Man Up

In all the years and various stints I’ve done in the bar I keep returning to. As much as the teams changed and dynamics have backflipped.  One thing has remained constant. The idea that I should be a man.

Not me personally but someone doing my job with the experience I have typically is male. This comes in subtle forms such as the memes of bartenders plastered on the staff room wall all being blokes. And less subtle by the colleagues I have worked along side for years still attributing my specific product knowledge to my boyfriend who they have never worked with.

Mens work is a phrase that gets thrown around more than I’m comfortable with. Everything from getting ice to the less pleasant cleaning jobs. All things I’ve always done as a routine part of my job. I learnt long ago if I wanted to be taken seriously, mens work was a phrase I could not only not use but not be seen to let others use as a reason to do or not to do something.

Maybe I’m just bitter, or maybe I’m tired of being branded as less. Tired of jokes being made when I set up the shift with a girl only bar about it being a weaker team when in comparison to the men scheduled at the same time, the difference favours the women.

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Do you feel like you should be doing more than just bartending?

Do you feel like you should be doing more than just bartending? A friend asked me this as research for an article she was writing. Its an interesting question. One that, as I told her, I could speak for days on given the chance. The short answer is no, there’s no where else I’d rather be. But its not as simple as that, there’s also so much more I want to do with it.

While I was at uni, before I was working in a bar full time, I didn’t understand why real adults would choose this as a career not just a gap year or paying your way while you pursue something else. Obviously I  don’t think that way now but it’s definitely a mind set I used to have. When I started in the industry it felt like a quick fix, something you do for a bit just to earn some money but not sustainable as a long term plan. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Now I’ve been working in this industry for over 7 years and it is my long term plan.

I do go through cycles of feeling like I should be doing more especially anytime I’ve taken a step back from management. Although there’s always a reason why I’ve made the decision to step backwards, like when I went from a bar manager position in a gastro pub at age 20 to a supervisor at a high end hotel restaurant. The point of that was serving at a higher level than in the gastro pub and learning to do it properly rather than sort of learning things as I had to. For example I learnt to line clean because the only manager who knew how went on maternity leave and I learnt to run a training session when there was a new cocktail menu coming out and no one else had enough of an interest in bar to train it so I left doing that for structure and training on how to be a manager. In the end I didn’t receive the development I was seeking, instead I was working long hours and burning myself out.

This time around I’ve chosen to stick with an unintentional return to bartending rather than managing because I spent last year working on restoring my mental health and now this year I’m working at finishing my degree. So although I often feel like I’ve taken a step backwards and I should be doing more I can also rationalise it with there’s an alterior motive and I’m doing it with a purpose in mind.

Besides I bloody love just turning up to a shift throwing some drinks around then going home again.

Imposter Syndrome in Bartending

This industry that many of us have fallen in love with is riddled with university dropouts and suffers of ill mental health. As I tick both boxes, through a troubled struggle with my own expectations and an attempt to realise what it is exactly that I want to achieve I have decided that neither of these things is a bad thing nor should they count against me.

For a start this means I’ve chosen to do this, the late nights, doubling back and AFDs. Simply because I love it and wouldn’t have it another way. I went to university in the first place because thats what everyone was doing, it was expected. I chose a subject I was vaguely good at that later it turned out I hated. I started in hospitality entirely by accident and honestly so did nearly everyone else I know who is pursuing this as a career. I have friends with degrees, one particularly close friend has a first class masters in Biochemistry but instead of curing cancer or whatever real job society considers he should be pursuing, he spends his work life running masterclasses for hen parties and just having a bloody good time. The advantage to not having necessarily intended this as a career means we have been sucked in and enjoy it enough to stick around. It offers a flexibility that many other profession’s cannot offer.

The draw of hospitality while temporary to some, filling gap years or generating income for the nights out while studying, for others, myself included, creates this unique space. Its one where its OK (with some obvious law or practical experience exceptions) to not have the credentials on paper, to not have a diploma or BSc in the area you are applying to. There is always someone on hand willing to show you the ropes, build you up and furnish you with the knowledge and skills you need for the job at hand. As long as you want to learnn and are up front and honest about what you do or don’t know, I have never met a group of people as keen to force all their knowledge on you as bartenders are.

It offers a body of people who no matter how many times per shift they say they ‘f**king hate people’ actually really care about them. Intrinsically they want to listen, to understand and more than anything to make people happy. No one goes to a bar to intentionally have a terrible time. To individuals like me who suffer greatly from stress and ever present depression, its an escape and a support system all in one. I go to work and am surrounded by people who care and we get so wrapped up in creating a good time both for those of us working and our guests visiting that more often than not it helps alleviate whatever is bothering me.

Personally, I’ve never achieved anything. I’m not a great bartender but boy do I love it. Ive won no competitions, nor even actually entered any as I’m not sure where I’d start or even if I want to. And while I love drinking in local indies my career is considerably more corporate. I realise to many people that makes me not a real bartender. But what is a real bartender?

