At my lowest of lows, still I know that I am the stuff of stars.
I share base genetic properties with the mightiest of oaks,
The brightest super nova and everything under the microscope.
When I feel I can't dig myself any deeper, so far from my goals,
The weight of the world wearing down with all my regret,
Still I know that I am worthy and capable, with just so much in store.
I am and I can and I will, if I just still know, go, sow and grow.
My improbable existence is magnificent, even when I feel devoured.
All purpose is mine to define and relish, and yet so invaluable.
Whatever I decided, wherever I go, whoever I become.
Still I know that I owe the universe everything and am owed nothing.
Regret after regret, hurtle after hurtle, rejection, disappointment,
Still I know, though it may not show in my graceless dance in the undertow,
And all of their obvious doubt, my life and ability beckons so much more.
a resume here, a resume there
Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, everywhere
rejections galore, day after day
forever pursuing other candidates
networking events, mentors, webinars
light at the end of the tunnel stays so far
reaching out, keeping it up
what else is there? just me and the hunt
grad school? freelance? give it a try!
building skills, growing knowledge,
budding self-actualization, oh my!
but look, an unexpected email...
with no watching opportunity comes knocking
"enthusiastic, bubbly, genuine, bright"-- they loved me
2 week notice written, just so ready to begin
oh, but wait: the project/position postponed again
and again and again
back to the drawing board, this time with help
three more offers, ready to go? just getting grip!
furniture store, start-up growth,
recruit maybe? tell me more!
decisions, decisions, must only pick one
start-up excitement beckons my soul
plus low pay and conflict of interest (with business of my own)
respectively, settle the score
ballin' salary, owners love Hayek, total cloud nine
somebody pinch me, I swear I can fly
big day forgotten, hospitalized stress,
walkouts, "chivalry", just disorganized at best
true gentlemen know that no means no
body and mind, also my car and my home
this is my ship, I run it, it's my say so, I am my own
too good to be true as colors begin to show
demeaning, yelling, texting all hours of the night
damned if you do, damned if you don't: it's somehow my fault
Jekyll and Hyde, fear over anger fuels the flight
in the siren's open arms, prodigal barista has yet to lose hope
making it up, along we go, just like Jobs, just like Schultz
always new players, ever changing rules, nobody really knows
the long game sucks, but it's the only way to grow
as both pawn and queen, to each their own
confidence and humility
patience and tenacity
momentum and sustainability
teaching and learning
genuine and tactful
obstinate and moderate
perfection is a lie, worthlessness the same
either destroys all who seek it or believe it
but better is always many possibilities
insanity and genius
such a fine line
try the same thing
over and over-
just do it. do it anyway.
seeing the same
but hoping for different?
seeing the difference
and discovering the same?
I often reflect on the various turning points in my life that lead me to a major life event. I'm not that into contemplating "alternate dimensions" that result from different decisions as much as the statistical probability of a result I'm experiencing or have experienced. How easily could my life have been drastically different and at what points did my direction veer strongest that way?
"Sonder" has long been a pretty important part of my vocabulary. But I think it misses something all the more powerful: what happens when you engage one of these "extras" cast in your life? Personally, I prefer more rounded characters than flat-- dynamic cameos, if you will. Even those who make the briefest of appearances in your life can greatly enhance your reality if you are willing to let such a moment transpire. It's pretty uncomfortable to start this, but once you make it a habit, well, at least I have personally found that it deeply enhances every day.
Yesterday on the way to my shift, I had the most incredibly pleasant experience at Arby's. The kid running the drive-thru was just so professional, efficient, and just downright delightful. I'm an easily satisfied customer but I'm extremely difficult to delight in this way. I left so inspired to provide my customers the same level of service I was given so they could feel as uplifted as I did. I wouldn't say my drive-thru performance as far as engaging and delighting has hindered much, but my entire mood has been impacted by my financial and career struggles as of late. Just while doing his job, he truly helped me view things differently, even just for a moment.
