“When God shuts a door, or when God opens a door, pay attention.” — Midwestern American proverb
A friend of mine was despondent recently because his unemployment benefits were running out and he faced eviction. I told him something I wish someone would have told me before I learned from experience: “Any job is better than no job.”
It isn’t a saying that I made up or an attitude that comes naturally. Quite frankly, my ideas of work first started when I was a little kid playing in the sandbox, or pretending to hold a microphone while pretending to be a famous person. I drew a lot of pictures and had quite the imagination. Everyone gets asked, “Who do you want to be when you grow up?”
For a while in high school, I thought I wanted to be an engineer, but I hate doing math. Maybe I should have studied medicine, but when I dissected a cat in biology class, it took everything in me not to barf. I also needed to try several times to pass the Red Cross first aid certification. I did not think I had what it takes to sit in a chair in an office, so I went to college and did what our culture tells us to do: “Listen to your heart.”
So, I Listened to My Heart, and That Was Dumb
Music I can do, and I thought that might be the way to go. Iowa State University was willing to give me money if I pursued that major stacked on top of an academic scholarship from keeping my grades up in high school. Maybe, I thought, I could do something no one in the family had: pursue a career in music instead of business, education, sales, or upper management. I did not see myself doing any of that. In American culture, isn’t the worst possible fate to end up doing something you hate? That was not going to be me.
Mid-college, through my local church, I had my first brush with “the real world.” They were teaching Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and I learned I was in deep financial trouble. For example, I was spending $6 every day on a fried chicken sandwich that doesn’t even taste very good on top of my college books and overpriced dormitory, all funded by student loans because the scholarships didn’t fund everything.
Yet Ramsey was the least of my worries. The question from my family who loves me started to come: “So, what are you going to do with a music degree?” I came up with some lame stock answers to dodge that question. But even my professors saw through it. I tried to switch majors to computer science, but no amount of will power was going to get me through Calculus II in a lecture setting when math actually becomes hard. I kept doing music because of the scholarships. I don’t hate music, I thought, and maybe I can push through it. I told myself “A degree is better than having a bunch of random music credits, right?”
Then My Life Changed Accidentally
Then something happened when I got a job on campus in the dining center. I loved it! Then I worked catering for a summer and really loved that, so much that I transferred from the dining center back to catering. It was high-energy, everything was different every time, and I had deadlines to meet, bridezillas to keep happy, and cleanup to pound out as fast as possible so I could go to bed. Best of all: they paid me to do it! I liked catering more than I did most of my actual studies.
I finished my music degree, and predictably had trouble finding work. No one seemed to want to mess with a wide-eyed music major with no job experience. I lost track of all of the calls I made or the “thanks, but no thanks” looks from prospective employers. Doors were shutting and I did not want to consider the doors school guidance counselors frown upon.
I did not like seeing the clock tick on the countdown to the massive student loans with more than $600 per month minimum payments staring me in the face. I heard from a friend that a job was open at my favorite restaurant, so I went over and put in an application thinking I would do it maybe one year at the maximum and it would help me earn much-needed job experience if ever I revived the old dream of juggling day jobs while chasing auditions to be a musician, like the aptly titled movie “La La Land.”
One year turned into three. I like the high-energy environment of food where there is no room for boredom and a constant need to be aware of how I work. People can have the restaurant cook a $20 steak or go to the grocery store and buy that cut of meat for $8 and cook it themselves. The market pressure to learn how to do the same amount of work in fewer steps with the same amount of accuracy taught me customer service, because people do not have to eat out when they have access to Char-Broil and Weber.
I saw this real-world kitchen doing as much volume with one third of the staff as a small dining center on Iowa State University’s campus. It was beautiful. I saw them guarding the culture by not letting bad hires make it even one week, sometimes firing them as quick as the same day. I saw rotation practices and inventory management that aims to keep as small as possible an inventory on hand because dead food inventory literally stinks.
Gratitude and Perspective Changes Everything
Altogether, I learned about business and life living off a $1,000 per month take-home pay with $600 or so gobbled up by student loans. My share of the rent was $300 per month, leaving me with $100 for food and everything else (I don’t ever want to be in that situation again!). I was learning how to manage my own fridge and planning ahead to cook all of my own meals at home. I worked three years in Fort Dodge, Iowa’s best restaurant and learned life lessons in addition to observing how a business ought be run.
Today, I am a little more than one year into working in an office and finding that I do not hate it, I love it! Everything I learned as a dishwasher applies to being a purchasing agent. I have all of the same opportunities to solve problems using my creativity. I’m not pushing papers around, I am finding solutions to everyday problems. My work processes still need active attention to think about what I am doing so I might do it more efficiently. There is always something to do and I should never have a reason to be dead weight. I learned this working in the real world.
I may have made plans to become a famous musician, but God has guided my steps. I find that the best way to work, whatever the work, is to work as if my boss is God himself. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians and the Colossians to be vigilantly thankful. Paul was talking about an attitude of joy and thankfulness in the face of things worse than being jobless or looked down upon as “wasting a degree” or “wasting talent,” such as the stuff ISIS is doing to Christians, gay people, and other minorities in the Middle East.
Ask Ramsey “How are you doing?” and he will respond, “Better than I deserve!” This brings me back to what I told my friend, which still gets me through tough days: “A job is better than no job.”