A classroom can only teach you so much. You can only listen to students giving their unwarranted rants or write an essay the night before the due date so many times. Before you know it, you find yourself in the real world, wondering when all those skills and trivia you learned will come in handy.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that college is important. How else would I know that pirates wear eye patches so they can see better at night? Or that Hugo Chávez used to drink 26 cups of espresso a day? Of course you learn a lot in your classes, but in my experience, I’ve learned the most outside of the classroom.
I had jobs before I transferred to New York, but the bright-colored building at the corner of 1st Ave and 9th Street actually turned into my secondary school, so to speak. To customers it was a coffee shop, to my boss it was a money maker, to some employees it resembled hell. But to me, it doubled as my classroom.
My first job in New York taught me just about as much as my first year in college did. Because I go to New York University, I find myself constantly surrounded by students who are book smart, but with little or no concept of a work ethic because of their cushy lives. It made me grateful to have grown up without such privilege. On a surface level, I learned a lot about coffee and espresso (I now cringe when I hear people order a “macchiato” at Starbucks and mistake what they just bought for an authentic macchiato). But more importantly, I learned life lessons that will stay with me.
Living in such an expensive city off a minimum wage job feels like an adventure in itself. But it taught me a lot about what I need and what I want, and how balance the two. After all, sometimes you have to “treat yo self.” Surprisingly I learned about this drive in me at 3 a.m. while cleaning gum off chairs during a deep clean…with class at 8 a.m. the next morning. Another night, I learned how to successfully pull off an all-nighter—which, granted, does not feel as hard when you work at a coffee shop.
When my store was ankle deep in sewage water from a burst pipe, I learned about quick thinking and how to take charge. Then in the five hours after that moment, I learned humility as I cleaned up said sewage mess. What about hard work, AKA the most basic lesson that comes with part time jobs? I learned all about that the week three people quit and I worked 52 hours on top of my 18 unit load.
Most importantly, I became familiar about how to read and deal with all kinds of interesting people. I know how to talk to a crazy customer yelling and demeaning me, as well as a sweet old lady. I learned how to gently wake up a homeless person sleeping in the cafe. Work taught me how to deal with rude coworkers who cannot seem to do their jobs correctly, and how to make friends with the nice ones. Finally, I learned how listen to every word from a customer or coworker, with each individual sharing a different story.
Think this sounds as glamorous as Rachel Green working at Central Perk? Well, my life does not look picture perfect, because my work/school/life balance seems perpetually out of whack. Too much work, and you’ll find your grades and future are at stake. But without enough work, you miss out on such an important aspect of life and learning.
As a senior in college, I’ve found myself on both extremes. I put too much caffeine in my body to try and fit in more things in a day (I read you can handle 12 shots of espresso in a day so I’m sticking with that story). I honestly cannot remember the last time I put a fruit in my body, and the school psychiatrist knows me by name. And I’ve definitely used my job perks (i.e. free coffee) to befriend others, yet I’ve also been an absent friend.
College does not resemble a scene from Legally Blonde. You know, no one really lives in a Pinterest-worthy room, has shiny hair all day, everyday or succeeds seemingly all the time. When life isn’t as cool as pop culture makes the “best time of your life” out to be, just remember that this is in fact the best time of your life to shape who you will be in the future.