A Lesson in Professionalism: Know Yourself (or try to) and Your Boss (Google them)
Amethyst turned 3 on February 18th 2018. I had wanted, and part of me still wants, to write some sort of round up of what the last year has been like, but every time I sit down to do just that I get stuck. I think I'm better at breaking things down into specifics and being able to go into detail about each thing, which is what ultimately led me to realize what I really wanted this post to be about: knowing yourself. Or at least trying to.
I'll fast forward through this first part because I know I've said it before, but opening a business cracks ya wide open. It's harder to hide from the parts of yourself that don't thrill you, harder to balance your emotional/physical/mental health, and it requires you to not only sort out your priorities but then make decisions based on said priorities that affect other people's lives (other people who don't love you unconditionally and who haven't explicitly committed to being in a supportive emotional relationship with you). Oof.
Based on a handful of moments from the last 3 years, it's been pretty glaringly obvious the things I need to work on as a person, and the things that I need to be more honest with myself about. That doesn't mean that they're easy to fix, they're just glaringly obvious. I'm an honest, true, genuine, real-life introvert and I have defense mechanisms at every turn. I'll give you literally all of myself, but push my meticulously crafted boundaries too far and I will lose my shit. I've let a handful of bulls into my carefully curated emotional china shop and it has rattled me to my very core.
Anyway, all of this self-reflection led to another thought.
I meet a lot of people who want to work in specialty coffee in Denver and end up disheartened or let down by one company or another. I've definitely let people down because of my inability to communicate what Amethyst is like. I try to sell it too hard, or I don't sell it enough:
'It's a great place to work. We have a great team, we have fun, we all work a lot, we joke around, and we're pretty tight, but not too tight, ya know? Like, we hang out outside of work, but not all the time. But we could if we wanted to probably. But also it's just a barista job. Like, you'll be on your feet all day, people will be mean to you, but you can totally stand up for yourself when people are mean to you. But, like, don't be mean to them, just stand up for yourself, you know? Find the balance. It's all a balancing act. But it's fun. And it's better than other balancing acts, because we do cool stuff, too. Like drink wine. And do palate development stuff. And meet on Sundays. And sometimes travel, but only sometimes. And I make my schedule quarterly so you always know when you're working. And you can have all of the time off that you want as long as you tell me in advance or get it covered. And I'm going to pay you the realest money I can, but also I'll expect a lot from you. This isn't a barista job for the part-time-trying-to-get-their-music-career-off-the-ground barista, but being that barista is totally fine! (cough self drag cough) This just isn't the place for that, but there's definitely places out there for that and they are also great. I have stupidly high standards that sometimes I don't communicate very well. I need a lot of emotional intelligence from you, but I also want you to be able to just go to work, kick-ass at your job, and then go home and not think about it, but don't not think about it so much that you don't think about the stuff that you should think about, ya know? Like, you should think about your job when you go home but not too much so that it becomes overwhelming and all-consuming, but sometimes there will be hard moments that you should think about later so you can be better next time, but don't dwell on those moments because that's not healthy and I don't want you to do that so probably don't do that. But do it enough, ya know? And also tell me about it. Tell me about all of the things, but not all of the things. Like, if the steam wand is weird call Winn. Or if the tea order didn't show up, text the group text. Like, think about stuff. Oh, and also coffee. We all, like, really care about coffee. Does that make sense?'
By this point everyone's eyes have glazed over and they stopped listening to me 3 run-on sentences ago. Obviously I have some work to do on the 'job description' section of our employee handbook. But, really, how do you not undersell or oversell a job when it means so much to you? If I were a barista I would want to work at Amethyst, but that's obvious because I'd work for me and I'd agree with all of my own ideas. The only thing I can offer is a barista job, but I promise it's a really great barista job. But also it's just a barista job, and I don't have very many of them to fill so finding the right person is like finding a needle in a haystack.
So, as a barista/coffee professional in this specialty coffee climate and world, how do you find a job that's right for you? I can't speak to anything besides barista/cafe jobs because that's all I know, so I'll do that. The first step that I don't see very many people taking is this: if you want to work for a small coffee business, know your boss, or at least do some research before you apply. Ask around the community and find a company who shares your values. Google the owner, see what you find. Google the shop, see what you find. Shamelessly stalk them on social media, see what you find. I can guaran-damn-tee I'm gonna do that to you if you apply for a job at Amethyst. I would never fault one of my baristas for leaving Amethyst if they found a company that was more suited to their values and career goals. I would be sad, for sure, but I wouldn't fault them for it.
There's an obvious flaw with this process, which is that this is a luxurious/privileged way to look for a job. I don't know exactly how to get around that, but I don't meant that you have to do all of this while unemployed. I also don't mean that if you're working for a company that isn't ultimately where you want to be that you're doing it wrong. I mean to make it sound empowering. As someone who has been hiring baristas for 5 years, it's hard to see that as a barista the choice about working for a company can be just as much yours as it is theirs. You have more power than you think, and you are certainly more worthy of fair treatment and employment than baristas tend to think. The right work environment will foster your creativity, your desire to learn, your right to work in a place where you feel respected, seen, and cared for. That all comes with another side, which is that you will need to be willing to put in the work and the time, to not always ask for labor from your coworkers but learn to be self motivated and bring specific questions, not just 'I want to learn more about coffee. Can you help me?'. Of course, but what do you want to learn? Extraction theory? Varietals? Roasting? Brew methods? Processing? Storing? There's any number of facets of coffee and taking the professional route is nailing down what you want to know, through conversation or your own research, and approaching people with specific questions.
There's another problem with this process, and that is that sometimes there's no way of knowing what you're getting yourself into because what happens when everything makes sense on paper? Ideals align, things seem right, but then they aren't? There's still a disconnect somewhere and it's all coming apart at the seams and no matter how hard someone tries it just isn't possible. It's just 'not a good fit'. What happens when that horrible corporate phrase is real? What happens when you both thought you were on the same page and then all of a sudden you aren't even reading the same book?
A barista loses their job, that's what happens.
And that sucks.
Someone asked me once 'Elle, what could an employee do if they feel like their boss is checking out?' (I'm also just realizing that I promised to respond to that question via email and never did)
In my book, just start doing stuff. Don't wait for the direction or the exact request. If you work for a small business your boss is wearing all the hats, and, let's be honest, you know what has to be done. If you bring a small problem to your boss here is what they will do:
Think about it.
Come up with a solution.
Hint: That is also what you should do. Your boss is a person, you are a person. If you do something your boss doesn't like, talk about it. I've been that employee and I've certainly sat through some pretty horrible talking-to's, but ultimately I still feel like I made the right calls. It just turned out that working relationship wasn't working. In those moments, I was the problem because ideals didn't align and I messed up. I also left those jobs, some voluntarily, some not.
The last, and hardest, part of this is that sometimes things will sound really good, but they aren't what you want, but you can't admit that to yourself. If you're like me you will lie to yourself and tell yourself that you will figure out how to make it work when it was always doomed, but since I'm the boss that will also cause me to lie to someone else, even if I'm trying really hard to believe that lie. For example, Amethyst is a place for career baristas. Plain and simple. That doesn't mean you can't change your mind, but while you're at Amethyst you had better be there in a mind/body/spirit kind of way. I know that sounds unreasonable. I read what I wrote, too, but it's true. This is me admitting that it's true.
I don't know what else to say, but to wrap it all up I think baristas should pay a bit more attention to the personal side of working for a small coffee company. I think it would make things easier for both parties in a lot of situations, but I could be wrong. I've definitely been wrong before.
**I wish this photo would come up when someone googled me.