Back in 2005, I was a Catering Manager for a small hotel in Wyoming. A few months in, I was introduced to a company who threw elaborate employee events. I helped them select entrees, design the best room schematic, and even provided my recommendations for decor and entertainment (let me tell you how I much truly LOVED this job). I started off doing their holiday event, then did a couple of staff meetings and then they asked me to do their Summer Picnic.
The day of the Summer Picnic came. We had planned a scramble on our Executive Golf Course and big BBQ bash under huge canopy tents outside … and it rained.
And, I don’t mean it drizzled. It down-poured. It rained cats and dogs … and sideways. Halfway through their scramble we closed the golf course due to wind and lightening. Shortly after, power went down across town and in our hotel – which meant we had no kitchen. It was on this day that I learned the three most important lessons I know about being a professional.
1. At some point in your life, you will be the person who deals with the crap. So, suck it up and do it gracefully.
Of course, most of the time, I mean metaphorical crap. Answering the phones, working late on the holiday weekend, getting the coffee, etc. Everyone, in the early stages of their career, will have to be ‘that guy.’
However, in this instance, I mean actual crap. The hotel had these power-flush toilets that, no kidding, didn’t flush if the power was out. In addition to the guests of the summer picnic, we had the usual hotel crowd, restaurant patrons, and stranded travelers who were run off the road from the storm. It was a full house.
Turns out, the toilets did work if they were pressurized by a strong current. And so myself, and several other unfortunate employees, hauled buckets of water from the hotel pool to the bathroom and poured them down the toilets to pressurize them into flushing. It worked. And it was horrible. But, it had to be done. And at that point in my career, I was the person to roll up my sleeves and do it.
2. Even when everything is falling apart, remain calm.
The people who are most successful are not the people who never fail, but are the people who are the quickest to recover.
On the aforementioned rainy day, I couldn’t control the weather and I couldn’t control our power which meant I couldn’t get the kitchen to put out anything but our pre-made, cold food. Our event timeline was shortened because we only had so much time until the refrigerated food would be unsuitable for serving. And, of course, the sun would be setting soon.
So, we moved the whole thing inside, lit candles and served the chilled dishes. Our catering team stepped up the service and didn’t skip a beat when it came to half-empty glasses and discarded dishes. And I smiled and chatted with the company’s management team who ate cold food in the dark.
In a work or professional setting, the ability to put aside your feelings of anxiety, disappointment, and anger is key. It can be easy to let others see you panic. And, it can be easy to start barking orders out of mounting frustration and being overwhelmed. But, don’t. Take a deep breath and remain calm (you can cry in your car after).
3. Be accountable.
That day, I could have pointed fingers at the Chef and said they should have cooked the hot foods earlier. I could have complained that our back up generators weren’t functioning properly and it was the General Manager’s fault. I could have been grumpy and unhelpful because it was Mother Nature’s fault, not mine, and just cancelled the whole thing. But, I didn’t. It was my event and I was responsible for executing it no matter what.
If it’s yours, own it. Don’t point fingers (no matter how tempting or justifiable) and get the job done.
So, what happened?
One week after the soggy summer picnic in the dark, the company called and offered me a job as a full-time, in-house event planner. I stayed with them for over eight years and they helped me shape career path that I love. I recently left them (which was a tough decision) to start on a new journey but am still applying these three principles, along with the skills they gave me, to everything I take on.