Thursday, April 12, 2007

"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works."--Gordon Gekko in "Wall Street"

I started my long twisted path through the hospitality industry just as many other lifers have both before me and since--as a busboy working weekends for extra money while I was in high school. As time went on I started working during the week as well, and the weekend shifts became doubles. The money [all $30 or $40 per shift of it] was intoxicating. I was my own man with my own money and almost no time to spend it. I fell in love with the dynamic nature of the hotel restaurant in which I worked--a perpetual motion machine with endless needs and endless requirements--a theatre rife with endless opportunities for both achievement and disappointment. I paid attention, learned when I could, and worked hard--when I left home for college I was the weekend breakfast "maitre d'" in addition to being the King of the Busboys.

I travelled far from home to attend an excellent university on the US East Coast. I had it all planned out--college was something I "had" to do--I needed a good degree from a good school in order to move on to the "next step" whatever that was. At the time I believe I had narrowed my prospective career choice down to a possibility of three: financial analyst, architect, or possibly male model.

Besides the necessity of the degree however, college seemed otherwise a huge waste of both time and money, and so knowing everything [just like every other 17-year old], I formulated my plan of attack. I had some AP credit from high school, I used CLEP tests to bypass alot of the required basics, and then I hit the jackpot--I discovered the world of independent study courses. Not only could I proceed at my own pace and schedule, but each course was an extra credit AND I could work almost full time and try to pay for school as I went. That was my plan, and I am sure that the look on my face once I finalized it was very reminiscent of the look on Napoleon's face just as he put the finishing touches on his invasion of Russia--what could go wrong?

As it was, the frigging plan actually worked--I staggered across the finish line like a zombie less than three years later with a bachelor's degree in business administration, no loans, and a really good job with a prominent hotel company that ran some of the city's finest properties.

In hindsight, I moved too quickly. While I have a few great friends to this day from my college years, most people have more. I attended a world-class university in a vibrant city brimming with all the world had to offer and yet I barely stepped foot on campus or explored the town around me. This school at the time had a nationally ranked basketball team, but in nearly three years I of attendance only saw twenty minutes of one game in person before my beeper went off and I had to leave for an emergency at work. This time I was again my own man with my own money AND a college degree and still no time to enjoy it.

I had decided during college that I lacked both the patience and the mathematical skills necessary to become an architect. It was also painfully clear that I lacked the washboard abs and body type for my #2 choice male model. So it was that I set my sights on Wall Street and financial world domination.

For two months I was recruited by various firms for a variety of postions in the worlds of banking and brokerage. All of these opportunities seemed to be the very keys to the kingdom of wealth and power--after about FIVE years, that was. As it turned out, most of these positions would have represented not just the next step in my professional evolution, but also a huge pay cut when compared to my "lowly service job".

As always with me, I followed the money. I returned home, hung up my bachelor's degree in a cheap plastic frame, and got a restaurant job. The lure of that instant monetary gratification affected me no differently than it affects the legion of lapsed "professionals" that currently work with me on a nightly basis. Scattered amongst my staff are two master's degrees, one academic doctorate, one juris doctor, and a doctorate of veterinary medicine. A some point all of these former white collar professionals came to the same realization that dawned on me nearly twenty years ago. They realized that they could make the same money [if not more] working in a nice restaurant as they did in their first careers while working half the hours and leaving each night with bulging pockets.

This thing of ours [to paraphrase some Italian friends] can capture an individual when they are young as it did with me. It can also draw people in when they are mid-stream in life, as with many on my staff. When I was a waiter and bartender years ago, guests would often ask me what my future plans were, intimating that my restaurant job HAD to be a stepping stone to whatever "real" job I was studying for. Now, many guests ask me if we are hiring.

My resident veterinarian [a bartender] and my resident attorney [a server] had worked in restaurants while going to school, and both decided to come back home, so to speak, after each spent some time talking to clients of theirs. They had clients who always paid in cash and always seemed happy and relaxed, much more so than they themsleves or any of their always exhausted, stressed-to-the-max friends. After a little friendly questioning it became clear their clients made comparable money for about half the work, not to mention no insurance or threat of lawsuit constantly hanging over their heads.

Not only can greed be good, it can also be less stressful.

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