My name is roop and I am a bartender. Well, that’s what my friends and colleagues have always known me as. I became that guy that made that drink, worked that bar, the one to go to when you needed advice on where to visit, and what to drink.
Having accidentally stumbled upon this industry nearly two decades ago, it’s been an incredible journey, so far, in which I have met some inspiring people, some of whom I am now fortunate enough to call my friends.
It’s true this beautiful industry of mine has given me purpose, direction, an outlet for my creativity, but most importantly and at the time, it gave me an identity.
Growing up with anxiety and coming from an abusive background, finding your place in this world becomes an obsession. Knowing who you are and where you belong is a daily mission. That’s when my industry came along, took me by the hand and allowed me to accompany it on its adventures. It showed me who I could be if I wanted to and introduced me to the people that could help me get there. What always held me back was the self-doubt. That niggling feeling that I would screw it up and let them down, that I wasn’t good enough. It’s still there.
For years I cultivated a community around me. One I could grow within and develop without anyone outside of it noticing. It was safer than putting myself out there. I could make mistakes and it wouldn’t go any further than the walls I had erected, keeping my anxiety in check.
The culture I grew up in hospitality was to treat it like a sport. Exposing your weakness would only be exploited and turned against you. You didn’t let anything out, especially if you were struggling. That just didn’t happen. I remember having a panic attack before a cocktail competition and was in the back physically shaking just as they were about to call my name. I almost threw up as I walked up to take the stage. What got me through my round was the fear of having to explain myself, my struggle, which outweighed the anxiety tenfold.
Over the years I have watched friends and colleagues lose the battle against drugs and alcohol. A crutch they used to get themselves through a shift, an AFD, a week. Rather than admit they were struggling they would try and numb the pain. As someone that hasn’t drunk for a vast majority of my career and also has never taken drugs, I would often feel like an observer watching from the sidelines. Unable to connect as I, “didn’t get it” and not opening up about my own struggles, it was sometimes a harsh reality to watch the people I looked up to unable to ask to for help.
Would it have been easier and less stressful to leave? It was. I have. I do. When it gets a little too much I take a break from behind the stick. It allows me to recharge, refocus, but inevitably, I’m drawn back. The familiar feel of that arm around my shoulder, telling me this time it’ll be different. Easier.
And it has been.
We’re now building platforms where it’s both acceptable and encouraged to talk about our personal experiences within this beautiful industry of ours. We are now able to document and talk about how we each deal with this industry in our own personal way. It’s been a privilege to watch the shift, and also to be a part of the change.
I still get nervous to this day. If it’s a bar shift, it’s worrying about letting my fellow colleagues down, if it’s a consumer event, I’m aware these people have paid good money for an experience and it’s up to me produce.
The difference is, I now use the fear to fuel me.
It’s okay to be nervous, but it’s even more acceptable to admit it.
This is something I have learned during my counselling sessions. A foreign concept exclusively reserved for those in America. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Having the opportunity to take time out for myself has had a lasting positive effect on my life. Some of us run, go to the gym and attend yoga, whilst others meditate. I spend an hour a week exorcising my mental demons. Trying to understand my place in this beautiful industry of mine and also this spinning ball of dust I call home.
The world really is a small place and my bartending community is tighter than ever before, and long may this continue.
Now for the first time, I am allowing myself to look beyond the walls I created and I am putting myself out there. Backing myself. Taking a punt. On me. I’m aware I’ll make mistakes and a lot of people will watch me make them, but that’s okay. I can’t be afraid forever, right?
To all of my brothers and sisters in this beautiful industry of ours, I thank you for your passion, your drive, your focus, but mostly, for allowing me to come along on this journey with you.
So if I’m ever in your area and you need someone to talk to, someone to listen, to understand, I won’t approach you as a bartender, as a peer or as a colleague, but as a fellow human being.