11 life experiences everyone should have

(a.k.a. my life story, haha.  Be prepared to learn a lot about me!)

These are some experiences that I have had that have greatly shaped my life.  I can’t even imagine who I would be had I not had some of these experiences.  They have changed me so much and have molded the way I think and see the world.

This list may be a bit different than the typical “11 life experiences everyone should have” or “11 things to do before you die” type lists, but I have benefited from them, and would suggest that either you try and have them, or just absorb the lessons I have learned from them.

In no particular order:

1. Be a waitress

Or work in the service industry somehow.  When I was a little kid, I remember being impatient with waitresses sometimes (if only in my thoughts).  I had no idea how difficult the job is (and that’s before even factoring in all the rude customers.)  I have since been a waitress in a nice restaurant, a bartender in that same restaurant, and a cashier/server in a coffee house/more casual restaurant.

It is my belief that until one has been a waitress, one does not know, understand, appreciate, nor respect what it means to be a waitress.  You may be different and not need to experience this occupation for yourself, but I know my mentality completely changed once I lived it for myself.  Now when I go out to eat, I’m much more tolerant of delays in bringing food, or of a scatterbrained approach to our table.  I tip generously (because I know how it can make or break your night when you get an awesome table or a mean table.)  But beyond those things, its my change of attitude toward servers, and toward people in the service industry in general.  I have a lot more respect for them, their job, and their place in their life.  I’ve had coworkers who had kids and a mortgage, and weren’t making much more than minimum wage.  Its a tough place to be in.

2.  Get sick from alcohol

This one is two-fold.  Firstly, its just an interesting feeling and an interesting right of passage, in a sense.  But secondly, this experience taught me compassion.  Feeling nauseous, and especially feeling nauseous in public, late at night, when you’re an hour away from home because that’s where the nearest club is… is not the best feeling.  Feeling nauseous at a friend’s sleepover when you’re not in your own bed and aren’t familiar with the house and are trying not to wake anyone… is not the best feeling.  And even feeling nauseous when you’re safe in your dorm room and really didn’t have much to drink at all, yet somehow… is not the best feeling.

There seems to be a lack of respect towards people who do not handle alcohol well.  The concept of being a “light-weight” isn’t usually desirable.  I’ve had female friends look to the floor as they admit it.  What, your body doesn’t respond well to poison?  Imagine that.

The thing is, I have gotten sick when I hadn’t even had much at all.  It wasn’t that I overdid it or couldn’t handle it.  And that’s what made it even more annoying.  I would see these people binge drinking and being perfectly fine the next day, and I couldn’t even get tipsy before feeling ill.  And I have a few friends who have had similar experiences.  As for me now, I’ve stopped drinking certain things, or combining them with certain foods, etc., and I am fine.  But I am definitely compassionate when I hear friends share their stories.  …Or when someone succumbs to peer pressure on her 21st and just does too many shots.  Oh, to be young again.

3. Break up

This is something that everyone will go through, most likely.  But until its happened to you (and you didn’t have the confidence of, “whatever, we’ll be back together in a week anyway” to get you through it), you won’t understand how painful it can be.  Its not so much a pain, really, but more of a… discomfort.  Like, a really, really uncomfortable discomfort.  The kind that changing your position or doing something else wont take away.  The kind you just have to ride out and hope it will change eventually.

I had had break ups before, but wasn’t really phased by them.  My friends would tell me of their heartache and I would advise them very matter-of-factly – in a loving way, sure, but not a very patient or compassionate way.  I now understand that logic can’t shake you.  And you probably don’t want to be shaken, because you just can’t handle anymore hard-hitting truths right now.  You don’t want to feel better.  You just need to sort of wallow in your sadness and maybe be in denial for awhile.  And the next time a friend goes through a break up, I’ll know that.

4. Go to college

I am so, so grateful I went to college.  (I am almost as grateful that I didn’t graduate from college.)

There are so many ways to get one’s college fix: start freshman year in the dorms, live at home,  take a gap year, go to community college, take classes online, jump straight into a career and start college when you’re 40…

The road I took was to go straight to college at 18, and live in the dorms.  And for me, that was perfect.  I’m not even talking about the classes, because that’s not really what college is about.  I’m talking about the scariness of moving out from your parents’ house; moving into a hallway full of girls and its like a pajama party all semester; walking to meals together and commenting on the food quality; meeting new friends and seeing how people so different from you (you mean not everyone is the same?) could end up at the same place at the same time.

Had I taken a gap year or anything else, I wouldn’t have been a freshman with all the other freshmen.  And that would not be the same.  (And I know, because two years later as a junior I had transferred to a new school and was in the dorms with freshmen, and not only did I not fit in but I didn’t care to try, as they were, of course, only 18-year-olds.)  Yes, it is my opinion that freshman year as an 18 year old in the dorms is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Even coming second semester is too late.  The newness and bonding has already been experienced by everyone else.

