So tell me something meaningful about your identity,” the interviewer asked.

I blinked. It was a rainy morning and I was a wreck. My coffee spilled, and I could barely haul myself after a 2-hour-long bus ride. “Take your time,” she urged me.

Finally, I found my last brain cell and obliged it to find a response. Then, I beamed and declared with gleaming eyes:

“Well, I’m a waiter!”

She looked at me, puzzled. This could have been a lovely response at an interview for McDonald’s. But it was an interview for a gap year program.

That day, I granted myself a rejection letter and an unexpected insight: being a waiter is a big part of who I am. That felt goofy. What am I, Spongebob Squarepants? I didn’t want a local bistro to be my nest of personal growth.

Although as I learned, underneath the scribbled orders and dirty tablecloths hid fantastic lessons for life. I’m happy to share them with you.

Be yourself

Serving customers turned fun when “May I take your order?” became “Hey, I’m Orel and I’d be happy to take your order” or “Howdy! It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it? Who wants to hear about our specials?”

I realized: no matter how mundane is the setting, this is my life. I’m given a choice to express myself and have fun or maintain the default, vapid attitude.

When I fully bring myself, I create luck for opportunities, joy, and wonder. I’d rather seem nutty and have a blast.

Be Flexible

2 families sat at tables 22 and 23 the other day. 22 was aggressive; the father never considered his callous tongue. 23, contrarily, was a nook of courtesy and peace.

That required me to switch my character as I turned around. I had to be vigilant and clear while serving 22, and in a wink, to expand my smile for 23.

A restaurant is a microcosmos. The variety of people entailed me to expose various sides of my personality. The city is no different. I should govern the dog ropes of my different mindsets, and be transformed by the current scene of the office or the metro.

Be unique

That’s simple: when I’m myself, I’m also unique. Thus, I was occasionally assigned to “the 40’s”: a line of high, wooden tables observing the sea, set on ancient, rocky paving. The dimmed lighting and the soothing wave sound summoned every guest for an infinite night of wine and storytelling. There, I used to listen, ask questions, and share my personal stories.

My managers cherished my quality of creating personal connections. They also realized that massive groups aren’t my thing. So I unofficially became the waiter for the matters of intimate tables. That bestowed my expertise, and the desired prerogative to serve exclusive guests.

I learned to always be mindful of my traits and use them to my benefit. If a new table is a new environment, that applies to the real world, too.

Be Vulnerable

It was a peak hour. The kitchen was raving over a 40$ steak that had been delayed for long. As the bell dinged, my co grabbed the plate and began the odyssey to table 51. But he held 3 other plates and looked terrified as hell.

I told him, “hand me the steak and I’ll deliver it right away.” He turned me down. I gently grasped the plate. He suddenly let go of it.

To my horror, the plate fell.

The crash shattered the french elevator music. 50 guests glared at 2 clowns and their bloody steak. I knew I’m to blame.

I didn’t want any more attention, but it was my duty. So I promptly apologized in a cracked voice: “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt. Please, don’t mind me while I’m cleaning this.”

The steak-craving customer was not happy, nor was my manager. But I did earn the compassion of an elderly couple who sat right by ground zero. They forgave me. They reminded me it may happen to anybody. They even left me a large tip, and that made my night.

What’s my lesson? Shit happens, though that doesn’t mean I should hide my errors; I better admit them and get over whatever it results in.

I believe in the grace of society to support me when I fall, as long as I don’t pretend to be still standing.

Be hearty

Remember my 40’s? One day, my manager informed me about a special reservation for table 44. The guy is going to propose, and I’m gonna serve them. End of instructions.

There was my chance to think bigger. I made sure their plates were perfectly plated. I rehearsed the wine menu and offered the precise bottle for the ambiance, and gave them privacy.

Apparently, they noticed I genuinely cared about them. So after the big moment, they invited me to join them for a couple of minutes. With tears of bliss in their eyes, their gratitude and optimism were infectious. It was magical.

As I mopped up the floor that night, I felt inspired. I’m surrounded by people who go through the most meaningful events of their lives. Hence, I choose to laugh, cry, and thrill with them. The most virtuous way to live is to open up my heart.

I’m Orel, a 21-year-old college student from Israel. I write daily about my personal experiences, and I’ve recently decided to share them with the world – hopefully for the benefit of others.