Journey Update: To Quit or Not to Quit

Il faut toujours viser la lune, car même en cas d’échec, on atterrit dans les étoiles.

~Oscar Wilde

(Always aim for the moon, then even if you fail, you’ll be among the stars.)

To QUIT:

It’s a simple four-letter word that causes us an insane amount of distress, not to mention, disapproval from our mothers and disappointment from our friends. After some unspecified amount of consideration, we quit schools, we quit jobs, we quit hobbies….. we even quit people! “OMG! You want to leave your xyz!?!,” says everyone. Indeed, it can be quite a dramatic event when we decide to quit something. Yet despite our guilty conscious, we’re not likely to pass up on a well-deserved quit.  Don’t like your job? Not happy in your relationship? No problem. Toss that stress from your life and just quit!

I’ll admit it! I’m a quitter. In fact, I’ve quit things so often that it’s become kind of a past time of mine. As soon as something requires too much of my time or energy… *BOOM! “Peace out, mothaf*ckas”! To put things in perspective, I put together a list of my six biggest quits to date and why I thought it was a great idea at the time:

  • High-school chemistry class (culprit: too difficult) *sidenote: at the time, I wanted to be a sports doctor and chem is a must-have to get into medical school, so I definitely had a major meltdown after this quit.
  • Playing clarinet (culprit: stage fright) *sidenote: my grade 9 teacher made us perform solo in front of the entire class for the final exam, which is basically a death sentence for an introverted-omg-my-hands-were-shaking-too-much-to-play-properly-despite-having-practiced-a-million-times-beforehand teenager.
  • Teaching English in Japan (culprit: lack of inspiration) *sidenote: there’s only so many times I could hear “See youuuuu” and “gween flog” from students before I started to question my impact as a teacher. o.O
  • Running/Swimming/Cycling daily (culprit: exhaustion) *sidenote: I’ve always liked the idea of doing a triathlon, but it requires a lot of energy and dedication.
  • Living at my parents’ house (culprit: not enough independence) *sidenote: independently owned and operated since 2009, baby!
  • Numerous romantic relationships (culprit: all of the above… lol) *major sidenote: boys are weird and stupid. Duh.

Gosh! Now that I think about it, I’ve even quit this blog. Yup, a year has definitely passed since my last post. Oops! But I will tell you the ‘why’ soon enough.

Just to recap for new readers, after I quit teaching English and left Japan in August 2015, I set out on a new adventure: to learn about the world of coffee, become the queen of baristas, and to eventually open my very own café; a café, which would offer nostalgia to my fellow traveling souls. Simple enough, right? Well… a year of wild globetrotting and hectic job searching passed by in a blink of an eye (spent 4 months traveling solo around Western Europe, spent 2 months back in Canada, spent 4 months living in France, spent 1 month training at a cafe in Rome, and spent 1 month with my host family in Germany), and soon it was September 2016.

Just before I was ready to call it quits and return to Canada, I finally scored my first official job in the café industry with the French franchise: Columbus Café, who, at the time, were opening a brand new location at Marché Rungis: the world’s largest wholesale market, located in the southern suburbs of Paris. Needless to say, since I signed my life over to Columbus Café, life got crazy and I honestly couldn’t find the time to write. Now, it’s September 2017: two years since I parted from Japan and a year since I arrived at Columbus Café at Marché Rungis. My one year French visa has expired and I’ve since returned to my old Canadian stomping grounds. Life has calmed down a little and I now have a little time to reflect on my first year working in the coffee industry. So, what has been happening since September 2016?

To say the least, I wanted to quit every day. E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y. Because as much as working in France as a barista in a brand new café was my dream, it was also a nightmare, and here’s why:

The Nightmare:

  • My boss: was, at times, very difficult to work with. You might have heard of the stereotype that the French are horribly cheeky, cynical, and a little haughty. Picture the flamboyant chef from The Little Mermaid. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but as much as we hate to admit it, in some cases stereotypes are hidden under a blanket of truth, and my boss was no exception to this rule. Firstly, call it cultural differences if you must, but he thought it was perfectly normal to make jokes about my appearance. If I munched on a cookie during my break, he’d chuckle and nonchalantly tell me to be careful of not becoming fat or else our customers would stop coming to our café. He said it was just french sarcasm after I called him out on his obnoxious behaviour, but still WTF! To me, he totally overstepped our employee-employer boundaries. Secondly, as for his pessimistic tendencies, he would refuse to acknowledge even our smallest of victories; for example, one time I told him we raked in our highest revenue to date and another time I told him we sold out of our signature ice teas (which are a huge deal for new businesses), but he dismissed them with a “It’s nothing! We can do better.” I realize that keeping a business alive is astoundingly stressful and of course there is always room for improvement, but you’ve got to have at least a sliver of positivism, or else you’re going to drown under these preconceived notions of failure. Lastly and above all, the hardest part of working alongside him was the shame in seeing euro signs embezzle his sight. Because of his fixation of being financially successful, he slowly lost his love for making good coffee and became blind to its beauty of bringing people together. His obsession became so intoxicating that he would keep tabs on nearby restaurants and would throw literal tantrums if he thought they were having more success than his cafe. At the end of the day, business is business; but when one’s mental stability is solely dependent upon doling out sarcastic quips to your employees, strangling the sunshine out of the workplace environment, and counting the amount of dolla bills coming in, one’s mood will inadvertently fluctuate like a middle-aged woman going through menopause, which inevitably makes you a pain in the arse to work with.