There are tons and tons and tons of life experiences, and I don’t hope to make you sad upon reading this if you missed the freshman dorm experience.  But for me anyway, that was a one time thing.  But luckily, there are many more opportunities to meet and bond with people, and experience something totally new and different, all together.  Hopefully I’ll have some more as well.

5. Make a big move

When I was 19, I moved from Iowa to Los Angeles.  One of my best friends from high school (back in my place of origin, northern California) had just gotten into UCLA, and on a whim, suggested I move out there with her to be roommates.  Also on a whim, I agreed.  It was scary (although not nearly as scary as it could have been, since I wouldn’t be living alone, and since my parents were paying my share of the rent) but boy was it thrilling!  And it showed me that I could do it.  Now the idea of moving across country (or maybe even to a different country) sounds like something I could do, maybe even by myself.  It taught me that I can navigate a strange new city, coordinate bus route schedules, do my own grocery shopping and cooking, pay bills on time, and keep an apartment [relatively] clean.  So many firsts for me!  Oh, and I got my first credit card, then, too.  Again, my parents were paying for things, but I’m still impressed that I was able to pay the bills on time and do all those things myself, even if it wasn’t with my money.  I learned a lot of responsibility that year, and gained a ton of independence.  Most importantly, it was a tremendous deposit into my personal bank account, as it taught me just how much I can do for myself when I’m the only one there to do it.  And the fact that I had a roommate and my parents’ money made it feel like a safe amount of adventure.  So now, a few years later, I think I could do it on my own, living on my own, financially independent.  Confidence, that’s what it gave me.  Confidence.

6. Deal with a culture shock

Travel.  Immerse yourself in the study of a new religion.  Make friends outside your social circle.  There are so many ways, big or small, to achieve this sense of total chaos and absurdity.

For me, it happened when at age 16, my parents and I moved from California to a small town in Iowa where everyone practices a specific type of meditation.  My parents had meditated since before I was born, so it wasn’t completely foreign to me.  But I had no idea how much of a lifestyle was built around this practice, and how fully it was lived by the residents in this small town.

When we arrived, I was about to be a junior in high school.  Previously I went to a public school, played tennis, was bad at math – pretty typical.  In our new home, there was the public high school, or the private high school which was specifically for meditator kids, complete with school uniforms and weird classes about the ancient Indian philosophy behind the teachings, including meditation.  It was my choice, but I chose to go all out with this new, crazy Midwestern move we did, and go to the “different” school.

From reciting memorized qualities of nature, to reading the Bhagavad-Gita in its original Sanskrit, my classmates the first day literally freaked me out.  Oh yeah, I’m remembering now the school-wide (K-12th grade) assembly we had, where everyone sang a kindergarten-esque song about the nature of the ancient texts, complete with hand motions.  (Am I freaking you out, yet?)

While I felt completely out of place, I was astonished (and still am, thinking back) at how quickly I picked up all the little phrases to memorize (many in Sanskrit as well), and I learned to read Sanskrit in only a few months.  (We didn’t speak it or understand what we were reading, we just learned the characters and their sounds, and were able to read through the texts in a sort of chanting way, for its soothing affects.  Although we did take a few semesters of a Sanskrit grammar class where we learned basic words and sentence structure, etc.)

Anyway, over the next three years, I became very interested in this ancient Indian philosophy and even opted to attend the local college, which was in association with the meditation movement and my high school.  Since then, my interests have drifted, but so much of who I am is because of moving here and going to those schools and learning this whole new set of teachings, laws of nature, and way of life.  I learned about yoga and organic food.  My paradigms were shattered and my values changed.  My world view and judgements of others changed (in some ways for the better, and in some ways for the worst.)  And even now that I am very different than I was back in my first few years here, when I was immersed in it at school, the person I am now couldn’t be here without those years.  I met my friends because of it.  I met my boyfriend because of it.  Everything I do now, and the way I think, is affected by who I was in California, plus who I became while out here, plus who I have become since drifting from the meditating-me.

I literally can not even imagine who I would be today had I stayed in California and finished high school there.  I probably would have gone to some college out there to study music.  I probably wouldn’t have lasted long.  Beyond that, no idea.  Completely different values.  Way more shallow.  Naive.  I can’t even imagine.

7. Read Secrets of the Millionaire Mind

I honestly believe that everyone should read this book.  Yes, you.

