Dig Baton Rouge

East of the River

By Katie East

Last week, I went out of my comfort zone and filled in for someone at a restaurant—my first time working at one in 10 years. It was the week before my wedding, and I was a bundle of nerves. And in between my own nine-day stint at work, I decided to try something new and stressful.

It’s not the first time I had to work a last-minute shift. One time while drinking at the Chimes I was casually asked by my friend if I had my bar card on me. She led me and my friends to the now-defunct Cafe Reggae and asked if we could maybe help out for the evening.

When we got there, we realized there was an entire fraternity and sorority party they had forgotten about and no staff to work it. I tended the already waiting bar crowd, my sister checked ID’s at the door, and my best friend DJ’d with her iPod.

When I saw the bar was four people deep, I panicked. I had never really been a bartender, and I didn’t know their computer system. But, I had a lot of liquid courage and the will of a 21-year-old; I couldn’t fail.

But at 30, my confidence and quick skills aren’t the same. So when my husband-to-be asked me if I could man the register and run food at the barbecue restaurant he manages my immediate response was: “I don’t think so.” And that was being kind.

My first issue was that the register is in the actual kitchen with only a window to the bar (and air condition). The kitchen, which is about a 25 square foot hot box, has to house three people maneuvering around each other in more than 115-degree heat.

Secondly, my mental status has been questionable due to the stress of the upcoming nuptials; it’s all I can do to actually perform my own job without having a panic attack (though I’ve had several recently). Why would I want to throw myself into a new high-pressure situation with bad nerves and limited time?

After my initial hesitance I thought: “You know, it might be good for me.” Working has been the only time I have felt somewhat sane over the last week because it forces me into doing something non-wedding related. So maybe doing something physical and forcing myself to use a different part of my brain would be healthy. Who has time to freak out when they’re learning something new and following directions?

Then the fear set in. Fear is what leads most people in this world to do 90 percent of what they do.

Usually, I feel the fear and then force myself to do the thing I think I can’t do. I think it started when I began doing improv comedy and eventually stand-up; there are years of fear and self-loathing before you can have fun in front of a crowd. Eventually, my “fight the fear” attitude led me to many experiences and jobs I thought I was incapable of: dog walking, shipping manager, opinion columnist, etc.

So when my fiancé bribed me with much-needed cash to work for him, the fear told me it wasn’t worth it. What if the computer system was harder than he claimed? What if I shorted the register? What if I got flustered and freaked out in the middle of the shift and ran out yelling, “I’M SO SCARED!” I have been known to overexert myself in stressful times, and a Jessie Spano meltdown is all but inevitable.

Many people don’t realize anxiety doesn’t just affect your nerves. It can affect your entire outlook on life and your self-esteem. When I am fixated on something, I usually can’t imagine any outcome that’s positive. This in turn makes me think I’m not good enough to fulfill whatever task I was doing, and thus I convince myself I can’t do it and shouldn’t even try. Then I get down on myself for not trying; it’s a vicious cycle.

Luckily, I fought the fear and said, “OK, I must be a glutton for punishment.” I finished my day shift at work and went over to the night shift at the restaurant. I cut the sleeves off my T-shirt and put my hair in pigtails. When in doubt, ladies, look cute and you’ll probably do fine.

And lo and behold, I had a blast. It was such a sweaty and rewarding night. It was fun to suggest dishes to people and have them come back after eating to say thank you and shake the cook’s hand. It was fun to sell something I knew was good while also being unapologetic for only partially knowing what I was doing.

You don’t have to live entirely fearlessly or throw yourself haphazardly into any new situation. Just do one thing every day that scares you, and go from there. Particularly in times of high stress, that quote will get you out of your head and out of your comfort zone.


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