Sure enough, I was assigned the drive-thru when I got to work a few minutes later. I personally enjoyed far more of my interactions than usual, in spite of the Unicorn Fiasco that was fizzling out. I definitely had far more truly and deeply inspired moments amidst the already great evening. A few began with asking about their day while one of my partners were making their drinks. One was from a beloved regular with a quite complicated drink praising me for how quickly I remembered her order over the past few weeks. Another was a lady just as amused as she was disappointed with the unicorn shortage who valued my insight. Yet another was a couple I had the opportunity to introduce to the Clover and Rwanda Maraba, my most favorite Reserve Roast. It's actually quite rare for me to get to share my passion for coffee with a customer who shares the same enthusiasm; usually we just connect over our mutual appreciation of caffeine and sugar. Any of these interactions alone would have made my night. But for all them to happen has been a fantastic motivator for me, even still today as I reflect on it.
As a disclaimer, we were pretty slow and overstaffed, so last night allowed for more of the human connection than most typical Starbucks shifts do. Usually I don't get the opportunity to come back and ask what their day has in store or ask them where they got their top. But I seized it because of the sincerity of the transaction I made with that Arby's kid. I do hope he goes far in life and I will very likely make runs through their drive-thru instead of McDonald's for a while.
I've made friends and even business connections with people I met from the other side of the counter. I've learned and inspired and walked away with so much value added to my life, if not as much as I would like in my bank account. I really can't fathom how some baristas could become so burned out on this concept and it's potential. Coffee is a great catalyst, but not like the people who love it. And even those who don't. Those Frappuccino lovers are still important, too...
So I encourage anyone and everyone to open your life to the passerby's and extras and enjoy the dynamic human beings they are each and every day. Sure, you never know when you'll meet your soulmate or future business partner or learn something that really magnifies your perspective. That's all important, even though cliché. But also allow yourself to bask in the inspired moments, or even instants, you share with strangers and acquaintances, in the possibility each of them holds. Embrace humanity and watch all the improbable, beautiful reality that unfold around you because of it.
By the way, I'm just getting started with the cheesy existentialism. I hope you're enjoying and stick around.
Starbucks has done a lot of impressive stuff over the years, beginning at it's dawn awakening disenchanted coffee drinkers across the globe to the romantic experience of a premium brew and genuine passion, to continuously increasing the standards of employee engagement and benefits, to saving this most sacred of nature's nectars. All at insane profitability.
Because of the sustained (or regained) success of this corporation, one would assume they know what they're doing. You can almost never make everyone happy. They've definitely pissed off a lot of people as people like myself continue to fall in love with the Siren over and over again. But they're obviously doing something right and even when I was most confused last year when we had that little Gold/stock price/labor crisis, I had faith in what I'm so honored to be a part of. But this whole Unicorn Frappuccino fiasco has me really stumped.
I'm used to the hustle of satisfying a disappointed customer in February who fell in love with the Caramel Brulée Latte during the holidays or is a few months too early for the S'mores Frappuccino (one of the very few I get excited about) and is too distraught to be pleased with just another drink. Partners become masters of remedying the moment with sincerity, perception, and intricate knowledge of their craft. As a marketer-in-the-making, I understand the net gain of seasonal drinks as well. But I'm so baffled by the huge promotional efforts for the Unicorn in tandem with our "25 per day for a 5 day LTO". The correlating inventory and labor hours were clearly nowhere near enough to satisfy the reality. [You're welcome. --Captain Obvious] My store sold out long before sunset on the first day; the other stores in our district were out by the end of the second day. Our manager called in TWO reinforcements to recover for closing Wednesday after everyone worked an extra long, hard day. I showed up to a drive-thru line rivaling the worst days of Christmas with only 4 of my partners running the show (normal 7am-9am peak rushes require 7 baristas on the floor, holidays require 9 for much longer and less predictable hours, for reference) and the other reinforcement showed up in his fatigues straight from the army base. There wasn't time for fetching his other uniform; we needed him.
The phones at all three stores I pick up shifts at have hardly stopped ringing since the launch with people looking for this "magical" beverage and causing a negative impact on operations. Meaning I can't make a Frappuccino, write on cups, clean, or brew a pot of coffee while I am taking back to back calls. The whole thing has been a shit show. [My apologies for the language, but the inflection requires such.]
There is definitely plenty I do not know about marketing research and forecasting and business strategy in general, but I can definitely tell you I only need to be conscious and able to read the smoothed-average sales of similar drinks to tell you that we would sell easily more than 200 Unicorn Frappuccinos each day. I mean, I don't have statistics software or 40 hours a week of my time dedicated to determining an optimal equilibrium; which, of course, may not necessarily be the goal. Assuming that supply would last 5 days is laughable. The only logical conclusion is that the shortage was intentional, but for the life of me I cannot figure out why. I also cannot figure outanything else to Google to find out why... Suggestions or answers are highly encouraged. I'm losing sleep over here.