This book is geared toward people who want to become millionaires (which surprisingly isn’t everybody), but I learned so much about myself from reading this book, and I would love it if everyone had that opportunity.  There are exercises at the end of some chapters, where you answer a few questions and figure out your “money blueprint”.  Basically, its how you think of money and therefore how you earn/spend money, and therefore what’s holding you back from being a millionaire.  And, it helps you figure out why you have those thoughts on money in the first place, and how to change them if you so choose.  And that is what I think is so incredibly valuable about this book.  I have friends who have different spending habits from me, and I always think about how different their money blueprint must be from mine, because their behaviors are just so different.  You’d think that money is easy – you earn it, you save some, you spend some.  But there are so many subtle variations, and often we end up spending it unnecessarily, due to some quirk in our money blueprint that’s messing us up.  Fascinating.  Do check it out.

8. Learn how you learn

There are different learning styles.  Some people learn/remember best by reading, while others have better luck when someone tells it to them.  Others still have success from hands-on projects.  Some like to work in groups, others alone.

There are two things I have learned about myself: I do not remember things (or even pick them up in the first place) when they are read to me.  If I read something aloud, I have no idea what I just read.  If you read me a story, I’ll get distracted and make you back up a few times.  Knowing this about myself, and accepting it, has made things easier.  I know what works for me and therefore I set myself up to succeed.

The second thing I learned about myself is that I learn best when given the whole thing, starting from the absolute basics.  If I feel as though I’ve missed a step, the puzzle is incomplete and I can’t move on from there.  I think that’s why I was so bad at math: we moved a few times and I was put into different classes, I signed up for a more advanced class out of pride, and when we moved to Iowa, they had a completely different order to the subjects (geometry, algebra, statistics, etc.) so my California math years were little help once I got here.  There were so many holes in the picture, I might as well have not learned anything.  My training as a bartender was similarly sporadic, and I was basically set up to fail.

If I don’t have the whole picture, I have absolutely no confidence.  I can not get by on guessing.  Unless I know all of it, I might as well know none of it.  But, the good thing is, that now I know these things about myself.  So when I undertake a new project, I know what I need to do to learn it successfully.  Knowing this, and accepting myself in that way, will continue to help me for the rest of my life.

9. Realize that you’ve been scarred, and accept it

“I think everyone has scars.”

My friend’s realization last night hit home for me, too.  I’m not alone in this.  Everyone has insecurities and has been shaped positively or negatively by their childhood.  Its the sort of thing I know (like, logically, in my head, I know this), but find it hard to believe.  That confident guy?  He has insecurities?  He was teased as a child?  No way.

My friend went on to tell us about a guy she knew in high school.  He was very outgoing and friendly – everyone liked him.  Then she overheard that he was actually really insecure, and afraid of what everyone was thinking about him.  He said he was outgoing out of insecurity.  Not out of confidence.  Totally counter-intuitive.  While shyness is my defense mechanism, I guess being outgoing was his.  Makes me wish I could trade.

But it also makes me see that despite what we may assume, or how we may judge a person, we all have scars.  We all have insecurities.  She fears judgement just like you fear judgement.  Reminds me of this saying here, which is something I try and keep in mind since seeing it.

The aftereffect of this is that once we realize we’ve been scarred, maybe we can figure out the cause, and then we can accept it.  And I do wish you good luck in that.  Know that I’m right there with you, trying to overcome.

10. Feel really good about yourself

This is a great feeling!  However rarely or often it may happen for you, cherish it!  Knowing and remembering this feeling may just be what gets you through the other times.

11. Meet a really kind, genuine person

These people stand out.  They’re just so nice.  They give without expecting anything in return.  They have nice things to say.  They smile.  They make you feel like you matter.  They radiate love at all times.

When I meet this type of person, it sort of wakes me up.  It inspires me to be like them.  It makes me feel loved and sort of feel like I’m doing okay in the world.  Like things aren’t so bad.  Like if only I could become so loving, that maybe my life would be so much better.  And maybe I could make other peoples’ lives so much better.  Interactions with these people truly are a gift.

I hope you enjoyed my list!  If you write a post like this, please do link to it in the comments so I can read yours!


What I learned from my restaurant job

I recently quit my job of almost a year.

I worked at a coffee house, slash restaurant, slash bookstore, slash gift store.

I mostly took customers’ orders at the cash register but I also made lattes and the like.