When I first chose hospitalty over completing my degree, I struggled a large part with imposter syndrome. I didn’t belong in this world of men making fancy drinks with rare spirits. I kept trying to find venues that were more credible in the industry circle while still catering to my ‘I just want going to work to be fun’ work ethic. Honestly all this achieved was a patchy CV. At some point I just gave up and started going for jobs I fancied.
Even then I still failed to find somewhere I was comfortable. Five years on and I’ve come full circle, I’m now back at the venue I left for feeling like it wasn’t cool enough, as a bartender just having fun. At the end of the day, what im trying to achieve is to enjoy going to work each day. As long as that’s happening, who cares what anyone else thinks?

Mental Health in Hospitality

Hospitality as an industry often mops up the misfits, wether for a career for those that don’t or can’t function on the 9-5 schedule that modern society seems to dictate as a requirement, or as a few quid in their pockets while at university. One thing it does particularly well is cater to those who suffer with poor or inconsistent mental health.

Even as I lie awake, on a Friday night where I would normally be working, brain too busy to switch off yet forced to because yet again the government has shut the pubs, I realise that slinging drinks behind the bar gives me the space and distraction to stop my mind over thinking and creating problems where there are none. It really is a job where everything gets left at the door and the second you start your shift something else takes over, the customer service persona, and from there, more often than not, I can work out the little kinks, mis thoughts and anthing else that is bothering me from the fast paced, ever changing, constantly social environment. It’s no wonder drug and there are days where I am just not feeling it, and on those days due to the diversity of the job I can put my hands up say I can’t face customers today and work my shift on dispense, or as a bar back, sometimes even in the kitchen as a pot wash.

While it is still a buisness that must run and certain tasks must be completed there is so much flexibility that there are very few hard and fats rules of what must be completed and when, limited mostly to things that must be done for safety and security. In my experience flexibility is key to living with inconsistent mental health. I need to be able to say today I can’t do this but I can do that. This rings true for many of my colleagues.
At the begining I said it mops up the misfits, I’m not sure this is quite true more that they find a home and comfort in a bunch of people who work and play hard and love even harder. When you have mental health issues, it becomes very easy to spot others who are suffering and lend an empathetic ear, especially when you’re all in the weeds at the weekends together. It becomes a support system, people you know you can turn to to hear you out, because chances are they’re experiencing or have experienced something similar.

I have a lot of love for all my colleagues in hospitality, for the support they have offered me over the years and the friends I have made. I have many colleagues past and present who I can enter the shift at the absolute pit of doom and gloom and if I can ask to work a section beside them I leave happier than I could have imagined when I arrived, laughing at some staff fail or stupid in joke. For me I don’t see many other industries I could realistically see myself working in. Hospitality has my heart and soul. 

Writing My Way Out Of Depression

Allthough in my pre and early teens I wrote a lot, everything from short stories to novels. I’ve only just come around, in my mid twenties, to the idea that I can write. This doesn’t mean I feel that I write particularly well just that it’s a thing I enjoy and am capable of completing.

My relationship with writing began troubled. I am dyslexic with an extremely high IQ which meant for a long time I was undiagnosed and branded lazy with respect to my illegible handwriting, incomprehensible spelling and what one of my teachers fondly called snakes in the margin. Even after my diagnosis, my excellent grades in an underperforming comprehensive lead to many teachers telling me I wasn’t dyslexic, I was making it up as an excuse not to try harder. I got penalised many times in my english lessons for doodling on my books, a technique I realise now is a common coping mechanism and at the time was the only way I could find to concentrate. All in all my experience with literature and language in the state education system lead me to believe it was an impossible thing to be feared, to be achieved only by those gifted. And gifted I was not.

I’ve continued to read throughout as no one can tell me I’m doing that wrong. My experience with reading for pleasure may not be the same as everyone elses but I don’t much care about that. Often when reading my eyes fail to track the text properly so I’ll read the same thing over and over again or skip a chunk, that’s ok though because it makes the story a little different each time. Much more recently, within the last 6 months or so I’ve discovered the delights of kindle reading. Now while I’d love to say I’m a classic book lover that wouldn’t surrender the feel of a real book, the smell of the novel or the turn of a page; I have to say that I’ve found a whole new love in fiction in a text that I can use a font designed for dyslexics and coloured backgrounds that help reduce the stress of reading. With this special font and coloured background means that I can read a text the first time without skipping or rereading parts. This discovery has roughly coincided with a reignited fondness for writing.

A side effect of this discontinuous reading is that I very much love reading poetry. The sentences are often small and the story short. they link words and feelings in a way that makes a single page an entire experience. This love of poetry is part of what convinced me to try it again.

The other part was looking for a coping mechanism for the deep depressive episodes I have come to associate with any time things are less than perfect in my life. I was diagnosed with depression at around 15, nearly ten years later and its showing no particular signs of improving. I am however learning how to handle it better. If a situation is so far out of my control, with no realistic end in sight, I have learnt to just get out. Leave. I have come through a lot and there is nothing I haven’t survived thus far. For the times when things are hard, uncomfortable or stressful I am learning to process this through poetry. The poems I write are not meant for others to see. (Allthough I have started sharing some of my favourites here on this blog) Every now and again I write something I may show someone else. But for the most part they are the grotesque product of my brain trying to tell me I am the problem. They are the result of the self loathing that has previously resulted in self harm and suicide attempts.

