5 Emotional Lessons I Learned Working in Hospitality
Last time I talked about how I experience work in Lauvitel Lodge, La Danchere, France, and I figured that the biggest value I can find in work is getting to know myself better and growing emotionally. In other words, growing as a person. As I believe, this inner personal growth happens in major part through experiencing a range of various emotions, that some people also like to call feelings. We all experience feelings at work. Sometimes very intensely, sometimes only as a background music to our daily commitments and interactions.
Now, if we decide to focus our attention somewhere else and consider feelings to be irrelevant detail in our experience – we are unlikely to draw any lessons from them. We, people, have been mastering the art of hiding away from our feelings for centuries – so it doesn’t come as a surprise that we are doing such a good job on ignoring them. But I believe that if we decide to change our attitudes and acknowledge emotions we experience as our teachers, then there will be a new vast land of self-awareness for humankind to explore.
If it sounds very deep and dramatic, let me tell you that I have been exploring much of this land while cleaning rooms and serving ice-creams in a garden bar. And I found these circumstances to be not far from perfect when comes to making my emotional content transpire and teach me valuable lessons. This could only happen because I was consistently choosing to notice these emotions and see them as valid. And this is what I encourage you to do as well throughout your laborious, demanding day. Not only will you learn something about yourself, but also is your work likely to become more interesting. So here we go.
#1: Feeling of not being good enough. You know that sometimes you can only do so much at work. What I needed to realize was: even though sometimes it seems that what I am doing is not enough, it has to be enough. Classic example is working in a busy garden bar, when there is a lot of people waiting to be served, you are on your own and you know you cannot be doing 10 things at the same time (although, in a way, you have to). People are queuing to order beers, someone wants to pay, someone didn’t receive the ice-cream flavour they ordered. At some point, as you are trying to cope with all that, you find yourself simply not fast enough, forgetting the order you took seconds ago, miscalculating someone’s bill. The feeling of “not good enough” starts sipping in even though mentally, you do understand that there is only as much as one person can handle.
This is the moment to listen to the feeling, take a breath and stop doing what you are doing – even if it is only for ten seconds (you probably cannot afford more time in circumstances like that). Take care of this feeling and show compassion to yourself. It is as if you were comforting a child. Talk to yourself if you need to – this is what I do. “I am doing well. I know that there are people waiting for a long time now, that I forgot to give change to a lady and served the other one a cappuccino that was far from perfect. But given the circumstances, I am doing well. I am managing.” At some point you will understand that there is nothing to punish yourself for. Doing your best is enough. Also, you need to take into account that your “best” will differ from day to day, depending on how rested you are, whether you had coffee or not and how you have interacted with your colleagues that day. And guess what? That’s ok, too.
#2: Feeling of gratitude. This is something that fuels not just you, but also your teammates and the whole environment that you are a part of. So one thing is to appreciate and feel grateful for the work itself and for how you are in it. But what I really want to stress here is this: do not take your work colleagues for granted. For as much as you can, do not see them just as separate people working on their own stuff, who just happen to be in your presence. You have to realize that you are essentially working on the same thing, because you are working together. That’s why it is really important to communicate your needs and feelings to your colleagues, as well as show them gratitude for the cooperation that you share. The small acts and expressions of appreciation are especially important for you and them in a busy environment, when everything feels extremely stressful, out of control and it is easy for people to start telling themselves: “I just cannot keep going like this”. This is when the space for simple gratitudes opens in order to facilitate your working dynamics.
What to do in order to fill this space? Try to notice your colleagues acts of good will and the extra mile they are going to make your work easier, or more enjoyable, or more straightforward. Because, trust me – they are doing it. Consider the possibility that it might be you who just didn’t realize that! And it is also fine if you haven’t noticed it until now – we all need to be shaken sometimes so that we can awake from a preconceived dream. But when you eventually realize the effort they are making – thank them for it in your heart and let them know that you appreciate them. It can be by simply giving them a warm smile in the end of the day, saying genuine “thank you” or making their job a little bit easier next time when you have a chance. Remember that you and them are not just separate workers minding their own tasks. You are a team. And the wellbeing is not just yours or theirs – it is collective. So it is also in your best interest to have you colleagues rested and happy.
#3: Feeling of weakness / “hurt pride”. This one is a bit similar to feeling “not good enough”, although it is also different enough to point it out separately. It is closely connected to the struggle you might experience within yourself in a moment when you need to ask for help. And this might be a hard one for many people. For me it certainly was, and probably still is, as I don’t think I have yet fully integrated that asking for help doesn’t prove I am weak.
There is this pattern which has been repeating over and over for most of my life – and I suspect that a lot of people share it and will very well understand what I am about to say. It plays out more or less like this: when I am put in charge (or I put myself in charge) of a task, I often believe that I have to accomplish this task on my own, or else – I am a loser. And it doesn’t matter if the circumstances have changed, or that I had a bad day, or the nature of the work itself had to be for some reason reformulated. If I cannot carry it out on my own and at some point find myself requiring external help – it simply means that I am a loser who failed to deliver.
