What I Learned Being a Barista

Today was my last day working at Z’s Espresso. I only worked there for a couple of months. Although it may not have been a long lasting job, it made an impact. I’m glad I had the opportunity to be a barista just for a bit. I can remember on really difficult teaching days, I’d wish I was just working at some little coffee shop. I romanticized the idea and longed for a job that was laid back and didn’t require me to bring work home. Now I can say I’ve done it and here’s what I learned:

1) New Skills

It is uncomfortable to learn a new skill. It’s hard being the one who’s always asking questions, the one who’s messing up drinks, the one who feels timid and unsure. I was trained by girls who were young enough to have been my former students. They were fast at making drinks and unfazed by difficult orders. I was now the student and it was hard. But with every passing day I got a little faster and a little more comfortable. I learned I am capable of getting through the discomfort of learning new skills. If I can persevere through this, I can persevere through whatever’s next.

2) Humility

At Z’s I frequently ran into former colleagues, students, and supervisors. Where I used to be seen as a respected authority figure, now I was a humble barista, serving coffee. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a barista, but seeing people from a past life in this new context often produced looks of confusion or sympathy from them. I always felt the need to justify myself for being there. As time went on, I became a bit more comfortable in my new role, but I don’t think I ever completely got over this one. It was definitely a lesson to become more humble and stop using my profession as my sole identity.

3) Hope

The college students who became my coworkers were kind, patient, nonjudgmental, and hard working. Many of them got to the coffee shop at 5:30am, worked the morning shift, and then went straight to class for the rest of the day. I was so impressed with their work ethic and maturity. I often hear complaints about younger generations entering the workforce, but these young women will go far. Anyone would be lucky to employ them.

4) Tip

Minimum wage in Kansas, $7.25 an hour, is not a living wage. It doesn’t even cover a grocery trip, much less housing, utilities, gas, and other necessities. I don’t know how anyone can survive on that kind of pay. Unfortunately the tips weren’t much better. Most shifts I’d make about $15-$25 in tips and I discovered most people don’t tip. The baristas are extremely grateful for those who do. For my family, even with my husband working full time, the pay here was too low for me to continue. There are a few reasons why I decided to move on, but this was one of the factors.

Working at Z’s had its ups and downs, but overall it was a positive experience. It was eye opening to actually do the job I had romanticized. It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. This job came at the right time though. During a time I was feeling unsure about myself and my next steps, it got me out of bed in the morning and gave me something to fill my day. It also gave me the motivation and desire to start looking more seriously for my next career. I may be moving on, but those months in the coffee shop weren’t for nothing. I met great people and I have a new appreciation for people in service industries. I know I am capable of learning new things and I’m ready to start over wherever that may be. Stay tuned.

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