In February, I returned from a month "off" that included trips to DC, Florida, and New Orleans, then immediately moved out of my parents' house and into a house in Birmingham with some great friends. I had over two months of my bills saved and thought I could make it stretch a little further if I kept my belt tight and kept working at Starbucks. I also had a promising interview that came out of nowhere upon returning from my travels. A job that would sustain me economically but also leave room in my schedule for my own ventures. Everything seemed so bright. I was blinded with rose-colored glasses and now things are getting gloomy. Exciting, but gloomy.
There wasn't much room for me on the schedule at Starbucks when I got back. At the time, I didn't care too much because I'd just been offered a job that would pay me 3-4 times as much as I brought in as a barista. I just picked up weekend shifts and went about setting up my new place as quickly as possible so I would be ready for the "immediate" start date I was promised. I made a very big mistake of loosening my belt and even celebrating a few hundred dollars away like a total idiot. But the weeks kept passing. I started taking any and every shift I could, which totalled to 2 full-time weeks and 3 almost full-time weeks. I started grocery shopping at my parents' house. I would have forgotten the taste of beer and wine had my roommates and neighbors not been so generous.
The start date kept getting pushed back to the point of indefinitality. I felt like such a pest trying to find out when I could start. When I could stop deciding which credit card payment to make and start buying my own groceries and wearing my beloved clothes and paying my full part of the rent. Finally my recruiters gave up on that job for me and presented me other options. But now I fear the next round of the same has begun. I'm significantly less trusting than I was a couple of months ago, so I know I am being hasty to worry. But I feel so powerless over my own life. I thought I'd finally reached some form of independence. I wish I could just wait indefinitely for the right job. I wish I could live off of my income as a barista. I wish I could just work on my business ideas. But this is the real world where scarcity exists.
I suspended my job hunt for grad school and personal ventures last year because getting hundreds of rejection emails and walking out of disappointing interviews was destroying my morale and proving to be wasted effort until I was ready. I'd recovered from that last blow, but this situation makes it VERY clear to me why so many people just stop trying to find a job that will build to the career they've always dreamed up for the the reliable income of bartending and customer service.
TO BE CLEAR, I have the deepest respect and assume the very best intentions of all the recruiters and employers I've been working with. I doubt there is a malicious bone in any of their bodies and they aren't aware of the mess I got myself into by being so trusting and assumptive. They don't mean to have me as a lost piece of paper in a pile of clutter, but that's not really something they can easily change. I know I have plenty of priorities that keep me from things and people I'd much rather dedicate time to. It happens. My concern is how much it happens to job-seekers and new hires all of the time. And we wonder why there is a "talent shortage" (ahem there isn't) when candidates are endlessly burned out on the game and cease to see the value of keeping up the hunt.
2017 has started off incredibly- and kept me very busy. It seems I have waited all of my life to start living the way I want to: such a long time and so many stumbles and detours to get to this point, but I see now that not only was it worth it, but all of it was necessary for this moment.
As of last week, I've moved out of of my parents' house in Suburbia into a beautiful historic house in Birmingham. My roommates and neighbors are fantastic; I'm excited about all our projects planned and just lovely spring evenings on the front porch coming up. Starbucks is less than a mile's walk away, a trip I plan to make often.
During February, I was released from the bonds of the siren for a series of adventures (a story for another day), focus on my freelance project, and just being. After dozens of hours of retrospect, many of which were on the road listening to an audiobook or reading Howard Schultz's "Pour Your Heart Into It", I'm ready. Just ready. Anxious for opportunity and accomplishment and independent life.
I found myself so over the games, ever-changing rules, petty deal breakers, and the never-ceasing harsh disappointments pretty much as soon as I began my post-collegiate job hunt over a year ago. So I started grad school, like the frivolous girl I am. However, I also made some good decisions, like finding a mentor, taking on a big, long-term entrepreneurial project with a start-up, spending hundreds of hours researching and learning for that project, and making new friends based on my values and passions and under-explored interests instead of circumstances, location, or similarity. No more wasted time on Indeed and LinkedIn trying to beg someone for a $40k salary and a cubicle to get me out of my parent's house and my green apron.