Writing hasn’t been a magical fix all, there are still periods, days at a time sometimes, where I am so down getting out of bed is a struggle. It has helped process feelings, to make things more rational. It means that a previous spiral out of control comes back in relatively quickly and the situation feels less severe than originally in my head. A lot of my earlier poems follow this strategy and the result isn’t pretty. Early on I tried to write some more positive stuff using the same bit of my emotions. it didn’t work. The result was appalling. Gradually with practice I’ve learnt to use a different piece of me to write positive poems. As I’ve nurtured this part of me its grown in me, my sadness seems less deep. And from it have sprung other creative endeavours, I’ve started writing more, an outline for a memoir formed and as I feel like it I find myself able to flesh out chapters. Small articles and essays write themselves, mostly formed around my experiences. As I continue to cultivate this previously unknown part of me it helps fill my soul. I have become more myself and less my sadness. I truly believe my sadness will always be a part of me but with the right care and attention it doesn’t need to control me. By continuing to write I am coping, I am processing and I am living.

I have even begun to explore how I can push the boundaries of the writing. My favourite poem I have written to date is nonsense. Completely absurd wonderful nonsense. To me poems are passages of text that convey emotions. The happiest poem I’ve written is a series of ‘boops’ in a format that me and my boyfriend use when we’re being silly to make the other smile. To me that is pure happiness. I showed him that poem and he said it was wonderful with a big grin on his face. And to me that’s all a poem needs to do is to convey the poets intended emotion to the reader. Now I don’t claim to be a good poet, but it brings me peace, sometimes even joy. And that’s enough.

What writing means to me : a dyslexic university drop out

I’ve always loved literature. When I was really young I thought one day I’d be a writer. Until I began to be told my spelling was rubbish and my handwriting illegible. I’d intended to do it until I was told I couldn’t. I still read though. I enjoyed reading for pleasure. I could read quickly allthough not always accurately, skipping huge chunks of text or reading the same paragraph 3 times. This didnt bother me much as it meant next time I read the book the story would be a little different.

I’d read everything, fiction, poems, museum signs. I always loved poetry the best. The short often incomplete sentences meant I got the whole story the first time. I liked how the were emotions tied to the words, a deep rooted empathy in the page.

When I was around 10 years old I won a contest run by the school or district to have a poem published in a book with other school children’s poems. This didnt make any sense to me as I was being told at this time that I was lazy with spelling and writing as I hadn’t found out I was dyslexic at this time. Besides I didnt see the poem as any good, it was a jumble of words on a page about an ant and a rain drop. There were no heart wrenching feelings or deeper meaning in it. Looking back this experience showed me I liked reading ‘good’ poetry but I didn’t have to write what I considered good poetry.

For my GCSE English I was predicted a D maybe a C if I did really well in my exams. My teacher thought I was lazy, I was penalised for ‘graffiti’ on my english books when in reality it was doodling to help me concentrate when the teacher was speaking. My coursework was marked down, averaging around a D I think. Then came the exams, I tried my hardest but with low expectations. When I asked the English teacher my grade I remember the shock in her face, her double checking the transcript. A complete stranger had graded my work as an A*. This meant that despite my teachers best efforts my english grade was on par with the results I was receiving in other lesons where they cared less about the spelling and grammar. A complete stranger thought I could write!

Now I write poetry for myself. Its helped me to process a lot of things, from emotions to relationships and interactions. I left university in my 3rd year, not because I couldn’t do it but because I just wasn’t interested. I’d lacked support all through secondary school so was lead to believe that I’d only ever be good for a job in science. This angled my selected a levels and then my degree. I found a deep hatred for it that resulted in me not attending lectures or practicals then not studying for exams, unsurprisingly I then failed. I like to tell myself that had it been something I really loved I would have stuck with it but that’s hindsight and something I’ll never really know the answer to. Theres a lot of tough bits of thinking that writing poetry, which to be honest may never see the light of day, has helped me to process and left me in a place where I feel comfortable with everything that’s happened.

Now I work in an industry I love where the focus is more practical. I am challenged by the problem solving that comes with the everyday that is the living breathing machine that is hospitality. I still read for pleasure although less, but now that I don’t feel compelled to do it, I have more enjoyment in it as I can just do it. I write a lot more, mostly poems with a few little stories about my life. For the most part I don’t do anything with them. They just sit in the notes section of my tablet. It’s the process of writing I find comforting. Knowing no one will read it so it doesn’t matter if the spelling is terrible or the grammar is off.

What used to be an everyday struggle, not helped by being told I was no good at it, has become an enjoyable pass time. It helps me de stress and work through anxiety, process anger or sadness in a way that doesn’t as severely effect my mental health as it used to.
Had my school recognised the support I needed or nurtured my interest, maybe I’d be somewhere different. But here I am now and I am quite content.