Years ago, I was a barista. I worked 20 hours and I had health insurance.
I started out on the cash register, and that was a struggle. I have a hearing-loss, and there were a lot of buttons and menus. I had never worked in retail so it was my first time. It took me longer than most to learn it, but I worked really hard. Once I got it, I was great.
Customers would get impatient with me, and there were a lot of noises distracting me and people bustling around behind me. I would sometimes have to ask two or three times for them to repeat themselves, and they would sometimes yell at me or insult me and other times just stomp off and leave. I would be listening as hard as I could, paying full attention. But even with my hearing-aids in, I still have to struggle. It helps substantially, but I still miss out on things. A lot people think hearing-aids give you perfect hearing.
They don’t. They’re helpful, but not magic.
I usually worked closing shifts. When I took the job, I thought it would be perfect because then I could go out afterwards! I usually got off around 11 p.m. But I quickly learned that after a full day of physical work, the last thing I wanted to do was go out. I washed dishes, cleaned out drains, and usually mopped the lobby. Since I’m short, I was able to get out of washing the windows! At the end of my shift, I stank every day and my arms killed me from all the mopping.
But I slept great. After a 20 mile commute home, I would fall into bed and pass out.
And even better, I worked with hilarious people. We bantered and goofed around and our shifts flew by because of this! A lot of them were almost a decade younger than me, and thus immature. But still, we had a good time. One of my shift supervisors is still one my closest friends.
Then I moved up to making frapps, and finally “the bar.” That’s the espresso bar, which is the hardest and most fast-paced job. People are shouting orders at you, and you are expected to get their orders done impeccably within a couple of minutes. It’s a lot of pressure. But also a rush! If you don’t make it right, they will complain and you’ll have to do it again. Sometimes they’ll ask someone else do it instead.
It took awhile for me to hit my “magic shift,” when suddenly it all clicks and becomes routine.
But I found out from one my friends that most of the other workers were conspiring to set me up and get me fired, because I slowed them down too much as a team.
Hearing that, I worked harder– and soon hit my “magic shift.”
When I learned to finally keep up with the rest of the team job I earned their respect and saved my job. I left on good terms, with more than two weeks notice- to a better job. Full-time, with better insurance.
I’m very friendly and good at greeting people– and I got a lot compliments on that. I compliment people often– and because I’m sincere. Although I’ve noticed a lot of people get suspicious if I compliment them. A lot of people use that as a hustle tactic, but I sincerely just like to point out the best in people. I always have a smile for whoever needs one, especially if they’re scowling. I just have a sunny nature, and find joy in the simplest things. I don’t take things for granted.
In person I am quiet sometimes, lost in thought. My real thoughts come alive on the page.
That’s where my intelligence shines.
Every job I’ve worked has been a struggle, because it takes so much energy for me to listen and just understand what’s happening. Sometimes I hear things wrong, misunderstand, and consequentially screw up. That’s always mortifying. It sucks when you think you’re doing the right thing and then get yelled at or reprimanded and find out you were completely wrong.
But my employers and co-workers know that I’m doing my best. And I learn from my mistakes, and use those as a springboard to thrive.
Being hearing-impaired means that you spend a lot of time correcting mistakes, asking for help and apologizing. It’s hard on your self-esteem when other people sail through tasks, simple tasks, which are hard for you.
Sometimes people think you’re lying, because in one instance you heard them, and another you didn’t. But it all depends on how close you are, how loud the rest of the room is, the pitch of your voice, and if you’re covering your mouth or not.
Due to those factors, it’s out of my control how much I pick up of what is being said. If it’s on a PA system? Forget it.
I’ve learned to assimilate well. I read lips, and I don’t tell most people about my hearing-loss. I don’t sign– I was mainstreamed, and I’m very thankful to my parents for that choice.
I am ethical, I take constructive-criticism well, and with patience I learn well and flourish in almost any task.
I am infinitely adaptable.
I don’t like to be pitied, and that’s why I usually don’t mention it. I just want the same opportunities as anyone else.
But I’m sharing this because a lot of people don’t understand hearing-loss, and I’m always very open about it. I welcome questions, and if people want to look at my hearing-aids, I don’t have a problem with that. I answer everything I’m able, and enjoy educating people who are sincerely interested in what’s it like to have this struggle. Most people are very compassionate about it, actually.
“This is Water,” by David Foster Wallace, describes having an attitude of compassion very well. Reading it changed me.
So next time someone is a bit slow on a cash register, or fumbles with change, or doesn’t hear you the first time, or the second– don’t assume they’re not paying attention.
They may be working as hard as they can. Just have a little patience.