Stuck in the service industry, I found myself making compromises in my passions and values. But I could only blame myself.
It’s approximately 1:30 am.
I weave through a maze of cars leading towards the backyard carrying a six-pack of craft beer. Stout, in case you’re wondering. I don’t like the hosts’ repeated choice of Lone Star (the National Beer of Texas) or PBR (the working man’s beer), so I snagged my own. Sometimes they have kegs. But they reserve those for special occasions like Halloween, a birthday party, or that time when they still had a half barrel left over from a private function.
Despite the late hour, the party is just getting started and I’m not the only one arriving. Most people have gotten off of work within the last hour, and others are still closing up and plan to join later. Service industry people keep different hours than the rest of the world. We’re not quite vampires, but you also won’t catch most of us up before noon either.
Once I make it to the backyard and traverse over to the back patio, I encounter the usual suspects of smokers. They huddle in clusters with worn jackets and cigarettes to keep them warm. They’re a lively bunch. Brodie, a lanky kid wearing all denim, notices my arrival and throws me a hand that I snag on my way through.
“How’s it going dude?” He says cooly.
“Oh, you know.”
They all know. He goes back to his cigarette.
I clock a couple of other regular occurrences. There are amps left on the patio, marking evidence of a house show from a co-workers band that must have happened earlier. I’m glad I missed it. The first time I saw the band play here was “okay,” but I’m not itching to hear the same songs with the same crowd. Deeper in the backyard someone has a large firepit roaring. Near the fire, I see Amber and Jessica talking together angrily. Amber broke up with her boyfriend.. again (so I heard). Now Jessica is hearing too. Those two will become inseparable the rest of the night. I turn and head toward the back door.
To enter the home, I have to squeeze through the group crowding the door. Two of them are trying to figure out what to play next. They’re our self-appointed DJs. One suggests playing Kendrick or Lizzo, and the other wants to play obscure indie rock. I’m uncertain who they choose, as it’s hard to hear inside because the house is small. It’s not quite a three-bedroom home, and yet five residents live here. They call it the Lake Haus, which annoys me for multiple reasons. One, there is no lake nearby, only a small and insignificant creek. Two, they only spelled “Haus” that way to be different. Three, who names their house? Nevertheless, they’ve packed 40–50 people inside the 200 square foot living room complete with a single couch to take up space, so I guess they can call the house whatever the hell they want.
I’ve finished a beer by the time I make it to the fridge. I open the door and find little room for my remaining beers. I try to fit one or two of my bottles on the top shelf, then I snag another and join the rest of the party. I’m not sure what my destination is, but I stop now and then to say hello and see what everyone else is talking about. At one point I decline an invitation from a group heading to the back room. That’s the coke room, and I’m not into drugs, which makes me a minority. 80% of the people I work with partake in the white powder. Watching this process take place always makes me wonder what decade I’m in.
I decide it’s time to go back out to the porch. The smell of weed is growing a little too strong for me.
On the porch, I run into Devon. He’s a cool guy with loads of talent. Not only can he rock, but he’s a solid writer. I enjoy our conversations when we get together. First, we’ll talk about recent movies that dropped, and he’ll voice his opinion like a critic. His musings are well thought out. Introspective. Next, we’ll talk about art, music, or life. I feel like I can tell him anything and he won’t judge me, so I mention a girl I’m trying to take on a date, but am uncertain how she feels about me. He asks me what I’ve been doing on the film front. I tell him acting hasn’t been going well, but I’ve been auditioning. I have some background work coming up though, and it’s a chance to get on a huge TV show set filming in town. Devon remarks that he wants to get back into screenwriting, and we start discussing a new idea. I say he should do it. We both make mental notes to plan a day together and talk more about this.
There’s a reason he won’t write the screenplay, despite being a few drinks in already. It’s the same reason none of my co-workers will pursue their passions. The same reason I won’t. We’re stuck in an endless cycle. A loop.
Devon and I have even had this same conversation before. Last time it was almost identical. The party is identical too. It’s Groundhog Day on repeat, and I make my way through the maze of cars like I’m walking through a wormhole. I carry the same six-pack. I shake hands with Brodie. I watch Amber crying over some boy near the fire pit. There are the “DJs” fighting over music choices. The living room is full of the same people. There are drugs in the back. It’s the same party they’ve been throwing ever since I started working with them. The same location, the same faces, the same situations, and some of them have been going to this party for 8, 10, or 15 years now.
