I have a servant's heart; in fact I've exclusively worked in service positions. Being of service to others isn't always an easy gig; but if you can master authentic customer service, you can do anything. This piece isn't about customer service, it's about how I found the freedom to be who I am, and courage to abandon who I am not.
Working with the public is not even slightly consistent, and somehow entirely predictable. Everyone is stranger on full moons. Your community has a social "mayor". Some people will be happy with your service, and some will be unhappy no matter what you do. There is always (at least) one customer who believes they are part of your staff; and one that is never satisfied, but still comes in every day. There are angry people, happy people, dogs, parrots, screaming babies, painfully cute babies, monkeys (saw it), Left Wingers, Right Wingers, No Wingers, homeless schizophrenics, guys who stare at your body like it's their ticket to paradise and they ain't even trying to hide it, tolerant people, intolerant people, hung-over people, aggressive solicitors, tourists, toddlers, elderly people who can't understand why everything isn't the way it used to be .... you get a little of everything. Things go wrong, and you do your best to fix them.
A smörgåsbord of predictably unpredictable elements collide in a daily routine of pure chaos, and its beautiful. At least, it is to me. It always has been. I've never minded the intrinsic variety of humans, even at their worst; but I did mind that other people minded that I didn't mind.
"In the middle" is a challenging place to be in a society which is obsessed with choosing sides, being right, and winning.
Winning. It doesn't seem like it has anything to do with this, but it has something to do with everything. People want to be on the winning team, and for that to happen there has to be an opposing team. Biology takes over, cliques form, people become divided, and the shit storm begins. "But it isn't about winning, it's about my values and beliefs!" Your values. Your beliefs. You're not everyone; and everyone exists at the same time, and in the same place as you. You're not right. You're not wrong. You're just you, and no one should have to aspire to be you, or anyone else other than themselves. There are no winners. We are all rushing towards the same red light, and we all die when we hit the line.
I have never been particularly driven to "win", to be right...but I do love sharing ideas. When you don't want to pick a team, and you have no interest in winning, you make people nervous. Firstly, they assign you a team, and treat you accordingly. It's disheartening when you can't express ideas without anyone assuming you are attempting to dominate them. They don't understand how to play your game. They don't understand you're not playing one. So I awkwardly played the game for awhile; but it became more and more apparent that awkward was as good as it was going to get for me. I will tell you why.
It doesn't matter to me that the guy at table 6 is wearing a confederate flag shirt. It doesn't matter to me that the woman shopping for a purse is biologically a man. It doesn't matter to me if someone's black, white, Asian, or blue. It's not that I don't care, it just doesn't matter. I see humans. Human beings. Sentient beings. That's what matters to me.
Customer service gave me the perfect outlet, and a ironclad excuse to be who I am. Treating people kindly and cheerfully despite themselves is your job. It doesn't matter what color they are, how strange they are, or how different they are- you are to give all of your customers the same respect and service. As in real life, you sometimes encounter nuclear, loud, and abusive people; and you are free to ask them to leave if they are unserviceable. However, an unmanageable human seldom crosses your path.
I was free to be me: gracious and accepting of other people, and authentically pleased to engage with them. Although I often played along with eye-rolling over weird customers; and, even more often, allowed myself to be a doormat. Standing firm in my own integrity and setting boundaries wasn't easy for me when I was younger. Subconsciously, I would hear the words, "You can be different, but it's going to be hard on you. People will judge you, and they won't see who you really are". I had unintentionally memorized this after hearing it in my youth, and allowed the fear it insighted to govern my actions for far too long.
I have worked in customer service for nearly 20 years; and it has taught me tolerance, patience (still working on it), fortitude, love, listening skills, speaking skills, sympathy, gratitude, how to keep working even though you have to pee really really bad, gumption, and tenderness. I was given the opportunity to get paid to learn who I am, and who I'm not.
I do not aim to be someone who judges people for the choices they make, what they look like, who they're having sex with, or what shoes they wear. They're aren't me, I'm not in charge of their life, nor should I try to be. I am not a doormat just because I am a public servant, being a servant doesn't make you lesser- nothing does. I am not someone who allows people to turn my life upside down because I choose their happiness over my own.
I am a gracious host. I am someone who believes everyone is equal, just different. I am tolerant, even of intolerance. I don't make excuses for people to be a devil's advocate, but simply because I understand where everyone is coming from.
I love people. I love the people I don't like. I believe we all exist together so we can all learn to coexist, and evolve past the biology that keeps us animalistic.
It finally doesn't matter to me that people mind that I don't mind.
When you encounter an amazing customer service person in the future, keep in mind that they have been developing love, tolerance, patience, and integrity. Understand that an authentically caring clerk, waiter, or register gal has seen a lot, and has likely overcome the standard judgmental mindset which dictates most people's lives. The work someone has to do on themselves to be of service to others is staggering. Which is why I tell people: if you can master authentic customer service, you can do anything. You have to go through hell and back to get there.
To those who are a bright light in a dark room-
If you love people, accept people, have deep compassion, and the calling to be of service to others- shine on. Be the bright light in a dark room. Don't hear the words, "You can be different, but it's going to be hard on you. People will judge you, and they won't see who you really are"; but instead "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine". Be happy, be loving, be compassionate, be you.