June 2, 2016

Confessions of a Hospitality Major: Life and Lemonade

It's been two years now since I began working in the hospitality industry, one year now since I left my little limited service world of the TownePlace Suites for the much, much lager world of Hilton. As with any anniversary, I feel like there should be life lessons I've taken away from my experiences and nuggets of wisdom that I've gleaned and stored away for future times. I suppose that, yes, I have learned a few things. You can't go a year in your life and not change as a person or learn something.

In the last year, I've learned that there are a lot of entitled, selfish people in the world and not all of them book through third party websites. Most of them come from the top tier honors programs and I find myself putting on my extra bright and sunny smile when checking the honors tier in to make sure they like me and don't decide to smash us on the review websites. I'd learned this to a certain extant at the TownePlace, but when you are only dealing with a hundred rooms and at the most sixty people checking in in a super busy day... it's not as noticeable as when you have almost four hundred rooms and regularly come in contact with two hundred + people on a regular basis.

I've learned that people can smile and say everything is fine and then later write a scathing review about how the service was terrible and leave you wondering what happened. I've learned that people are selfish, demanding, and not all of the nasty people you can encounter will be on the guest side of the desk. Sometimes one of the worst people you've ever met will be your boss, and you'll have to learn how to deal with the added stress and anxiety that can heap on an already fairly stressful job. (There's a reason why people in hospitality are most likely to become alcoholics.)

I've learned that common sense is virtually extinct, people don't know how to do things for themselves, they don't know how to solve their own problems or deal with when someone says "I'm sorry, but you can't do that." People will get angry over their own mistakes and gladly blame it on you, and you will have to smile and take it - to a certain extent. If they cross the line then go ahead and shut that sucker down because you aren't getting paid enough for that nonsense. I've learned that even after a year, I still am not very good at dealing with angry people. I wish I was, I wish I knew exactly how to be polite and courteous and tell people that they are acting like angry children with a smile. My face turns red, I freeze up, I get anxious because "shoot this person is mad at me, and if they leave here mad I'm the one who is going to get in trouble for not making them happy."

It's a lot to deal with, and I've learned that while I do enjoy the Front Desk on it's good days it's burning me out and I definitely can't do it forever. There's a lot of days when I leave work muttering how much I hate my job and I just can't deal with this s*** anymore. I've walked in the door to start my shift, had an encounter that pushed me up to the edge right away and gone to my computer and started looking for other jobs.

And I've learned that gosh darnit anyhow, I don't want to work in any other industry. It's frustrating at all get out sometimes (a lot of the time) but for some reason I love it. I love working in a hotel.

I've learned that there are genuinely nice, wonderful people out there who will be ecstatic at how beautiful your hotel is and they never imagined they'd be able to stay in a place like this but they found a really, really good deal on Hotwire. There are people who appreciate the things you do to make their stay as wonderful as possible and understand when you can't grant all of their requests. Nice, happy mother-of-the bride's do exist and will thank - and even tip! - you for helping them out. There are reasonable people out there still who will apologize for getting upset about something, and leave saying that you've made their awful stay into a great one.

I've learned that good co-workers can make all the difference. When our former manager was still around and making life miserable and I struggled to say that I liked my job, because most days I really didn't, I was still able to say with complete honesty that I love the people I work with. I've learned that social life can be a challenge when you never know what your schedule will be like from one week to the next and you work goofy hours that are different from anyone else, but getting to work with your friends helps to make up for that. I've learned that finding people you want to hang out with outside of work is awesome, and having people that I can comfortably be myself around is the best thing ever.

I've learned that your job is what you make of it, and you can choose to focus on the bad days and the negative encounters or you can decide to crack a joke, give a real smile to the people who come up to you and focus on the ones who smile back. I've learned that there's an awesome reddit board filled with stories from people who have the same guests and experiences as me, and it's quite fantastic. I've learned that sometimes your work can throw a ton of lemons at you, but if you take a few extra minutes you can get some fantastic lemonade out of it.

