By Chris Slater
When my mom was helping me move into an apartment in Luray, Virginia back in 2015, she pulled out a small picture frame and gave me a puzzled look. She held it up, looking for an explanation. In the frame was a dirty-looking $1 bill. I shrugged and said, “Oh, it’s nothing. Just something I felt like keeping.” I didn’t feel like explaining one of my deepest personal motivators to make something of myself and my life. She sat it down without any follow up questions, and then began going on about how I needed curtains and that my walls needed painting.
We need to go back. [Insert Sophia voice] “Picture it: Princeton, West Virginia, 2012.”
I was 25 years old and in the midst of my “woe is me” phase. Things weren’t going great. I was getting the occasional freelance writing gig here and there, but nothing consistent or fulfilling. I had just ended my glamorous life of being a manager at Pizza Hut and was now entering the glamorous world of waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse.
I eventually got pretty good at it. I could have been a great server, but I hated the job. So, I became lazy. I realized that I could operate at like 60 percent and still be a competent server and make enough money to pay my bills. I worked smart, not hard, so I didn’t exert myself any harder than I ever needed to.
When I was still new to the job, and not quite as jaded, I had a table of four people and two babies. Six, as some would call it. Two couples, and they both each had a small child. In my chit-chat with them, I found out that the two men were coal miners. I wasn’t experienced enough for a red flag to go off in my head.
What I later learned, when looking at what we call “good customers” and “bad customers,” there are two kinds of people who stick out as particularly bad: religious people coming to eat Sunday lunch after church, and coal miners. A lot of it is based on their attitude and how much money they leave as a tip.
These two coal miners were running me around, not really being pleasant to me, and pressured me to break a rule for them: you could only order one alcoholic beverage at a time, but they kept on me about letting them each get two beers at a time. Appetizers, main courses, desserts, drinks: they got a lot of stuff. Their bill was more than $150. They paid, they left, and I breathed a sigh of relief since that stressful situation was now over. I had worked hard, earned my money, and hoped they understood that.
If we’re going by the traditional rules of tipping, I should have expected somewhere between $15 and $30 as a bare minimum. If they really liked me, then I should get more. I was never a greedy server; I would have been happy with $15 or $20.
As I was cleaning the table, I saw a blackened, crumpled up bill to the side of a plate. Excited, I sat down in the booth and picked up the bill. The elation was gone as I realized it was $1. For all of that work, I received a coal-stained, one dollar bill.
I went home that night and thought about my place in life. I stared at the dollar bill and wondered what I was doing with myself. That dollar made me angry. It made me hate myself for what I did; waiting tables is really whoring yourself out in a non-sexual way for money. I was putting on this fake persona and pretending to be happier than I was, just so people would throw some money my way. I did that, and these people didn’t even hold up their end of the bargain after the services were rendered.
I like to use my anger to motivate me. That’s what I decided to do here. That dollar bill was going to stay with me forever. I literally framed it. Every single time I looked at that frame, I got angry and motivated to do something with my life. It took longer than I wanted, but it eventually happened. One of my personal goals in life was to one day be able to look at a server and say “I know what you’re going through,” and not “I’m going through the same thing.”
A lot of people stick around in jobs like that, and life situations that they’re not happy with because they lack motivation. I could have easily gotten stuck in my pattern of “feel mopey, wait tables, self medicate with a bottle at night, repeat the process.” Instead, I put the bottle down, kind of, and began feeling less mopey. I formulated my end goal and what I wanted, and then I went out and made it happen.
In college, Dr. Parker introduced me to the P’s — proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance. That’s a fancy way to say figure out what you want to do and make a plan so it will happen.
Anybody can do it. You can do it.
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And that’s where we leave it for this installment. How did you motivate yourself to achieve a goal? Does using your anger seem like a good technique or borderline unhealthy? Do you have any other suggestions for those needing help? Leave a comment, throw me a tweet, get at me on Facebook, or send an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).