I can feel myself becoming one of them.
This job was supposed to be temporary. A service industry job was supposed to be flexible. I thought it’d give me the time to pursue dreams and passions in my off time. I imagined this would allow me to drop or pick up shifts as needed to earn money during lean seasons. My job just needed to last long enough until I caught my big break, so I avoided the parties at first. I didn’t need the camaraderie, because I wouldn’t be here for very long. But I was also on the fast track to leadership. My prior military training told me to take pride in whatever job I took, and that I wasn’t here to make friends. This resulted in better shifts, longer hours, and more responsibility. My time off consisted of pursuing freelancing work, which was a full-time gig too, so it didn’t leave much room for social engagements.
After a while, I got burned out by the hustle and became more friendly. I would grab a shift beer after work, or meet up with people at the bar. On some occasions I would even make an appearance at the Lake Haus. It was that or be stuck at home after all. The job of a server is exhausting work. You’re on your feet for several hours at a time. Carrying loads of food and drinks all night. It’s a workout if done correctly. Because of the grueling nature of work, once I got home, the last thing I wanted to do was write, edit, film, or do anything else I was passionate about. So I watched YouTube instead. Once the allure of YouTube wore off, I found myself at the never-ending party at the Lake Haus. My non-service industry friends worked 9 to 5 jobs, so in order to find a sense of community or to even socialize I was stuck with those I worked with.
Most of the people I work with are talented people, but we often don’t realize how stuck we are. We consist of artists, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, writers, comedians, dancers, designers, furniture makers, and a slew of other talents. But we’re all currently servers and bartenders. None of us ever intended to stick around long, but we all wandered into the same wormhole. Then we got used to the monotony, the friendships, stability, or routine. Passions and hobbies got put on the back-burner, and we told ourselves it was something we’d pursue tomorrow. Then it’s next weekend. Then someone plans a trip to the river. Then it’s a birthday party. A Christmas extravaganza. Work on a holiday weekend. Another Haus party.
Before long, it’s been five years and you’re shaking hands with the same people, sharing the same beers, laughing at the same jokes, scoffing at the same drama, and talking about that screenplay you still haven’t started. To escape to the drone of life, many retreat into the bottle or some mood altering substance. They can quit when it’s time to move on, but they never do.
I knew the cycle needed to change. Having the same conversation over and over with Devon, I knew it was time. But first I would finish this beer, work up the courage to hit on Amber, get rejected, find more beer, and wake up the next morning nursing a hangover. I’ll pursue my passions after I get over this, I told myself as I waited for my coffee to brew the next morning.
As a child I’d climb tall trees. Sometimes I’d reach the top and freeze up. Vertigo would take over, and when the voices below beckoned to climb down, I’d say “I can’t.” With my arms wrapped tight around the trunk and unwilling to let go, I was too scared to make a change. But no one else could help me in that situation either. Once I realized I had no other options, I had to climb down myself. This process is never as easy as getting to the top. It’s a much slower process, and you have a long time to think about what’s important to you — namely, your life. I would fantasize about what I might pursue if I ever reached the ground again. Sometimes, the temptation was to jump once you reached the halfway mark, but it was still too high. So it was careful footing after careful footing.
Getting unstuck as an adult is no different from being stranded in the tree. It doesn’t matter how you got there, but to get down you have to take it branch-by-branch. You have to decide you’re stuck and perhaps made some poor compromises along the way.
After my epiphany at the party, I started looking for a way out and began climbing down that proverbial tree. It wasn’t easy, and sometimes I would justify staying stuck by telling myself, “This isn’t so bad.”
But the ground came crashing quicker than I expected, when a branch snapped and I got fired.
It was the best decision I never made.
*Names changed for anonymity
Dig the writing and writers at HeartSupport? Follow our publication to support mental health and a non-profit hell-bent on life transformation.
Mattias is an actor, writer, filmmaker, and editor currently living in Los Angeles, CA. He often writes about his observations about life, the human condition, spirituality, and relationships. He also enjoys writing about movies, pop culture, formula one, and current events. Often these writings are 'initial thoughts' and un-edited, as authentic as possible, and should be considered opinions. If you're interested in commenting on his work, or continuing the conversation, you should consider following him on Twitter or share an article on social media, where he would love to engage even further. Consider subscribing via RSS for more.