I spent this summer at my Central Pennsylvania, middle-of-nowhere home town.
Not only was my town extremely boring, but I couldn’t spend a day with my parents without being annoyed in one way or another.
The only thing that kept me sane was my job as a server at a bar. I worked with some of my best friends.
Most nights I walked with much more than $100. And for someone not yet 21, it was the next closest thing to actually drinking in a bar.
Though my job was fun, it was anything but perfect. It was extremely slow on a Tuesday night around 9 o’clock. I only had one table, and my shift was nowhere near over. I had resorted to rolling silverware and watching dominos on ESPN (yes, I did say dominos).
A middle-aged man (I’ll call him Bob), probably around 40, sporting a NASCAR hat, a Steelers T-shirt (and a potbelly) walks by, joking about how tough my job was tonight.
Desperate for any conversation no matter with whom, I began talking to Bob. The usual questions followed.
“How long have you worked here?” “What school do you go to?” “What are you studying?”
And then it happens: career advice from a perfect stranger, who clearly does not know much of anything about journalism. Bob tells me that I shouldn’t major in journalism because there isn’t a demand for journalists, and the jobs that are available pay horribly.
Then he tells me that I should do something with computers.”What exactly with computers, Bob?” But he couldn’t really say.
This scenario happened to me over the summer more times than I can count.
Maybe I do such a great job taking care of customers’ dinners and drinks that they feel the need to give something in return, such as their own, uninformed wisdom.
But usually it just seems older men are out to prove that they know more about careers and life than their 20-something waitress, something that shouldn’t be hard to prove.
Yes, this may be true, but whose careers and lives do they know anything about?
Only their own, and unless you are, or were, in the field of journalism, I personally do not want to hear it.
Also, I do not seriously consider complete strangers’ advice, especially not with career advice, no matter how well-intended their opinions may be.
And I doubt they would consider mine, not that I have any advice for middle-aged bar regulars that are going nowhere.
Later in our conversation I find out that Bob is involved in an ugly divorce, has a 7-year-old daughter and tries to hit on a server that is more than half his age.
That unlucky server being me.
Not only is he a stranger and knows nothing about journalism, but he clearly is having issues of his own. So why would he think I wanted his advice?
I would also like to tell Bob that I don’t really care about the money.
After seeing the regulars at our bar, I realize how easy it is to become unhappy with one’s life. And I would rather be a struggling journalist doing something I love doing, than doing that something Bob advised about computers, which I would not enjoy.
Just by having a server job, I have already experienced working long hours in a place that would take me nowhere fast, and I realize I need a challenging career that I have passion for.
So, to all you college students who have service jobs and constantly run into people like Bob, my advice is to answer with a lot of ‘I never thought about that before’s and ‘you are so right’s just to make potbellied, going-nowhere Bob feel a little better about himself.
Then go back to school, get that degree and do the work that you love doing, because there are a lot less people in this world who love their jobs than there are Bobs.
Morgan Ashenfelter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.