of working “front of the house.”

Though I see that I will miss it, I am also looking forward to joining society out on a Saturday night, to seeing concerts and plays, to getting brunch without having to go home and get ready for work while everyone continues on with the fun. I am looking forward to seeing who I am in this new light, this new life, this next stage.

Though I know that I will be the same person, that my true self is unwavering and constant, I know that my customs and habits, my comforts and desires, will change shape in the light of this new world I will become a part of. I will be part of the 9-5 crew, I will dress differently, I will do new things and go to new places. Though unknown and therefore somewhat disconcerting, I am excited to see this new world. I am excited to see who I will become.

And with this becoming, I am gratified to know that I have a community of beautiful, funny, crazy, caring, insightful, surprising, well-known souls who have my back. And I only have to call or pop into the restaurant to see them. I think in my new life I might be the restaurant’s resident barfly who doesn’t drink, who comes in every week to shoot the breeze and catch up on the latest gossip or drama. I just can’t imagine my life without these people. I don’t want to.

I wish you a wild, free life.

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