Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

Issue link: https://baristamagazine.epubxp.com/i/1122001

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THIS ESSAY ASSIGNMENT CATCHES ME at a funny time. A couple weeks ago as of this writing, I was on the finals stage at the U.S. Barista Championship (USBC), a place I truly didn't expect to be at least for another year of competing. As I write this, I have just put in my notice to my job of three-and-a-half years, and I'm taking a step back from the responsibilities it had attached to it to reevaluate what I want from a career in coffee. For someone who based their entire USBC routine on the concept of burnout in our industry, this move seems pretty par for the course. But something that is new for me is how incredibly refreshing and healthy this choice feels. I had my first feelings of burnout last spring. I hit my three-year mark in coffee, and was managing and training, and still working full-time on the bar. In some ways, I felt like I was progressing in my coffee path, but I think I equated progress to a quantitative amount of hours and how exhausted I would feel after. At first, I told myself this was normal and I just had to push through. The café I worked at is high-volume: It's set up so that the person on bar is also the person answering questions and taking orders, which requires them to hit the reset button on interactions over and over all day long. For an introvert like me, it's a lot to ask, and so often those interactions feel inauthentic. One bad interaction can spill into the next one or 10, and as a manager, you also have to realize you're setting the mood for the rest of the team. So often I found myself trying to dig for a sort of happiness that simply wasn't there. Then you factor in being a queer woman, you start to be pretty aware and sensitive to microaggressions—men interrupting you to tell you what they know, or calling you pet names—and I found it wearing on me pretty fast. Months passed and nothing felt better, and I knew it was starting to show in my work performance. Hospitality on bar became a challenge, an emotional taxation that started to spill into my personal life, as well. Life is a constant series of reevaluations of ourselves and our points of view. In April of 2018, I qualified for USBC for the first time after two years of competing. Exactly three years before that, I was waking up in the I.C.U. from an intentional overdose. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life, and by the time I was in college, I was in the darkest place I've ever been. I wasn't working, I was barely going to class, I was in an unhealthy relationship, and I had just come out to my family. I felt like I had very little purpose, and I didn't want to be here anymore. I survived, but I was carrying the weight of a big, "What now?" Not more than two weeks later, I walked into a store that was having a coffee pop-up as a preview to a café that was opening soon. I had always loved coffee. I remember watching the USBC on the live feed in high school without knowing anything about the craft other than I thought it was fascinating. After chatting with the person running the pop-up for a while, they offered me a job. It felt like the first positive step I had taken in a long time, and it gave me purpose. I learned about something I was passionate about, and I gained a community both locally and nationally through it. Coffee changed my life—a cliché concept, I know, but through competing, I gained a network of people who support one another, who acknowledge the shortcomings of our industry and strive to make it better, and who are both professional resources and friends. I don't share this story for pity, but rather because it normalizes experiences like mine and offers an idea of why the concept of burnout hits me so hard, and why I believe that transparency is so important for us in specialty coffee. To feel a loss of passion in something that had saved me before was something I couldn't fully accept. Glitter Cat Barista Bootcamp [an organization founded in 2018 to provide coffee-competition training to people from historically marginalized groups] picked me up at just the right time. It gave me another community of support. Hearing other stories of struggle from my fellow Glitter Cats helped give me a revitalized sense of purpose through competition. I stayed true to my feelings of burnout, and the day the camp ended, I reached out to Ashley Rodriguez of Boss Barista [podcast] about helping me construct a routine surrounding this idea in a way that could lift us up rather than weigh us down. What I found through the construction of this routine through USBC qualifiers and nationals is that my feelings of burnout are certainly not unique, but rather are a common symptom of our industry that so many of us experience yet not many of us talk about. What's more, I was able to tie the concept of burnout to the producer level, as well: Considering the rising average age of producers as well as dwindling C-market prices, it's impossible to think that this idea of lack of motivation to keep going is unique to just baristas; it's something that is happening on all levels of the coffee profession. I have found through creating my USBC routine a revitalized sense of community. I took a risk on a theme that wasn't shiny and nice, but rather, made me feel vulnerable in a way I've never felt before. The reward from this, however, has been a revitalized sense of community in the industry and what turned out to be a pretty successful competition season. I have learned that I'm not alone in these dark feelings, and that my story isn't one that is particularly unique, and that makes it a lot easier to talk about and work through. As I step away from my job that has both given me so much and also has completely worn me down, I feel the burnout less and less every day. Competition season has come to an end, and it feels like a huge weight has been lifted. I don't have any big insights as to what can solve burnout for everyone, because I think it's a personal journey that I myself am still navigating. All I will say is that talking about these things helps. I have learned to trust more people in this industry with my feelings and insecurities, and in return have been met with more compassion and empathy than I have experienced in my entire life. It motivates me to keep persisting in this industry and try to forge a path toward a sustainable coffee career where the burnout can be dealt with and not swept under the rug. ON BURNOUT By Emily Orendorff 83 www.baristamagazine.com

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