May 20, 2016

It Doesn't Matter

The pair of jean capris on the left are a size 14. The black exercise capris on the right are a size 4/6. Somehow... they both fit me. The pair of culottes I have on currently are a size medium, and they are slightly tighter around the waist than the size 4/6 capris. I have a pair of size 12 jean capris that I bought last year that I can't even get zippered . I'll state right now that the size 4/6 is a huge anomaly for me, and it must be due in part to the miraculous stretchy fabric qualities of exercise pants, because I don't remember how old I could have been when a size small pants would have fit me on a regular basis.

 For a long time, I let my weight define what worth I gave myself as a person. I moved away from that, but over time the size of the clothing I wore took the place of my weight as a marker for my self esteem. I watched as the size clothing I could comfortably fit into got larger, and favorite pieces of clothing had to be abandoned because they didn't fit into me anymore. I will be the first to admit - for a long time, I did nothing to counteract my slow, steady weight gain. Over the winter, I eventually came to terms with the size I am and realized that it doesn't really matter what the number on the tag is as long as the clothes fit me well and make me feel confident and happy.

 Of course, I'm only human and I have plenty of days where I find the loosest outfits I have because I don't want to look at the multitude of curves that hang out in places I wish they weren't. Whenever I read about how the actress Amy Schumer gets dubbed as plus size for being an 8, I cringe and shrivel up a little inside because I'm regularly a 12 or a 14 on occasion - so what do people think of me???

I would love to lose a few pounds and be able to wear more form fitting clothing without being self conscious of the curves of my stomach that make me wonder if someone glancing at me might think I'm pregnant. While I do think I look a bit better with my more rounded face compared to the narrower face of my youth, I'd really love to lose the double chin that likes to sneak into photographs.
Discovering the pair of 4/6 capris the other week really drove home forme that clothing sizes are very arbitrary and it really. doesn't. matter. It doesn't matter how much I weigh. I'd love to lose a few pounds, and losing a size or two would be great - because there are some skirts and dresses I have that I love and want to be able to wear again! I'm working out again, but this time I'm going to focus on becoming strong, not losing weight. My goal is to be fit and happy with who I am, not obsess over the number on my clothing tags that society has decided is a marker for how valuable of a person you are.

If you read this, I hope that the next time you try to wear something that doesn't fit the way it used to, or you grab a shirt off the rack that you love only to find out it's way too small and you become discouraged and disgusted with yourself that you take a moment to remember the size of your clothing isn't important. YOU are important. You are a wonderful, amazing human being who has the strength to refuse a number the power of defining your worth.

May 12, 2016

Tomorrow, I am Graduating

Tomorrow I will graduate with my Associates Degree in Hospitality Management. It's been a long road to get to this point... I began my college journey at North Central College in Naperville, that lasted for a year and a term before it crumbled down around me and left me standing lost in a pile of my plans and goals. It took a while to get myself out of the debris of my old dreams and find the motivation and start building a new one.

I picked HM on a whim, but it wasn't long into my first semester at JJC before I'd fallen in love. This career is where I'm meant to be. The hospitality industry, and especially hotels, are my people.

It's not all joy and exhilaration at finishing. I sometimes feel that I'm a little bit of a failure because I'm 24 and only just now have an associate degree - not even a bachelors. I feel like I should be more than what I am, and what I've done isn't good enough. The ceremony tomorrow itself won't be without some sorrow. Due to circumstances beyond our control, my boyfriend won't be there, and I never in a million years thought I'd walk across the stage without him sitting there. But he's been there for me, loving, encouraging and supporting me every step of the way and I know that him not being there in person doesn't mean he won't be doing just that tomorrow as I take this next step in my life. I wouldn't be here today without him and his unfailing confidence in me and my abilities. I also wouldn't have gotten here without my parents and their encouragement, or without the inspiration of my two awesome teachers.

Even in spite of my doubts in myself, I'm proud of who I've become and what I've accomplished. It may not be picture prefect, but tomorrow I'm accomplishing one of my dreams. Tomorrow I am graduating, dammit.

February 4, 2016

Potatoes: a Short Story

Sometimes, I get left alone at the desk at work when I'm tired and interesting things happen.  The following is one such thing, very loosely based on and more or less inspired by a true story.

