Smile, part three

After a few months “off” and a load of retrospect I applied for a job at Starbucks. I was hired, on the spot, which I suppose isn’t that impressive when you consider there is no drug testing or high school diploma required to wear the green apron. Still, I was proud.

I went to an all hands meeting for new people and learned about the company, their philosophy, the benefits of working there long term and, most importantly, that I couldn’t chew my fingernails.

One manager talked about buying a Hummer after being promoted to manager; another told about having a down payment for his house after investing in Bean Stock. We were considered “partners,” if we worked 20 hours a week we would qualify for health benefits and, we might not know it now, but the coffee we drink at 7-11 is not good coffee.

I kept thinking, I have to stop chewing my fingernails. That might be a problem. How will I do that? I can’t put any of the stop-chewing-now stuff on my nails because that’s like nail polish which also is not allowed. I went home and immediately tried to think about something other than nail chewing. I made it a couple of days before I had to show up to a store and work. Of course all that time did was heal my nicks and scratches from where I pick and pull the nails too far, but I was ready to go to work. And after examining the hands of all those around me at work the pressure was off — no one there had fingernails.

The point of working at Starbucks was to put myself in an uncomfortable position. My comfort zone was behind a desk OR being in an environment where I can be entertaining with humor. “Customer service” was not a strength and was the reason I was “not a good fit” at the last job. I was going to learn customer service.

I did, and I was good at it. Having a personality that enjoys making people laugh, I was pretty quick to pick up on entertaining the regulars. I would smile a genuine smile and people smiled back. Even when I was stressed, an easy thing to have happen when someone calls off during the morning rush, I kept smiling.

And then it happened – one of the guys who was hired at the same time as me was promoted. He didn’t have a high school diploma, he wasn’t incredibly motivated, he didn’t do outstanding work, he just… asked. And asked, and asked and kissed ass a few times but mostly just asked. They promoted him but he couldn’t pass the test so he stayed at the barista level. I was shocked – not that I wanted to be promoted but just that all it took was asking.

The guy who attempted to promote that kid decided to leave (too much on his feet work was required of him as a manager) and another manager came in from New York. This was, without me knowing, a test and I failed. Change! Change is always going to happen and I wasn’t ready for it. This new person came in and out went my smile and in came my pout. I didn’t like it and I didn’t know how to act. She heard I was the best employee they had and couldn’t figure out what the Hell was wrong with me.

We eventually worked a shift together and sorted out our differences. By doing so I realized how powerful that smile is to others. I could look someone in the eyes and smile and they would smile back. I could pout and they would hold it against me. I could “just get the job done” or focus entirely on the task at hand and that wasn’t enough to satisfy those around me, or my boss. I had to smile to make others comfortable.

I tested it one night, after this realization. I would “do the job” and “do the job with a smile” with every other customer. With a smile earned a tip, without earned me my hourly wage. I started thinking about the differences that smile could have made in my past and how important it would be to remember it in the future.