Why I Left the Service Industry After 20 Years
I recently made a huge change in my life: After nearly 20 years, I quit the service industry. The transition has been bittersweet, but not nearly as soul-crushing as I’d always expected. After years and years of making and serving food and beverages, folding T-shirts and talking to dozens or 100 people every day, these days I drive to an office building across town, sit alone, and speak mostly to the four or five other women around me. Once in a while I’ll speak to someone on the phone. The work is the epitome of stereotypical entry-level monotony; lots of paperwork, emails and reading contracts. It’s been a culture shock, to say the least. One unexpected major difference is that my body doesn’t quite know how to react to not being on my feet for 10 hours a day. My joints are sore, my knees are stiff and I feel endlessly restless. I suppose I just don’t know how to be still. My very first request for my office was an adjustable standing desk. On the plus side, I no longer feel completely exhausted, physically and mentally, by the end of the day. I don’t feel the need to just sit in silence and stare at the wall for 45 minutes after my shift. The most surprising thing to me and anyone who knows me is that I’m actually enjoying it.
Ultimately, my goal is to have a career as a writer. Although it took me an inexplicable amount of time to reach that conclusion, I have finally begun to make strides in that direction at the age of 35. I’ve still got some work to do before I get there, but it finally feels within reach. Working in a more professional atmosphere is helping to change my mindset, and having a more consistent schedule has done wonders for my time management. I can easily blame a million things for my slow start on this goal, not the least of which is my tendency to become wrapped up in one my ridiculously wide array of interests, only to forget about the project and begin another one before I’m even halfway through. If you subscribe to the wild, woo-woo world of astrology, I am the quintessential Aries hummingbird when it comes to projects. Writing, I’ve found, is the only creative outlet I consistently come back to.
When I really started thinking about it, I remembered myself mentioning that I wanted to “write for Rolling Stone” on multiple occasions throughout my life, starting at probably 12 years old and most recently at about 28. Then, it was a few years of neglected blogs and multiple notebooks filled with stream of consciousness nonsense. At 34, I found myself with an opportunity staring me in the face. I had not one, but two friends at my dead-end service job who wrote for local publications on the side. I would have been a fool to not take advantage of those connections. Any creative will tell you the connections you make are arguably the most valuable part of working in the service industry. Just from tagging along to a contributing writer’s meeting, I suddenly found myself writing short pieces for a popular local publication’s website. Shortly thereafter, I was consistently receiving assignments for their print issues. Eventually, the editor recommended me to other publications, and I began getting multiple assignments every month. All of those years searching for connections in those dead-end jobs had finally led me down the right path.
Even with this newfound creative outlet, and although I had met countless interesting and inspiring people and made great connections while working in the service industry, I still felt like I was becoming stagnant and spinning my wheels. It became clear I was so burned out and bitter that it was affecting my creativity. At this point, I was no longer a young divorcée looking to start over; I was no longer fresh out of college and figuring things out in a recession. So much time was passing before my eyes, and I was becoming my worst nightmare: complacent and directionless. For me, working in food service was no longer cute.
Like so many “creative types” before me, my decades-long aversion to office life is deeply rooted in that classic faux-narrative: “don’t give in to the man,” “never become boring,” “office life crushes creativity”—the nonsense goes on and on. But thanks to that “damn the man” mindset, throughout my entire life I had equated transitioning to an office job with giving up. I thought it was where dreams went to die. After avoiding it for so long, I am thankfully finding the opposite to be true. Once I started down the path of writing for a supplemental income, I began to realize my days of service industry employment were coming to a close. I had gotten out of it as much as I could, and the years and years of being on my feet, dealing with awful customers and washing mountains of dishes had made me bitter and miserable. I was given an opportunity to work in a regular nine-to-five office, reading contracts and doing paperwork. I was nervous that I would hate it and terrified that I wouldn’t be able to do it and would stick out like a sore thumb among seasoned pantsuit-wearing professionals. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Working in this new environment has provided me with stability and a set schedule that makes it much easier to find time for creative outlets. Suddenly I am much more focused on my goals, and they actually feel more achievable now.
I’m really enjoying office life. Instead of the stiff, buttoned-up squares I was expecting, I am surrounded by smart, funny, hardworking and endlessly loveable women. We have lunch catered every Friday, help each other out when we’re in need and laugh at random office mishaps and snafus.
I have nothing but the utmost respect for people in the service industry, particularly food service. It’s incredibly hard work and will put even the toughest person through the ringer. Working in the service industry is challenging, and fun, and exciting, and tough, and frustrating and mind-numbing. For me, that lifestyle was no longer sustainable; I had finally reached a point in my life where I knew something had to change, or perhaps nothing ever would.
Ultimately, after 20 years, the time had come for me to look the service industry in the eye and say, “Have a nice day.”
After 20 years working in restaurants, retail, and specialty coffee, Nicki now works 9-5 as a processor in the title law industry. She is a contributing writer for Void Magazine and Jacksonville Magazine, covering topics from arts & culture to health & wellness. Her passion for travel and exploration is what drives her in every aspect of life. Outside of work, you can find her eating tacos, listening to records, and planning her next adventure. Follow her on Instagram @nickigenevieve.