Here are some general and specific things I learned:

  • Most of the customers were regulars.  They came in literally every day at the same time and ordered pretty much the same thing.  Its primarily these people who kept us in business, I’d assume.
  • Some customers, even if they come in regularly and always get the same thing, will complain about their food, every time.  And its not that it was made wrong – they just don’t care for it.
  • There are a lot of different kinds of milk (organic whole, organic  2%, regular 2%, skim, soy, almond, coconut).
  • Most people probably wont taste the difference (with the exception of the last three).
  • There are only subtle differences between all the major espresso drinks.  For example, a latte is espresso and milk.  Add chocolate and its now a mocha. Take out the espresso and its now a hot chocolate.  Add flavored syrup instead of chocolate and its now a milk steamer.  Ever wonder how a barista can so easily remember something as complicated as a “skinny half caf double iced mocha, with half the chocolate and sugar free caramel”?  Because its really just a slight variation on what the drink normally would be.  And yes it was rare that someone would order something that specific.  But once you know a few key terms, even the complicated things aren’t that complicated anymore.
  • There are a few different roasts of coffee: french (the darkest), vienna (in the middle), and city (the lightest).  In terms of caffeine level, its the opposite: city (most caffeine), vienna (in the middle), french (least caffeine).  At first this is always counter-intuitive.  You’d think that the darkest coffee would also be the strongest.  That’s probably because you’d assume it meant it was brewed more strongly or something.  But no, they’re all brewed the same way.  Some coffees are weaker on purpose.  The reason is, the caffeine in a coffee bean is on the outside.  So when the beans are roasted, the caffeine gets burnt off.  The longer it roasts (making it a darker roast) the more of the outside (the caffeine) gets roasted off.  Thus, dark beans have less caffeine left, whereas lighter roasts have more caffeine preserved.
  • People working for minimum wage bond by complaining and gossiping.  Bad, I know.  But oh-so fun.
  • Its pretty much the same, every day.  People would always ask me how my day was, or if we had been busy at lunch time.  “Good, how are you?”  “Yeah, it was kinda busy.”  I felt a little awkward always saying the same things to people.  But I guess I shouldn’t feel too awkward because they always asked the same questions.
  • If you steam too much foam, it becomes too dry, and it does not blend well into the drink.  The key is to steam less foam, thus keeping it wetter, and then you can more easily swoosh it around with the milk. It was only towards the end of my time at that job that I really started to get the hang of latte art.  Kind of unfortunate I left before mastering it.
  • If a drink has a [thin] layer of foam on top, you can practically sprint it out to the  person’s table without spilling it (exaggerating).
  • People like their drinks full, even if it means you spill it a little.  If I didn’t put enough foam on top and the drink started to spill over as I carried it out to them, I’d just say, “It’s a little full” in a somewhat apologetic voice as I handed it to them.  To which they responded with a smile and wide eyes.
  • One of the funnest parts of my job was referring to customers by their order (when talking about them with coworkers, that is).  “You know ‘Large salad, add carrots, sprouts, and tuna, Large decaf latte in a to-go cup’ guy?”  “Oh, yeah.”  Or, “You know, she always comes in and buys a bottle of water and like half an avocado?”  “Oh yeah.  Sharon.”  It was a fun game to see how well we knew everyone :).
  • As hard as it may be to trust employees, micromanaging is not efficient.  Honestly if I owned a company and had employees, I would be tempted to oversee everything and make sure it was perfect.  Must be hard not to do that.
  • When you order a drink and I ask “Small or Large?”, please don’t say “Medium.”  If we had medium, I would have offered it to you.
  • Things aren’t as clean as you’d like to think.  I learned that one in my previous restaurant job.  That one was even less clean than my second place.  But yeah.  Going to a restaurant after having worked in one requires a certain level of denial.
  • Free food is a very nice perk.  At my first restaurant job (I’ve had a total of 2) we didn’t get food.  We didn’t even get a break.  (Labor laws, anyone?)  So at my next job, getting a 15 min break AND free lunch was like the most generous and chill thing I had ever heard of.
  • I can eat lunch at the same place 5 days a week for a year and not get sick of the food.  I guess that’s how we had so many regular customers.
  • Being on my feet all day wasn’t that hard.  But the right shoes were everything.
  • In a big restaurant (5 rooms spanning 3 levels) with a boss who everyone knows and has questions/business inquiries for, it would be great to have a walkie-talkie system.
  • Some of our soups (and probably other things) were made with peanut oil.  And it wasn’t mentioned anywhere.  I’m kind of surprised no one died.
  • Working in a food-related job in a town where people are health-conscious and have a million different diet restrictions is frustrating and time consuming.  And repetitive.
  • You see a person’s true colors when you serve them lunch.
  • If they haven’t hired anyone new for awhile and half of the current employees are “sick” all the time, and you decide to quit, be prepared to be hated.
  • This was a fun job but its not my career nor my life.  At times it seemed like it was both, but really, now that I’m gone, I realize that everything that went with it – my daily routine, my stress, the people I would see every day – is all gone.  And in a year from now, none of it will matter.  Except I’ll still have all the things I learned from working there.