Chapter One

Once upon a time, there was a little farm town that looked like it was plopped right down in the middle of a cornfield. Well, actually it had been plopped down right in the middle of a cornfield when the government was experimenting with Whole Town Relocation™ (WTR). It was successful, but then Space Oreos ™ became a thing and everyone forgot about Potatoes. That was the name of the town, Potatoes.

So once upon a time, the Potatoes Academy received a newspaper – something that only happened every other year – and saw an ad singing the praises of the Great Glazier Clinic for Sports ™. It boasted talks about all sorts of sportsy topics and vendors selling sportsy things. No sooner had the girls softball coach laid eyes on the ad than she knew she had to make it to this clinic. It was the only way her girls would ever make it out of Potatoes and into a Real College Not Online ™.

She scrimped and saved and the girls ran corn shucking fundraisers until she had just enough money to pay an Amishman to take her in his wagon to the nearest train station, which eventually took her to a rental car company where she drove all the way to the great city of Oak Brook. It seemed like a future was in store for her softball girls.

Chapter Two

When the coach pulled up in front of the hotel, she could have sworn she’d never seen anything so big in all her goshdarn life. They didn’t have hotels in Potatoes. They only had houses, a bank and rusty saloon because the government had done the WTR ™ experiment back in 1902, before there were hotels and the housing technology had never advanced since. No one came to Potatoes that would stay in a hotel, anyhow.

The coach dragged her suitcase that she’d ordered off of Amazon up the walkway and down the Mile Long Hallway ™ to the Really Great Front Desk ™ where she breathlessly announced her last name, and asked if she could check into her room, please. The very kind Front Desk Assistant Manager ™ took her drivers license and credit card for incidentals (in case of any charges or damages to the room).

That’s when disaster nearly struck for the softball coach, the girls softball team and the whole town of Potatoes. Her debit card declined! The coach only had $25 in her wallet so she couldn’t leave the $50 Deposit in cash. Stunned, she told the Front Desk Assistant Manager ™ that she would go check into the Great Glazier Clinic for Sports ™ and try to get some cash. She called her bank, the only bank in Potatoes, and found to her dismay that her account was overdrawn. How had it happened?

In great distress, the coach made her way back to the Really Great Front Desk ™, where she told the also very nice Front Desk Agent of her plight. The FDA listened sympathetically to her tale and took pity on her, saying that if she wanted - $10 deposit would do.

A ray of sunshine broke through the ceiling (they never did figure out how that happened) and shone down on the elated softball coach. She thanked the very nice FDA, accepted her keys and fairly skipped down the hall and up the elevator to her room. She instantly called home to tell her softball girls the whole story, and by midnight it had made the first paragraph of the Potatoes Informational Email ™. The Potatoes girls would have a future after all!

December 31, 2015

Looking Back Over the Year

Ah, once again it is the end of the year.  Time to look back and reflect upon the things that were, then turn around and wait in anticipation for the things that are to come.

As I did in 2014, I went through each month and selected a photograph.  Some months it was harder to find a photo... some months it was hard to choose just one!  I enjoyed taking the time to go revisit the past year and remember all the things that happened.

Lets get started  then, shall we?

I began 2015 by flying out to surprise my Knight with a visit on New Years Day.  We had planned on him coming out to visit me, but he wasn't able to get the time off of work and... well, I had the time off already, so without telling him I flew out him and gave him a shock at 1 am after he returned from work!

In February I made a trip downtown with my sister T to audition for the singing competition show, the Voice! It was a lot of fun waiting in line, getting to talk to the people around us as we all eagerly awaited our chance to sing.  Neither of us got a call back - but it was a great experience, and we followed it up with a grand time at the Field Museum.  Maybe next year?

In March I got old and turned twenty three, and got my very first ever smartphone!  I do love my Samsung Galaxy S5 and Instagram and Snapchat and apps and stuff. It can be a little bit of a struggle to not get too attached, at times, but I am enjoying the convenience of having everything right there. Not giving up the laptop though, ever. I like the phone for simple browsing and photos but I hate extended swiping/typing on it. Give me a keyboard any day.

Happy Easter!  I was a less prolific writer this year, so I honestly can't recall if anything terribly spectacular happened this month.  Moving on...

