Remember completing the dreaded essay question? If it’s written well it could mean getting a good (or at least reasonable) grade on an exam, being promoted to a better job, or– as in this case–being selected as a finalist for the Public Relations Foundation of Houston’s (PRFH) $3,000 scholarship.
This past spring, applicants for the 2009/2010 PRFH scholarship had four topics from which to choose and one single-spaced typed page in which to share their thoughts. The following essay is by finalist Jennifer Miller, currently a junior at the University of Texas majoring in advertising. It provided much food for thought as she explained how her experiences as a sometimes awkward but always polite restaurant server have prepared her for a career in the always changing and not always polite world of communications. I think you’ll enjoy reading it as much as the scholarship committee did.
Spilling queso, precisely chile con queso, down your shirt teaches you many things. First, and most obvious, only professional jugglers can balance skillet queso, salsa, chips, and a tray full of drinks. Second, since everyone else is laughing at you, you might as well laugh with them. And third, the unexpected makes everything either interesting or frustrating, and the difference is how you choose to react.
Working in a restaurant taught me, first and foremost, balance, how to be polite to impolite strangers, responsibility, and flexibility. On any given night, anything, actually everything, would go wrong. We were out of fries, the broccoli was cooked wrong, the fork had a spot on it, the drink isn’t strong enough, or “I ordered chicken, not steak!” Although telling the red-faced woman that I specifically told the chef not to put tomatoes in the pasta, redirecting the blame did not help the situation. One of the most important, and pride-swallowing, lessons I learned was to take responsibility for the problem; even if the fault is not mine, it is my responsibility to find the solution. The customer’s pasta does not become magically tomato-free by blaming the chef, but apologizing, taking the responsibility, and fixing the problem will hopefully put a smile back on her face.
This quality transferred directly into my next job: the account executive position at the Daily Texan. This time, clients are paying hundreds for their ad space, not $12.95 for Cajun Chicken pasta. The Daily Texan works as a team, but once again, I am the only liaison between the team and the client. When one member makes a mistake, the responsibility falls to me, and now I easily accept it. A new challenge that I faced at the Daily Texan, one the restaurant didn’t prepare me for, was overcoming rejection. I’ve always considered myself a positive person, but my first month confronted my positivity. I had never taken a sales position before and I was not prepared for the amount of rejection that came with it. Through self-encouragement, encouragement from my co-workers, and getting rejected 100+ times, I found the ability to move past it. Receiving “no’s” is by no means my favorite pass-time, but I am now strong enough to handle them and proceed on with full confidence.
Although I feel both jobs have taught me valuable lessons for the future, the most important lesson was one that I experienced, rather than learned. After a little searching, I found my home-away-from-home at a school with 55,000 undergraduates in Texas Spirits. I’ve always known this about myself, but its been particularly exemplified through my membership and leadership in this organization: In life, whatever you do, you will receive as much as you put in. I dedicate a large amount of myself to Texas Spirits, and through friendships, work, and life experiences I receive it back tenfold. Whatever it is I’m passionate about, I put my entire self into it, because that is the only way to truly achieve my goals.
I view every experience I have as a learning experience—I’m always looking to see what I can take from the situation. Whether it’s finally learning to balance a tray or realizing how to react in a situation, I don’t let lessons pass me by. These lessons I’ve learned in past will help me in the future, especially in a Public Relations job. It’s important to be confident with clients, even if the previous one tore you down; it’s important to be flexible and repair a problem, instead of assigning blame; and it’s important to not only be passionate, but to use that passion as motivation. All experiences relate to each other, and all provide something you can take from it. I used to barely be able to hold a tray with two hands, but after dedication, and 3 months in a restaurant, I can proudly say that I can hold a tray with 5 plates above my head, with a single hand.
Jen Miller would love to hear from you, especially if you’re offering encouragement and/or a paying job that’s not restaurant related. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Contributed by Eydie Pengelly, APR, principal of Marcomm.biz and president of the Public Relations Foundation of Houston (http://www.prsahouston.org/foundation)