Three Lessons From Making Coffee

I quit my job, sold almost all my stuff, packed the rest into a storage unit, and went traveling for 6-months in 2014.

During those six months, Amanda and I decided that we wanted to pursue a different life course when we got home. We decided to move to Canmore, Alberta and get jobs that would allow us the freedom to really enjoy our lives.

When I was young I wanted to be a chef, so when I started to look for jobs I thought it would be enjoyable to get something in the restaurant industry.

On a trip out to look for places to live we ate lunch at a cool cafe. It served great food and coffee and just felt like the type of place that would be great to work. I went home and the next day emailed in my resume for the job.

They had a barista/server position they were looking to fill, so I did an interview and got the job on the spot. I ended up working there for just under a year in two roles.

The three biggest lessons I take from working as a barista are:

  1. How to be social at work. Leading up to this job I thought of my self as introverted and not well suited for customer service. While traveling I thought a lot about what had been holding me back and causing me pain and anxiety in life. I realized that fear of social situations was a big part of it. I had relied on alcohol to be more social for years, but I had never faced the fear head-on. Pushing myself into a role where I would be interacting with customers and coworkers all day was scary, but as I got comfortable I learned a ton about myself and how to connect with others. I learned that social skills were certainly a skill and improved with practice.
  2. How to keep hungry people happy. The cafe we worked at was very busy. During the summer there was often a line out the door and waits could be 45min to an hour. By the time people are ordering they are often hungry and sometimes frustrated. When you only work with your friends you don’t get used to dealing with frustrated people. This job made me comfortable talking with almost anyone, no matter if they were friendly or frustrating. It also showed me how easy it is to take on other people’s emotions and helped me learn to stay positive no matter what was going on with customers or coworkers.
  3. How good camaraderie feels.┬áThere is something very rewarding about working closely with a team at a restaurant. When you go to work in lots of companies and professions you often focus on your own work and don’t really feel the sense of camaraderie that comes from facing a battle together. Working through rushes in a restaurant with a team you really like is very fulfilling. The feeling of teamwork and support creates a bond that you don’t find in a lot of other work.

One moment in particular that stands out from this job is occasionally running into an acquaintance from college. When I was going to college and starting my career I was very driven by status. I took pride in going to business school and that I was making $50k+ a year after college. It wasn’t a healthy sense of pride, but a sense of superiority compared to people I knew that were still in college or working in service jobs after finishing.

During my 6-month career break, I realized that the things I was letting motivate me were not making me happy. I was chasing approval and the external image of success instead of doing what I actually wanted to do. Moving to a new city and working in the service industry was a conscious decision to correct that.

One day at the cafe I was making coffee and noticed an acquaintance from college come in. This was someone I didn’t like, and truly thought was a douchebag. My colleague was taking orders and I was at the espresso machine, so we didn’t have any interaction at first. Then I saw his order come through; it was a drink that I would have to deliver to his table.

I felt a pang of fear and thought for a second about asking someone else to deliver the beverage. That was the old version of me–concerned about winning or losing in a battle of who is better than who. For a second I was afraid to be seen working at a cafe because I was afraid of looking like a failure because I had a degree and had been working a “good job” in the city before.

I caught myself, took a breath, took the coffee to his table and had a quick conversation about how he was doing and what I was up to (and why I was working in a cafe in a tourist town in the Rockies).

It was a small and pleasant interaction. I came back from that conversation proud of myself with a better sense of confidence and clarity.

It’s often easier to run from your past than to face it head-on. In that moment I had an opportunity to face my past and a lot of the old ways I saw the world. I accepted that to 98% of my friends from college thought I was a loser for pursuing this path, but it didn’t matter. It was the right path, and I was not ashamed of it in any way.

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