May brought another visit from my Knight, the wedding of the older sister of one of my longest childhood friends, and my very first business trip!  I interned for two years with a medical association, and last year their annual meeting was in Montreal and I, alas, was unable to travel there.  This year however, it was right here in Chicago and I was able to go and work for the first two days.  It was exciting, and tiring and a really great experience. 

I hit the ground running in June by starting a brand new job on the very first day.  I said goodbye to Marriott and my limited service TownePlace Suites and said hello to Hilton and my first experience at a full service convention property.  The change was a little overwhelming at first - so many rooms! and all kinds of hallways and confusing routes because the thing is a maze! - but it's been fun, and exciting and really frustrating at times. But I love it, and even though it is far from the perfect work environment and has a lot of s*%& that it needs to get together, I love the people I work with and it's provided a lot of great opportunities for me to advance further along my career path.

In July, my Knight and I celebrated four years of dating. (Where does the time go??) We were unable to visit then, because a large group from Palestine had taken over the hotel and no one could take time off, but we did celebrate with adoration and a lovely coffee date afterwards. At the end of July, my family and I took a week to camp and travel around Wisconsin with stops in La Crosse - where we went swimming in the Mississippi and visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the Wisconsin Dells - where we spent the day at Noah's Ark, rode in the Duck boats and ate at Paul Bunyan's; and made a day stop in Champion - where Our Lady appeared to Adele Brise in the only approved North American apparition. I think we were all a little done with the close quarters by the time we got back home, but it was a great vacation.

A few years back, my Knight gave me Kenny, the brown guitar on the left, for an anniversary gift after I had expressed interest in taking guitar lessons.  It took me a little while to get around to it, but I did learn how to play, and he was good guitar to learn on.  My teacher recommended that I look into getting a little bit of a higher quality instrument, now that I could actually play and I ended up purchasing Kelly, the blue guitar on the right. She is fantastic (I still love you too, Kenny!). Oh, and I bought my first car. Gosh I love that Jetta. She's great.

September was full of school and work and celebrating my mom's 50th birthday basically all month long, and visiting with dear friends. I met Katie and Amber back in my North Central College days, and we've stayed close ever since.  Katie is a teacher now and working down state, so for a weekend Amber and I packed up and took a little road trip to have a fantastic time. As I've grown older, I have realized more and more how rare and precious good friends really are.  I am truly blessed to have these two!

We started October with "Hmm, we are looking for a house" and ended it with "Okay, it's moving day!" The perks of renting - not having to sell your house when you are ready to move!  It was a little bit of an adjustment, but it already feels like we have been here for so much longer than only two months. I'm fifteen minutes closer to work and we're only seven minutes away from most of the things we do in our daily lives, and it's been awesome on the gas mileage. We have neighbors that we obsessively stalk because they have a son in the seminary and so we know waaayyy more about them than they do about us thanks to the bio from the Diocese, and we live right across the street from the library, which has been fantastic. Moving has been great y'all. 

No sooner had we settled into our new house then we headed out to Iowa for a weekend when the second of my cousins got hitched. Hurray for dancing, and weddings and family!  Later in the month, I went on my second business trip when I was selected to go downtown for a few days and take part in a workshop with other hotel employees in my hotel's management company group.  It was a really good experience - dampened somewhat by a nasty cold, but fun nonetheless - and I have a feeling it played a part in my being offered a somewhat promotion at another one of the management company's properties.  I couldn't accept, unfortunately, for various reasons, which were all graciously accepted with the assurance that it would not effect any future consideration.  Still, it was exciting to be noticed for both experiences!

And now, December.  I finished my associates degree in Meeting and Event Planning and am now wondering how on earth I'll keep myself occupied in the slow months of the hotel business with no school.  I have begun to think about continuing on and getting my bachelors degree, but not just yet.  My Knight visited the weekend before Christmas, got to experience the full drama and high emotions that comes with decorating our house, and we set aside our hockey differences for an evening to enjoy a minor league Chicago hockey game together. 

That brings us to now.  There were quite a few big changes over the year.  Some were expected, some were not, there were some changes that I had hoped for that didn't happen.  But overall, it was a really good year, and certainly a memorable one. 

Here's a toast to 2015, and another toast to 2016.  I can't wait to see what it will bring.