The Distance between Happiness and Prestige

Thursday, June 14, 2012 | 2 Comment(s)

I've started bartending.

and while i'm still in the "i'm not entirely sure what i have to do/get done" phase, and there is still an above average amount of new stuff related anxiety -- i'm really enjoying it.  i like people.  and on a slow night at this bar, working alone, it's akin to mainlining people for 7 hours.  all kinds of people.

even, it so happens, the upper level statistics conference run out of  my department, which i have attended in the past.  The course is run by one of my favorite professor and statistical guru's Aline.  So . . .  the introductions went a little like this:

Aline:  "Oh everyone.  the bartender is Mattitiyahu.  He's taken this course in the past and is proficient in the HLM (abbreviated statistic techinique) methodology we were taking about today. "

Me: "What would you all like to drink tonight." 


It all went remarkably smoothly.  It was aided by my old office-mate being back in town to co-teach the course with Aline.

But eventually, someone inevitably asked the question: "If you have your PhD, what are you doing bartending?"

Now, I'm a wiseass by nature, and so my reply was fairly automatic.   I told her to wait until she finished grad school, and that she'll probably want to bartend as well.

But the real answer to the question speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding that many people seem to make.  The majority of my friends in my community are in some way connected to the food or drink industry.  And while they range in age from college kids to thirty something bar business owners, the vast majority take great pride in their work.  they are hired because they love what the food experience can be.  It ranges from pride in a particularly good espresso design on a customer's drink to knowing the names and tastes of those people that make themselves regulars at your establishment.  These are professionals.  and so, when you ask them (we'll get back to me in a second) why they are doing this when they could be doing X, Y, or Z -- you are inadvertently demeaning the outstanding effort they are putting forth to maximize your customer experience.

I realize, of course, that my situation is a bit more extreme.  I am somewhat more of a juxtaposition than the average bear.  But this is where we encounter the distance between happiness and esteem.  I'm bartending because i want to bartend.  Seeing my friends and being social while staying active and watching sports is a pretty ideal situation.  The hours are also flexible, so i can pursue my other interests as well (like writing!!!).  The question shouldn't be "why are you bartending", but rather, "what do you love about bartending."  Instead of seeing me at a job that subjectively lacks esteem, see a person with opportunities who is making the choice to bartend.  I know it seems like a small thing that i'm making a big deal out of, but there is also a class element attached to it, and it helps contribute to the perspective of academics being out of touch.  When you demean the profession of bartending, or cooking, or serving -- you're saying what makes you happy is more valuable than what makes others happy.  And it's particularly offensive because you are benefiting from that service persons' job more than they are benefiting from yours (unless they are VERY well read on the latest journals).

Personally, I have a deep esteem for happiness.  for me, the distance between happiness and prestige closes further and further the more i learn what to place value on.


  1. Beautifully written and beautifully explained. People always prefer to judge others, and see things in themselves that the other lacks rather than seeing in others what they might lack.

  2. Amen, brother. When I open my future restaurant in Westchester, I'm calling on you to tend the drinks!