Luckily, the circumstances of working in Lauvitel Lodge have been clearly showing me that this is just a delusional imprint in my head, and that asking for help is simply an intrinsic aspect of work, which doesn’t deserve any more or less attention than other aspects. In hospitality (and other industries as well, I am sure) there can be so many unexpected turns in a working day – like a sudden wave of clientele coming in the garden or extra people arriving for dinner, or a coffee machine breaking in the middle of a busy afternoon… No hotel or restaurant could function properly if we would be afraid to ask for help.
So in the beginning of working in the Lodge, I had to go through feeling almost humiliated (!) by realizing how much help I required from other people. I also kept spinning in the circle of “not good enough” for quite a while. But at some point I noticed that other people required help as well, and even more than that – they considered it a very natural thing to ask for help. Because it is, indeed, one of the most human things to do when you work together. Otherwise, why would we even bother creating teams and working organisations in the first place?
#4: Feeling present vs. living in the past or future. In other words, it is about being flexible to adjust your plans constantly, according to the present circumstances – not clinging to what you once designed basing on the state of affairs from a few days or few hours ago. This is not to say that you shouldn’t make any kind of plans at all, and that you should just mindlessly go with the flow and do “whatever” and see what happens. No. What I am saying here is: yes, design your working plan based on intentions. But be prepared and allow yourself to play around with your plan, because the external circumstances might – and most likely will – change.
How did I learn this in Lauvitel Lodge? By making plans for my day in the morning and then, when the unfolding day gradually verified my expectations, feeling distracted and disappointed that I couldn’t carry out my plan exactly as I imagined it. So instead of being present and simply responding to what was happening, I would hold onto the imaginary activities that I anticipated to engage in. It would be all sorts of things. To start with, I often hoped for the garden to be quiet enough for me to sit down with my book or write, and only occasionally get up to serve a coffee or cake (not ice-cream! I have had enough fighting with this dead-frozen blocks in all colours of the rainbow). And then once I made myself comfortable and ready to do my thing – ten people would appear in the garden out of nowhere (and yes, they would want ice-cream). So I had to serve them, and then another five would come – and so my plan was destroyed and I was left feeling angry and disheartened because things didn’t go my way.
On the way I started understanding that it is much more beneficial for me and everyone else if I just learn how to welcome whatever was unfolding and respond to it. The more I observed my irritation when things wouldn’t go as I anticipated – the more I laughed at it deep inside, and the easier it became to embrace unexpected circumstances and act accordingly. I served people when they came and I paid attention to spot moments of stillness, so that I could take care of other affairs. Because these moments for reading or writing where still available. It was just the matter of staying present and alert enough in order to notice them.
#5: You don’t have to be afraid to show your feelings. Having said everything I just said, I still want to add this: you can now allow yourself to express your feelings as they are, also at work. At the same time – try not to use them as a means of victimizing yourself in front of other people, begging for attention or finding excuses not to do your work – because this is called manipulation, not freedom of expression. Yes, I understand that it is sometimes tricky to find this balance which allows you to show up as who you are, but stops you from manipulating others. I suppose the best you can do is this:
When you notice an uncomfortable feeling like anger or grief – which will most probably appear in the middle of a challenging task – try not to react to it straight away.
In other words: slow your actions down. When you realize the feeling is coming, stay alert and observe it – regardless of all the thoughts that might be flowing through your head at this point. Watch your behaviour and the kind of things you say to your colleagues while in this emotional state. You might want to tell them how you are feeling as well, so they can be aware of what is going on and why you are acting as you are acting.
If possible – step away from your task to just be with yourself and your feelings for a little while. Give yourself what you need. If it is not possible, you can ask a trusted colleague for help and explain that you are experiencing a difficult moment – all you need is allow yourself to do this (see point #3). If they happen to see your tears and you feel embarrassed about it – remind yourself that they are human, too, and that they probably know what it means to cry. The tragedy of “omg, now they know how I really feel!” only seems like a tragedy in your head. In reality, most people are quite understanding and accepting of feelings of others. Anyway – definitely more accepting than you might believe while in your intense, emotional moment.
Achieving the “balance” means to:
a) welcome your feelings and allow yourself to show them to other people – without hurting them.
b) not identify with the feelings – they are your experience, but they are not who you are.
What do you say? Does it seem difficult? Most likely, it does – because this is not a behaviour we were encouraged or taught most of our lives. But it is definitely not impossible to learn. The way to go about it is to try. And fail. And then try again, and succeed a little bit more. And then try endless number of times. It is trivial and you have heard it at least a hundred times, right? Good. That’s because it seems to be the way things work.