The Important Life Lesson I Learned From a Bar Owner

When I was younger, like many twentysomethings, I spent more time than I'd like to admit in bars. After class in college and then after work when I got my first real job, I'd come home, take a disco nap, and head to my favorite Manhattan bar to hang with friends — and on most nights, make more of them. 

Initially, I started going to this specific bar for one simple reason: All the cool kids went there. During the summer, there would be a line outside that wrapped around the block and a bouncer who played favorites. My friends and I would wait on the sidewalk until we were granted access. Sure, there were plenty of other bars in the neighborhood that we could’ve just walked right into, but this one was the place to be. And so we waited.  

Although there was a bouncer, this wasn’t a bottle-service, red velvet rope type of club. It was an old Irish bar opened by an Irish immigrant in the 1960s, with a mediocre jukebox and red-and-white checkered tablecloths. It was the definition of “no frills.”

Despite the fact that I wasn’t a big drinker, and this bar was a good 100 blocks from where I lived, you could find me there most nights of the week. My friends and I could have hung out pretty much anywhere in Manhattan, yet this place became the social pillar we called home. It was our "Cheers," and yes, everybody knew my name. 

It wasn't long before I meet the bar owner’s children — all eight of them. We became fast friends. Soon after, I started getting waved to the front of the line by the now-friendly bouncer and holding court at my favorite table in the corner.

At the end of each night, the owner, Jack Dorrian, would sit at a table, beating some poor guy in backgammon while chomping on a big cigar. Every night, you could count on seeing him there, barking orders at the staff, and greeting college kids and yuppies who stopped by his table to say hello.

When Mr. Dorrian found out I traveled from the West Village to the Upper East Side of Manhattan just to come to his bar, he offered to give me a lift home at night. By this time I was close friends with his two daughters, and I welcomed the ride and the fact that this legend knew me by name. Best of all, he never drank, so getting in a car with him was a lot safer than hopping in the back seat of a cab driven by a bleary-eyed driver on the overnight shift. 

So, on the weekends, I'd hang out with my friends until last call, and then grab a seat at the bar near my now designated driver, Mr. Dorrian, waiting for the bartenders to cash out for the night before we could leave. Here’s what I remember most about the cashing out process: Whether it was a good or bad night on the register, Mr. Dorrian would take the information in, process it, and then move on, somewhat refreshed. By the next day, his mind was clear and he was ready to start all over again.

And what I learned from that has stayed with me throughout the past two decades. It taught me that every day is an opportunity to succeed. Some days are good, some are record-breaking, some are bad, and some are just plain awful — but there’s always the possibility that tomorrow will be better. Even when you’re doing well, every day is an opportunity to try harder and improve. You're only as good as your last great day, so resist resting on your laurels and keep pushing yourself.

I no longer go to that bar, and I miss it the way some people miss their childhood homes. But, while I have changed and moved on, one lesson has remained with me. Every night before my head hits the pillow, I go through the process of mentally cashing out: I review my day, take it in, and anticipate a clean slate on which to begin again in the morning.

Jenny Powers is a member of the DailyWorth Connect program. Read more about the program here.