YOU ARE HERE – Finding Meaning, Fulfillment, & Opportunity Behind the Bar

When we first start out as baristas we dream of what might await us in the cafe and what it might be like to do this job long term. When we show up for work however, we often find that we need to put our ideals on hold while the work of the cafe fills our time and attention. The customer and the business have their own ideals that you must serve in order to provide value and advance in your position which often means your personal values are put on hold. You slowly learn that when you enter the world of service under  another persons brand, standards and ideals, you will be busy about working for others and not yourself. This is not a bad thing per se, seeing that you are in the service industry and “serving” must necessarily mean a sacrifice of oneself for the good of another. Denial of self in service to others is part of the job and if it’s not part of your vision for yourself then you will be perpetually annoyed and disenfranchised with whatever position you find yourself in.

If we are to be healthy and fulfilled in our current roles we must not only react to and satisfy the needs of our environment, but we must also create opportunity for growth in our environment that lines up with our personal mission. This can be done while also advancing the mission of our employer. If you don’t, any professional advancements you achieve will ring hollow because they do not speak to that deeper part of why you are here doing this job in the first place.

So how can we harness the power of every experience to bring us closer to our goals and to find fulfillment in our work? Here are some tips that have helped me…

Set: Clear vision, values, and mission for your career

If you are going into work and feeling aimless you need to create opportunities for yourself to introduce a personal mission into the everyday work. Slow down the momentum of your reactive mind and see all the lessons each shift can teach you that will provide you with personal growth in the areas you most value. In order to do that you will need to have an articulated vision, set of values, and mission that you can reference and draw from in the coarse of the days work.

Of course the specifics of your vision may be not compatible with where you are now and that is expected …and ok! It’s certainly not a sign you need to leave to search for greener pastures. That has led many baristas to a wide but shallow career. The best thing to do is to distill your vision of where you want to be in the future, down to a list of virtues and skills you can develop in the present, that speak to who you want to be in the future.I recommend to you “The E-Myth Manager” by Michael Gerber for more reading on creating purpose to your employment beyond your current company’s mission.

Be open to learn from both the negative and the positive

I have worked in tough bar situations where I thought I surely must have got the wrong job. In the midst of it though, once I got past being dramatic and hating my life, I realized that there is always something to learn through patience and endurance. What I learned then has helped me today to be better in a job where I feel I am meant to be and that is closer to my vision of who I want to be in the industry. Not every job needs to be a perfect match for it to be the right job for you right now. You may need to be in a situation where you are being challenged in an uncomfortable way. Comfort is the enemy of growth and certainly if we are in charge, we would choose comfort more often than it would be useful for our maturity as professionals. You can learn from the”How not to” just as easily as the “How to” and walk away with a lifelong lesson that will serve you and your career well.

Harness the power of the negative and the positive by looking at each situation as an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.

Note: Please do not sacrifice your personal health, well-being, dignity, or rights for the sake of “Learning a Lesson”. There is a line between hard uncomfortable work and dangerous or abusive. The difference often is clear & systemic indifference or outright malice. In these cases you can still find opportunities for growth and certainly you can learn lessons there…but you should work to leave that situation as soon as possible.

Ask: What can this teach me?

In order to find deep fulfillment in your work and see progress made in your personal vision and goals you need to have a growth/learning mindset. No matter what you do, there is always a benefit to be gleaned. Working the register can be more than simply ringing up sales and moving the line, it can be an exercise in active listening and in memory development. Two things that will serve you well no matter what you do in life. Working as a bar back, you’re in charge of keeping the trash in check, the milk rotated properly, and the bar stocked. It might seem like an inglorious position but it can teach you how to find joy in the mundane as you serve behind the scenes.

The work of making coffee professionally is often made up of anything but making coffee. So why do it? We cannot chase a position where that is all we do, as that job does not really  exist. Hard but necessary things are the foundation of anything worth doing. I like to think that we are not just making coffee, but we are, ourselves, being made by the pursuit of making coffee. You are what you eat, and in professional pursuits we consume experiences that in turn fuel who we become.

Harnessing the power of every experience requires that we approach each day with intentionality and the goal of becoming better by leaning into and finding value in all of the days work rather than trying to cherry pick only the best and most immediately satisfying parts. Set clear vision, goals, and mission. Be open to learn from negative and positive. Ask yourself , “What can I learn from this?” and “How does this help me achieve my personal mission?”

Take the next week and try to approach your work, no matter what happens, as an opportunity to grow and advance in your career and I’ll bet you will be pleased with the results.

Let me know what you do to draw the most from your cafe experiences. Comment below.



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