Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Just" a waiter.

How fortunate the waiter who knows who he is - he knows he is not just a waiter. How unfortunate the waiter who does not know who he is - he thinks he is not just a waiter.

--Sammaditthi Sutta (Discourse on Right View)


Do not look to your job to make you happy. Look to be happy while you are doing your job.

One of the most common questions I get from guests is “Are you an actor?” or “Are you in school?” (actually, since I turned thirty not so much that one any more) or also “Do you do anything else besides this?” (sometimes it’s an even more presumptive “What else do you do besides this?”). I can’t think of any other profession where this is the case. No one would think to ask a teacher or a banker what else it is they do, even though waiters on average have a comparable if not higher income than those professions.

Through most of my twenties I suffered from “just a waiter” syndrome. I had dropped out of college and had no desire to rack up any more student loans until I could figure out what it was I wanted to do with my life. Whenever I stopped too long to look at where I was at, I’d get depressed because I was nearing thirty and still “just a waiter.” Whenever anyone asked me what I do for a living and I told them I wait tables, I would immediately follow up with “But I’m also a writer.” Forget the fact that I hadn’t had anything published, I was still a writer first, waiter second. But since I actually paid my bills waiting tables and hadn’t earned a dime writing, which one was I really?

We live in a society where what you do defines who you are. And if you don’t do something that’s viewed as socially acceptable than you must be either a student working towards a job that is socially acceptable or some sort of artist trying to “make it.” But can a person ever really be summed up that way? I am not just a waiter - waiting tables is what I do to earn a living. But I’m not a writer either - writing is just something I do because I enjoy it. Is waiting tables totally fulfilling and it’s what I want to do the rest of my life? Probably not. But the idea that we should have some sort of career that is both a status symbol and personally fulfilling is a relatively new concept (and primarily a western one). In our grandparents generation they took pride in simply having a job, any job, and in doing an honest day’s work (my grandfather ran a pawn shop – I highly doubt that was his passion in life). I think it’s a mistake to look for a job, or anything external to ourselves, to make us happy. I think the point is to try to be happy while we’re doing those external things. So what do you think? Do you feel the need to be doing something else, something “more” with your life? Are you embarrassed to tell people what you do for a living? Is it possible to be happy and be “just a waiter?”

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