 

  • My customers: were, at times, very critical. They were my ever-vigilant audience, and I their dancing marionette. With all honesty, it was as if my every move was on display purely for their amusement. Undoubtedly, this ongoing spectacle created an unhealthy cycle of stress, anxiety, and insecurity in myself, which then inevitably effected my work efficiency. If I changed anything about my appearance or if I looked tired or unhappy (heaven forbid), some of my customers would draw attention to it. Consequently, I couldn’t dress as I normally would and I dared not show my true emotions or state of being. Basically, I couldn’t be myself. So every hour on the hour, I felt the need to check and re-check and double check my clothes, my makeup, and my smile, aiming for that delicate balance between sweet and alluring. In the end, I found it very emotionally taxing having to market myself all the time in order to sell a cup of coffee. “Dance, barista, dance.”

 

  • My experience: didn’t always live up to my expectations. Before I landed my first barista job, my mind swam with dreams of me laboring in hipster-perfect cafes, alongside eager-hardworking coworkers, while making Instagram-worthy lattes, for my pleasant-considerate clientele. In reality, I worked at a café where coffee goes to die! Columbus Café is basically the “Starbucks of France”. Neither the baristas nor the customers cared how good the coffee tasted, as long as it was served instantaneously upon ordering. So, there was no time or reason to add those pretty hearts and delicate flowers on top of our lattes. Sadly, there was also no time to explain the difference between brewing methods or the difference between coffee beans, and frankly, no one cared. As for my coworkers, I personally watched no less than 10 recently-hired girls up and quit since the café’s inauguration (Nov 2016). I don’t blame them. Working as a barista can be monotonous as hell and the pay is abysmal. If you’ve ever worked in the food industry, you’ll know that we spend more of our time cleaning floors and scrubbing toilets than creating anything earth-shattering. We work afoot for more than 40 hours a week and come home with a paycheck that barely covers the rent. It’s a little disheartening. And then to top it all off, you have to deal with the ridiculous requests and expectations of customers. “Can I have the cheese sandwich without the cheese?” “I would like an iced coffee with an ice-cube… just one!” “Oh, are you closing in 5 minutes!?! Ok, I’ll order a full meal with an appetizer,  a dessert, and a triple shot mocha with whipped cream… for here!” Sometimes, you have to laugh to stop yourself from crying.
FullSizeRender
The menu of Columbus Cafe Rungis

Of course, it wasn’t all horrible bosses, half-ass coworkers, and ridiculous customers.

The Rainbows & Unicorns:

  • My boss: despite his horribleness, relied on me to keep the café running even when he wasn’t around, and after 4 months of hardwork, I was promoted to assistant manager. From taking inventory to balancing the cash register, my boss took the time to teach me almost everything about owning a café. Another awesome thing about my boss, when I first arrived in France, it took 6 months of job searching and countless rejections before I was offered the job at Columbus. While other café owners were afraid to hire a foreigner and debutante barista, my boss gave me a chance.
IMG_5517
My horrible yet awesome boss
  • My customers: despite their ridiculousness, taught me about true French culture, and I don’t mean haute culture and hors d’oeuvres. The French, like most Europeans, are quite social, and in fact, they look for any opportunity to gather amongst themselves. While working the morning shift, I witnessed their longing for community come to fruition. Everyday without fail, the French workers would come to our cafe with one or two colleagues for a coffee and a chat. They would talk about their families, last night’s game, and the latest political fiasco. This interaction would last only 10 or 15 minutes, but nevertheless, they always took a moment to connect with each other before being engulfed with the stresses of the day ahead. Despite their negative stereotypes, there’s a real sense of community among the French, and within this shared connectivity is where I believe the fantasized ‘happiness’ truly exists.
IMG_6265
Because dessert and coffee are better shared
  • My experience: despite its disappointments, was nothing short of extraordinary. In essence, it was a culmination of “lessons learned the hard way” because it’s one thing to learn a theory at school, but it’s an entirely different matter experiencing that same theory in the real world. For the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of jumping head first into the revolutionizing world of coffee. At first, it was smooth sailing: I did some studying and acquired a barista certificate from the Canadian Barista and Coffee Academy in Toronto and then moved to France and did some additional latte art training from the legendary Café Lomi in Paris, Then, the fun began! After scouring the Parisian coffee scene, my friend and former Couchsurfing host set-up a 1-month internship at Caffe Ficini in Rome, where I received my first ever behind-the-counter experience. And shortly afterwards, I was hired as a barista at Columbus Café Rungis, and was later promoted to assistant manager after 4-months of very early mornings, all the while managing my café inspired blog and social media empire: Kaeru Domicile. Now with millions of espressos pulled, thousands of lattes poured, and hundreds of pages written, I’m left to ponder how incredible and once-in-a-lifetime these experiences actually were. I mean… I was on a billboard at one point!
IMG_5669
Me hanging out on a billboard in the south of Paris (Marché International Rungis)

Quicker than I thought, my roller-coasting time in France has come to an end; two years of nightmares, rainbows, and unicorns. And now I’m left with the question: do I delve deeper into the café world in hopes of realizing my 生き甲斐 (purpose) or do I QUIT? I know what mon amour would say, “TOUJOUR PLUS – ALWAYS MORE!”

FullSizeRender (5)
France Barista Championships 2017 in Lyon

Quitting will never subtract experiences from your life. This accumulation of skills and knowledge will always be a part of you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s