When I started at The Barber School (in Utah) I remember being really excited to be done just cutting mannequins in the back room, and graduating to working on “The Floor”- where you begin working with real people and their hair. I finally made it out of the classroom, but after the first few days on The Floor, I kind of wanted to retreat back to the mannequin heads where I could learn to be a barber without the anxiety of giving an awful haircut, carrying on an uncomfortable and distracting conversation, or the risk of them being upset with the haircut, or me.
The only risk while cutting the hair on a doll head is the teacher telling you that you messed up. The doll didn’t usually care, and it didn’t stare back at me in the mirror, closely watching every unfamiliar move I made. I was so far from being comfortable greeting, setting up, consulting with each person about what they wanted, or even just being a barber. It was hard enough for me to do one of those things, and it felt impossible to do all of them. It was really hard for me. Honestly, I learned what anxiety was during barber school, cause I had it a lot. Basically, I got anxious every time someone walked through the door. I wasn’t getting paid by the hour, actually I was paying to be there by the hour, but I just wanted to put in my time, learn to cut hair, and then somehow magically become an experienced and licensed barber. Didn’t seem as unrealistic back then… sounds ridiculous now.
It got pretty bad for a minute. It got to the point that I wanted to hide out in the back, in the break room, or outside, to avoid being face to face with a patron. The instructors would walk around with a ticket with a customer’s name on it, and hand it to the barber they wanted to see give the service. Most of the time, especially at the beginning, I would pray that they wouldn’t hand it to me. I didn’t want to be with customers, cause my life was easier without them. I didn’t care about having customers one bit. Not necessarily because I didn’t like them on a personal level, but because they just complicated things. They made me worry a lot.
Thinking back, one of the jobs I had during college that i loved, surprisingly, was a janitor at the library at Utah State. There were only 2 bad parts about it – 1) It started at 4 am, and 2) I really didn’t like cleaning the girls bathrooms (Way more disgusting than the mens bathroom). I tried to get the vaccum job every day, where I would just walk around with one of those vacuum back packs for four hours with headphones on. If I finished early, I would find a hiding spot, and take a nap till classes started. It was quiet and it was just me doing my job. So easy. It was easy working without customers. **An important note, up until I started barber school, I had never worked a job where I really had to work directly with customers… kinda weird, I know, but every gig I had was a lot more indirect. Either the customer wasn’t really around, or in the case of one job where I worked in the O.R., they were usually under anesthetic…;)**
Anyway, one day in barber school, probably while I was pretending to eat in the break room, I saw a quote on the fridge…
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.” – Mahatma Ghandi
First, I remember being impressed that Ghandi would talk about something like that (I did a little research, and that was definitely not a quote from Ghandi….but let’s pretend it was cause it sounds nice). Second, I remember reading it over a bunch of times and realizing that I needed to change the way I was thinking about people – at least if I was going to be a successful barber. Because even back then, when i was terrible in every aspect of my new job, i felt that a successful barber was going to need to be a hell of a lot more than just good at cutting hair. I realize how true that is more and more. Customers are the most integral part of this job, and nearly every other job, and I started to understand that my life was going to be pretty miserable if I didn’t learn to love having customers around.
I am fortunate to work in a shop that has no shortage of customers, and those customers allow me to make a living and provide for my family. I’m always grateful they come in and sit down… sometimes I need to remind myself of that on the hectic days. Or when they come in a hurry during my lunch break. Or after my stuff is already packed, the shop is closed, and then they walk in the door… (I guess there can be varying degrees of appreciation, ha.)
But for real. Thanks for coming in guys.