One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. ~ Dr. Seuss
The world is a complex and confusing place, full of red fishes with blue fins and blue fishes with red fins and some fishes with no fins at all. Thankfully, our brains are hardwired to categorize this crazy world into neat, little storage units in the archives of our minds. This instantaneous organizational process lightens the mental load of our brains, and makes the identification of new stimuli seem almost effortless. Every time we meet our mothers, for example, our brains can identify her immediately instead of having to backflip through catalogs of memories because she has been properly labelled and neatly filed into the “mom” drawer. Imagine if this wasn’t the case and we had a brain fart every time we went over for family dinner!?! Gosh that would be awkward….ly funny!
Regrettably, this same instantaneous process is also quite destructive as our brains are not foolproof. It mislabels and miscategorises stimuli all the time due to our preconceptions, and to top it all off, our brains are also very lazy. Once labeled, it takes a great amount of effort to remove a stimuli from its mental compartment, tear off its label, and re-categorize it. So instead of purposely correcting our mind’s errors, we tend to leave stimuli in their original yet incorrect file. To tell you the truth, I am guilty of mislabeling, and it almost cost me an incredible life-changing experience.
Since my last journey update “To Quit or Not to Quit” (Sept, 2017), which commemorated the end of my year working as a barista at Columbus Café in France, life, as always, has been throwing plenty of curve balls my way. As the Tony Bennett song goes, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” well… I left my heart in Paris and I needed to go after it. And so, I hightailed it to the French embassy in late September 2017 and applied for a subsequent working holiday visa, which would grant me an additional 8-months in my home-away-from-home… although starting in December 2017! Ahh… I couldn’t wait 3 more months! My heart was calling me!
Posthaste, I repacked my suitcase, kissed my mama goodbye, and headed straight to the airport. When I arrived in la belle Paris, October and November were filled with reunions and birthday celebrations, and before I knew it, the Christmas season was at my doorstep, which meant the start of officially being allowed to work in France. To transition from a tourist visa to a temporary residence visa, I hopped, skipped, and jumped over to Ireland and England for a few days, though once back in France, Christmas and New Year’s zoomed by, and there I was in mid-January sitting on the couch next to my dear friends RoRo & Damien balling my eyes out! After years of research and experience in the café industry, I was right back where I started: no job, no money, and no prospects. RoRo slapped me on the back, told me to grab my coat, and we headed to the mall… to hand out resumes. It was like a flashback to 16-year old me except 11 years later, here I was handing my CV and lettre de motivation to none other than the manager of McDonald’s. My career and my pride had hit an all-time low.
This is where I failed to reorganize my thoughts. Before I even handed over my resume, I labeled this potential experience at McDonald’s as “null and void.” Two interviews and an hour video-tutorial later, there I was standing behind the McCafé counter in an oversized burgundy and beige uniform ready to confirm my suspicions. However zoom forward a month and a half, and this experience has been relabelled “invaluable” for four particular reasons:
- Working for McDonald’s is like enlisting in the military.
Upon induction into this international enterprise, you are given two items: a clean uniform and an identification number. It is imperative to guard both of these items with your life. On your first official day, you are introduced to one of [too] many commanding officers… or managers rather, who, after inspecting your uniform and general decorum, hands you an obnoxiously thorough manual of McDonald’s rules and regulations including, but not limited to, the exact distance required between individual macaroons in the display case and how frequently one should wash their hands. Your role as an employee is to decipher its many pages and uphold it to a tee. Failure to do so, no matter your level of former experience at McDonald’s, will result in public humiliation and swift punishment.
- There is no “i” in team.
New at McDonald’s and don’t know how to complete a task? Asking the current manager in charge will be a waste of time, not to mention, you will be made to look like a total fool. Instead, copy your comrades in aprons. Lucky for me, I was sanctioned by an exceptional team of baristas at McCafé who taught me everything I needed to know. Not just baristas, these 6 women were WARRIORS, each with their own strengths and talents. Some were wickedly organized, some were astonishingly creative, and some were divinely just. Together, they added that touch of class, intellect, and charm to the normally boorish McDonald’s setup.
- Everyone has different needs, but we all want to be understood, and that requires only an ounce of our time and a portion of our consideration.
The other day, I had a customer approach the counter during rush hour. When it’s busy at the café and I’m working alone, I will usually start to prepare the order of the previous customer while I take the order of the following. Multitasking! I hate doing this because it severs the lines of open communication between myself and the client, hindering the growth of our relationship, but most customers have a very small tolerance for waiting, especially during rush hour. Yet, this particular customer wouldn’t play along; he wouldn’t tell me his order after I tossed the customary, “Bonjour monsieur, qu’est-ce que vous voulez commander,” over my shoulder. I could feel the other customers in line getting tense and even I was getting a little flustered. Although when I glanced up from the coffee machine and looked at the customer, I finally understood. This man has profound deafness. He just wanted a coffee like everyone else, but to do this, he had to slowly sign his order and I would have to give him my undivided attention. That’s it! All he really needed was two things from me: a few seconds of my time and a few servings of my consideration, and I will always feel ashamed for not immediately giving them to him. Regrettably, I think I often neglect, sometimes intentionally but mostly unintentionally, to give people the two things we all need: time and consideration, and for that I apologize and I intend to do better.
- Mass consumerism is a bandaid solution on a much bigger problem.
Being a minimalist and growing up in a low-income family, mass consumerism bothers me to the nth degree. To put it simply, mass consumerism is one of many thorns in modern society. Consequently, it exploits labourers, wastes resources, and encourages narcissism just to name a few. As a solo traveler on a limited budget, I have to be conscious of how I live and how my life impacts the world around me, and overall, I prefer having a few high quality items, experiences, and relationships in your possession for a long period of time in contrast to having an excessive amount of disposable ones. Does this make me better than the mom of four who buys 2-for-1 Family Size items on sale at Walmart and takes her kids to McDonald’s as a treat? Or the single guy who buys designer items and eats only at fine-dining establishments? No, because if we look at the bigger picture, “wanting more” is intuitive to every human being, and mass consumerism is only a band-aid solution on a substantial internal struggle that we all deal with. I may not care about having the “American Dream” with kids and a mortgage or the “Celebrity Lifestyle” with brand name labels and caviar, but I still have feelings of discontentment. I fall into irrational depressions of not being smart enough, beautiful enough, healthy enough, pleased enough, or conscientious enough and so I, like everyone else, throw my money, time, and effort at temporary solutions, instead of giving myself a thorough soul cleanse. Contentment, as is mass consumerism, is a choice.
These four life lessons are imprinted on my mind and will be with me as I take on the next chapter of my life. Actually, I’m leaving the fast food industry and entering a high-end café in a luxury establishment, but still, I must be remember to label any potential experience with care and consideration before I file it away in my mind palace.
As always, thank you for reading.
I did it my way ~ Frank Sinatra