Ironically, that project and the necessary research for it and my barista skill set is ultimately what enticed the JOB OFFER I got this morning-- while late on the way to cover a shift at Starbucks. I've self-educated on the emerging and prevalent trends in talent acquisition from the other side for several months instead of spamming Birmingham with my resume. This research lead to identifying companies that are on the cutting edge of utilizing human capital. I will be working at one of those companies on a B2B financial application migration project with a primary focus in client service and tech support. I'm barely qualified by experience, education, and proven skills. Here's the thing: that doesn't matter. I'll get back to that...
Scouring their website and press releases is not how I found the job; apparently I just missed one of the recruiters when I did my hardcore email unsubscribe house-cleaning or they were simply waiting for the right opportunity to present to me. The multi-faceted outward-facing role intrigued me and apparently my bubbly, enthusiastic, and idealistic demeanor interested them. Then I found out the role was at BBVA Compass and I knew that even though it meant scaling back my project and that I would most likely have to leave Starbucks (I always knew the day would come, but I'll never actually be ready), I couldn't pass up going for it. So I did. And now that light at the end of the tunnel is looking more like greener pastures with all the butterflies.
These trends I've mentioned that have most sparked my zeal for my ever-narrowing career direction are pretty well demonstrated in just BBVA's change from "HR department" to "Talent and Culture" teams. What's in a name? Everything. It's a brand, a huge idea conveyed in just a short string of letters.
The interview (the only one I've ever actually enjoyed and left feeling uplifted instead of cheapened since my Starbucks interview) dialogue was heavily focused on this idea that learning aptitude was far more valuable than knowledge and a common vision, passion, cultural fit with the organization is vital for a successful hire. And a work environment needs to be one that allows workers to fail so that they will strive endlessly instead of coasting on slowly and so very sadly to retirement. Funny how being genuine is what finally landed me a "big girl job".
But here's the thing: being genuine is what landed me a big girl job, yes, but that was already the case as a Starbucks barista. It's not about what society deems respectable or professional or valuable, because society is not objective. And collective subjectivity can get people killed. (That escalated, I know, but I stand behind the repugnance.) We've perpetuated this false narrative that it's shameful to be in certain industries and roles, especially at certain ages or other demographic factors. It's bullshit. I'm eternally remorseful for how long I stoked the flames of this lie and let it demoralize me and how I viewed the people around me.
No one will give you a big girl job. You make it. You do it. You live it.
You get up and you go do a thing that creates value and you do it well, with vision, for a reason. That is a big girl job. It has nothing to do with titles and salaries and benefits. Taking ownership of your life, your work is how you take yourself places and experience reality to your own liking. I've been honing my craft at Starbucks and growing in new ways because I decided being a barista was not skating through life or abject in anyway. Along my journey, I embraced why my work mattered more and more. I found ways to get better and be fulfilled. I encouraged my partners and customers to do the same. I allowed myself to look for moments of inspiration by connecting with individuals and reveled in the warmth.
In my case, the big girl job I've been doing, in and out of the Third Place, will almost certainly completely remove me from my green apron. But that is not always so. Sometimes doing a big girl job will keep you in one line of work, whatever that may be, because it is what makes you come alive or what most aligns with how you chose to live. Some people work to retire early and fish more and spend more time with grandkids or their life partner at that point. Others work to live right now and enjoy the company of the people they love today. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive and are demonstrated in innumerable ways in the lives of individuals. When they are happy and dedicated and growing, they have a big girl job.
Play it cool. Don't worry about it. It's just coffee. Whatever. Dork. It's not that deep. Don't think too much. Don't try so hard. Nerd. Play hard to get.-- Can we not? The human experience and all it's glorious possibility is something to be excited about. Who decided to make apathy "in"? That collective subjectivity I warned you about is responsible for such. Don't worry about society and start embracing the people in front of you and the world around you. It's okay to give a hoot and go for it. And by okay, I mean life-changing good for you. Come alive.
Making coffee, I learned to be performance driven, through the lens of humanity, and this is my craft to hone. This is my big girl job. It's what I do. It's who I am. And it began at Starbucks.
