In my 20s and throughout college, I worked one of the most fun jobs I ever had behind the bar at LAX. And without even realizing it, this job was fun because all I heard each night were stories.
Some were really bad, some made you cry, and some were just a way for a guy to try and get my number. But I listened to as many as I could each night.
When customers didn’t want to open up to me, I would ask them the same three questions:
· Coming, going or waiting?
· Where to?
· Are you from LA?
And the conversation would take off after that, sometimes I would get vacation stories, love stories or people’s dark secrets. But listening to them and the way the delivered their stories helped me become a less judgmental person and have more empathy as I listened to the Conservative man from a farm open up about seeing other cultures in the Philippines for the first time. Or when I met musicians on tour, soldiers coming home on furlough, students, business women and men, or people meeting others in person who they met online, their stories helped me build relationships and later I even had a few regulars that visited me every few months.
But there would be times when they would turn around and ask about me for a story. I knew people were drinking in between eight hour layovers, so I decided to ease their travel time. At first, I made all the mistakes about storytelling; I gave too much information that didn’t relate to what they wanted to know. I’d start from being raised in Texas and moving to Los Angeles living as a single mom with two children.
After telling the hardships of being a single mom and quirks of motherhood, it didn’t keep customers interested in sitting in my bar stool, it didn’t even fill my tip jar. Then I thought I could be better if I sounded more intelligent, so I started to read more. I was in college and going to class during the day, and although I was still getting my education, I was secretly scared that people thought I was an airhead because at the time I was dating a brilliant man who worked with the Pentagon with many other top performers in the computer security industry, and I felt like I couldn’t be smart enough to interest him. And trying to sound too smart continued to scare away customers because they could see that I wasn’t being authentic.
Then a new wave of coworkers came in and the long nights became fun as we bonded through working closely in a small space and sharing dinners together and the occasional pranks where we would snap each other’s bra straps. Once I felt comfortable to be myself and not put on a facade for customers, the barstools began to fill up again. This is when I started to learn how to capture moments and how to make each story more animated and fun each time I told it to the customers sitting in front of the well. I learned that having the chance to tell a story was not about me being in the spotlight to talk about myself, it was about what I had to offer the customer to ease their travel nerves or pass the time while they waited.
Each time I tell a story, I know that it is an honor to have someone willing to sit and listen, and you have the gift of entertaining or educating them without giving them the feeling of having been taught. No matter whether I am on stage sharing my story or if I am at a dinner table with friends, if all ears are leaning in on me and the story I am about to tell them, I make sure to bring the moment to life the best way I can because it’s my chance to use a gift that took me a very long time to master through several customers and many pours of draft beers, scotch or whiskey.