in partnership
Me and Javi! (Image: Kelly Wynkoop)

6 things I learned leaving News and becoming a full-time bartender

If you’re new around here you might not know me. Hi, I’m Gena! I used to be the Assistant Editor at Seattle Refined. If you’ve read some of my articles in the past—what’s good, homie, did you miss me?!

In all seriousness, after a wonderful career with Seattle Refined and working in social media management at KOMO, I was starting to think about next steps as most late 20-somethings do.

You could say I was a part of the ~Great Resignation~. As much as I don’t like being a statistic, HI! HERE I AM! A walkin’, talkin’, breathin’ statistic.

In all honesty, I was burnt the heck out. I was feeling a little lost, just like a lot of my peers had similarly expressed feeling in a post-COVID world (or should I say post-lockdown world). I’m not even sure what was so difficult about it for me—it wasn’t that I found my work boring or uninspiring, I was just taking a closer look at my life in general.

Remote work was difficult for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were things I loved: balance being one of them. Less traffic, more time for quality sleep and less time spent teasing my hair to the heavens and slapping on that baby blue eyeshadow (kidding, obv).

Waking up every morning, sliding out of bed, opening my laptop, working until 5, not seeing a soul for five days a week was beginning to feel completely isolating and honestly out of alignment with myself. I wasn’t even sure who I was to the world anymore.

I think the final straw was I noticed myself retreating further and further into my little shell. My couch had a permanent indent of my butt. I was starting to talk to the walls and went into full hermit mode. After spending a year-and-a-half of my mid-20s indoors, I was like, daaaaaang, bruh. This isn’t good.

Bottom line, I was needing a change, and for someone who is terrified of change, this was a huge calling.

So with that in mind, I got clear about what I was needing and what my "resolutions" for 2022 would be. First and OF MOST IMPORTANCE—I needed fun. I needed to be on my feet, I needed activity and conversation and movement and presence in my daily life. So I called both my folks and told them that I was quitting my job. I was going to give four weeks’ notice, and no—I didn’t have a plan. I was just going to do it. Less thinking, more doing.

Side note: If you really want to scare the hell out of your parents, tell them you are quitting your job without a plan!

Alas, I trusted my gut, knowing in my body that this decision felt good. Was I nervous? A little. But I knew that I’d be okay. So I put in my four weeks' notice, the four weeks went by and BOOM. Let the games begin.

With my goals in mind, I knew that I wasn’t ready to find another job in the same field or a remote job, so I decided that I was going to try my hand at serving.

I have never worked in a restaurant—I go out to eat a lot, does that count? I brought my resume to several restaurants around Alki and West Seattle. The one thing I knew was that I wanted to stay local and close to my house.

Mostly, I wanted to work on the beach. I was envisioning this summer where I was working on Alki, chatting with my regulars and smelling the sweet, salty air and sun on my face.

So, I did what I often find clears my head—headed out for a walk along the beach and noticed that a cider taproom was hiring. I emailed and applied right away. The next day, the manager called me down and I was hired on the spot!

Phew. A new chapter had begun and now, six months into it, I am managing the location.

I knew going into this that my life was going to look a lot different. As an early riser and self-proclaimed morning person, I knew working evenings was going to be an adjustment. From being isolated at home for days on days to being in the public, talking with people for eight to ten hours a day was going to be grueling in its own right. But what I wasn’t expecting was the absolute paramount yet simple life lessons that I have learned as a bartender.

And with that, here's what I've learned:

1. Community is everything

Working at a local spot on Alki Beach has shown me how important your immediate community is. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I have a set group of regulars and semi-regulars who have started to feel like family. We exchange books and records and DVDs. I can’t tell you how many times people have brought me a home-cooked meal, knowing that I was on Day 7 of work and they were just "thinking about me." Heck, I’ve even had people bring me fresh produce from their gardens because I "wasn't eating enough vegetables"! We take care of each other, just because we are in each other’s neighborhood. Now, I can’t leave my house without seeing someone I know—the cheesemongers at the Met Market who give me their best Dutch Gouda or a regular who shows up with a portable karaoke machine to let me try out. It’s a local spot where locals come to share knowledge, drinks and laughs.

2. Taking a break for fun is necessary

Although I’m still working my booty off, taking a break from the "corporate" grind has been life-changing. That 9 to 5 life, sitting at a computer all week, having meetings and constantly being available can be overwhelming. Not to mention the societal or family pressures we feel to work harder and constantly be better. Prioritizing fun has given me a renewed zest for life—take the vacation. Book the flight. Quit the job. Seriously, you will land on your feet.

3. Being present in your life is a gift

On the flip side of that—making your money talking and serving people can be exhausting. As an extroverted introvert, there are days when I go into work and think, "I can’t possibly talk to another soul." But being forced to push through has made me a better friend, daughter, listener and has allowed me to be endlessly present in every moment. I can’t take a 10-minute TikTok break or watch a YouTube video and zone out for a minute. I am right here, right now, unplugged. My days feel that much more purposeful and fuller.

4. Serving people is the ultimate kindness

I can’t take off my server hat now. I’ve always been a giving and accommodating person, but wow, I am AMAZING now (that is a joke, kinda teehee). In all seriousness, it’s such a simple act of kindness that can go a long, long way. We should all live to serve each other, it’s what makes the world go round.

5. Listen more than you speak, ask the tough questions

I’ve met a lot of people bartending. People I instantly click and vibe with and others who, frankly, I just don’t. With the people I don’t click with, I’ve learned the best way to connect with them is just to listen--and if I don't understand, ask the tough questions. It’s actually quite easy to find common ground with people if you just hear what they are saying and ask for clarity.

It’s kind of like a runner’s high (I can’t relate because I am NOT a runner), but I’ve heard long-distance runners say that when they’ve been running for a long period of time, they get this huge boost of dopamine (or serotonin, I don’t know I’m not a doctor) or whatever it is that gives them a high of some sort. I find that talking with people for a long time gives the same type of high—when you hit your stride with someone and finally break through the barriers and connect it’s like, okay here we go, WE'VE MADE CONTACT.

6. Trust your gut always

Lastly, I’ve learned that your gut is never wrong. Taking this risk, and making the leap will not lead you astray. One of the hardest things I’ve done was making the decision to take a break from a career track that I worked really hard to build. Since the day I started bartending, I knew I made the right decision. Yes, there are things I miss from my "former" life, but I felt the calling to try something completely different and out of my comfort zone. I heard the call, and I picked it up.

As for what’s next? I’ve got no friggen idea. But that’s part of the fun. I did a hard reboot of my life and now I feel like the world is my oyster—and who doesn’t like oysters?!

Gena Wynkoop is contributing as a freelance writer for Seattle Refined. Welcome back, girl! We're proud of you for following your heart. Follow more of Gena's adventures here.