I watched a TedTalk a month or so ago that has kept me thinking all this time: Great design is serious, not solemn. I watched it twice, sent it to a client and a few friends, and have been coming back to Paula Scher's message- which lead me to more great content from the Serious Play conference this talk was presented at in 2008. Ideo's Tim Brown is another delightful human being you should be aware of. (You are most welcome.)
Paula has four decades of honing her craft, leaving her at the forefront of design and branding. I'm in awe of her passion and influence that has had a very clear and profound impact on modern art and business alike. And it all started with her hatred for Helvetica- a true act of rebellion in the 1970's as a graphic designer- and attributes her initially successes to "really [being] a brat, and then accomplish things". Because she relentlessly sought out a different way.
She begins her talk with "my work is play" and immediately caught my attention: "engaging in a childlike activity or endeavor" and "gambling". She quoted from an old essay: "Being solemn is easy. Being serious is hard. Children almost always begin by being serious, which is what makes them so entertaining when compared with adults as a class. Adults, on the whole, are solemn. That's because it is hard for most people to recognize seriousness, which is rare, but more comfortable to endorse solemnity, which is commonplace."
I always imagined being in the service industry at my age to be hell on earth. I've learned to be extraordinarily happy in my reality and have enjoyed the best year of my life yet, all the while fighting complacency. Being solemn is easy, but not as fulfilling as being serious about what you're doing. Not to say being a barista is easy by any means (it's not), but nothing about my workload, even new drinks or procedures or customers, is serious to me anymore. I also wouldn't say I'm always surly (because I'm generally not) or I'm the conventional "burned out", but the work doesn't make me come alive the way it used to and I'm so hungry to be challenged continuously the way my current freelance project challenges me. The way it makes me feel absoultely stupid and then brilliant and victorious and alive in a cycle that leads to so much new knowledge I barely know what to do with it.
In Tim Brown's "Tales of Creativity and Play" talk, he discusses the brainstorming practices at IDEO and even demonstrates a few with the audience. In the first experiment, he points out the embarassment the room full of professional adults felt about their 30-second drawings of the people around them; they were ashamed of their ideas.
"And one of the things we tend to do as adults, again, is we edit things. We stop ourselves from doing things. We self-edit as we’re having ideas."
In case you haven't noticed, I spend weeks coming back to the same blog post until I'm ready to share it with the world, so concerned with it being silly, too enthusiastic, etc. As a result, my 8 month long project here is spare and subdued. My ideas stay buried inside, unvisualized and divergent. Playing it safe leads to stagnance and doesn't allow for the leaps and bounds necessary to become a serious professional. Failure is preferable to such solemn complacency.
"...we need trust to play, and we need trust to be creative. So, there’s a connection. And there are a series of behaviors that we’ve learnt as kids... They include exploration, which is about going for quantity; building, and thinking with your hands; and role-play, where acting it out helps us both to have more empathy for the situations in which we’re designing, and to create services and experiences that are seamless and authentic."
Customer service is like a dance of which your skills are paramount, but your customer is novice at best. And they’re leading, intentionally or not. You don’t get to break out your best moves until they prompt you to do so because you have to make each step, every sway, all of your movement responsive to their direction. Throughout the song, they can’t be left behind on the dance floor, stepped on, rushed, hindered, embarrassed, confused.
Your customer is your princess in a room of suitors: this is your one chance to keep her in your arms. You’re a spectacle of grace, skill, knowledge, touch, and light. But this isn’t about you. It’s about her. It’s about ensuring she shines in front of her subjects and always remembers this dance.
Only then, can you be king. And kings can leave the ball to conquer grander things.
Customer service can also be a brutal battlefield- your customers ever priming their arsenals with demeaning remarks, piercing glares, impatient disturbances. The shield of manners and patience can only protect you so much before you break. Follow the lead of your generals and seasoned comrades as you craft innovative weapons and tools, own your weaknesses, strategize your methods. Then you can meet your customer blow-for-blow with empathy, solutions, and delight until you reach victory together.
As a valiant warrior, you may return to your place of honor among your people, more adept for the next battle. Or you can harness your laurels to reach new frontiers with mystifying feats that promise your lion’s share.
(formerly "Bare Barista Threads" and "Memoirs of a Pizza Girl")
With a year of delivering pizza, two and a half years as a barista, and some more time in the trenches, I have plenty of stories, thoughts, and musings. The days that threatened to break me all the while built me. I want to help others in my profession view their work as an opportunity, too. This is my soap box.