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.)

QUIT:

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

I’ll admit it! I’m a quitter. In fact, I’ve quit so often that it’s become kind of a past time of mine. As soon as something requires too much time or energy… *BOOM! “Peace out, mothaf*ckas” for example, I put together six memorable times I’ve quit something (or someone) and why I thought it was a great idea at the time:

  • High-school chemistry class (culprit: too difficult) *definitely had a major meltdown after this quit because at the time I wanted to become a sports doctor (I know, weird, right) and chem is a must-have.
  • Playing clarinet (culprit: stage fright) *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-hours-beforehand-and-I’m-getting-anxiety-just-thinking-about-this teenager.
  • Teaching English in Japan (culprit: lack of inspiration) *there’s only so many times I can hear “see youuuuu” from students before I start to question my impact as a teacher. Haha… silly kids! o.O
  • Running/Swimming/Cycling daily (culprit: exhaustion) *I’ve always liked the idea of doing a triathlon. It’s definitely doable… it’s just so exhausting to train for. *newsflash*
  • Living at my parents’ house (culprit: not enough independence) *independently owned and operated since 2009, baby!
  • Numerous romantic relationships (culprit: all of the above… lol) *boys are weird and stupid. Duh.

Gosh! Now that I think about it, I’ve even quit this blog… it’s definitely been a year since my last post. Oops! Although, there’s nothing like a really good quit! It’s such a relief to let something (or someone) go after an intense internal struggle, and in return, focus on something/one new. I mean why continue putting your precious time and effort into something/one that starves you of energy and happiness!?! Seriously, what’s the point? If whatever you are pursuing doesn’t bring you satisfaction nor contentment, why struggle for it? Quit.

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 with the aim of helping my fellow traveling souls. Simple enough, right? Hahaha, too bad that having dreams are a b*tch.

A year of wild globetrotting and hectic job searching passed by, and soon it was November 2016. After countless rejections, I finally scored a job at the French franchise: Columbus Café, finished a one-month training program in Reims, and started at the brand new café at the Marché Rungis in the suburbs of Paris. Life got crazy and I honestly couldn’t find the time to write since then. So, what has been happening?

Now it’s September 2017: two years since I parted from Japan and a year since I arrived at Columbus Café Rungis. I’ve returned to my old Canadian stomping grounds and have a little time to reflect on life in the coffee industry. To tell you the truth, I wanted to quit every day. E.V.E.R.Y.D.A.Y. Because working in France as a barista in a newly opened café is both a dream and 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 haughty. Picture the flamboyant chef from The Little Mermaid. Obviously, this is an exaggeration, but as much as we hate to admit it some stereotypes are hidden under a blanket of truth and my boss was no exception to this stereotype français. Call it cultural differences if you must, but he thought it was perfectly normal to make jokes about my weight. If I munched on a cookie during my break, he’d chuckle and nonchalantly tell me to be careful of becoming fat because then our customers will stop coming to our café. He said it was just sarcasm after I called him out on his obnoxious humor, but still WTF, he totally overstepped our employee-employer boundaries. As for his pessimistic tendencies, he would refuse to acknowledge even our small victories; for example, one time I told him we raked in our highest revenue to date (which is a huge deal for a new business), another time I told him we sold out of our signature ice-teas, but he dismissed them with a “It’s nothing. We can do better.” I realize that keeping a business alive is astoundingly stressful, but you’ve got to have at least a sliver of optimism and positivity, or else you’re going to drown under the pressure and never feel content with your accomplishments. Above all, the hardest part of working alongside him was the shame in watching dollar signs gradually embezzle his sight. Because of his fixated concern of being financially successful, he slowly lost his love for the coffee world, shut out the joy being part of this world created, and became blind to its beauty of bringing people together. His obsession became so prominent that he kept tabs on the surrounding restaurants and would throw tantrums if he perceived them to be more successful than his cafe. Of course business is business, but when one’s happiness is fully dependent upon the amount of revenue coming in, one’s mood will inadvertently fluctuate like a middle-aged woman going through menopause.

 

  • My customers: could be critical at times. They were my ever-vigilant audience, and I their dancing marionette. Honestly, it was as if my every move was on display purely for their amusement, which undoubtedly, created an unhealthy cycle of stress, anxiety, and insecurity, which then, effected my work efficiency. Things got messy! If I changed anything about my appearance or if I looked tired or unhappy (heaven forbid), some of my customers would make a stupid comment about it. I couldn’t dress as I normally would and I dare not show my true emotions. Basically, I couldn’t be myself. So every hour on the hour, I felt the need to check and re-check my clothes, my makeup, and my smile, aiming for that delicate balance between sweet and sexy. In the end, it was rather emotionally taxing having to market myself all the time. “Dance, barista, dance.”

 

  • My experience: hadn’t always lived up to my expectations. Before I landed my first barista job, my mind swam with images of 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 ‘n tasty the coffee was, 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. There was no time to explain the difference between brewing methods or the difference between coffee beans. “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” and frankly, no one cared. As for my coworkers, I personally watched 10 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 our 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 meal with a dessert and a coffee… for here.” Sometimes you have to laugh to stop yourself from crying.

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Of course, it wasn’t all horrible bosses 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 within 4 months, 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. When I first arrived in France, it took 6 months of job searching and countless rejections before I was offered this job. While other café owners were afraid to hire a foreigner, my boss gave me a chance.

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  • 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 together and talk. Working the morning shift, I witnessed their longing for community come to fruition. Every morning without fail, people come together with one or two colleagues for a coffee. They talk about their families, last night’s game, and the latest political fiasco. It lasts only 10 or 15 minutes, but nevertheless they take a moment to connect with each other before they’re engulfed with the stress of work. There’s a real sense of community among the French, and within this connectivity is where the fantasized happiness truly exists.

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  • My experience: despite its disappointments, was a culmination of lessons learned, and were nothing short of extraordinary. It’s one thing to learn a theory at school, it’s an entirely different matter experiencing that same theory in the real world. For the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of jumping head first into the revolutionized world of coffee. At first, I acquired a barista certificate from the Canadian Barista and Coffee Academy in Toronto and then additional latte art training from Café Lomi in Paris, Next I was also fortunate to pass a 1-month internship at Caffe Ficini in Rome, where I received my first ever behind-the-counter experience. And finally, I was hired as a barista at Columbus Café in the Marche International Rungis, and was quickly promoted to assistant manager after 4-months of very early mornings and hard work, 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. lol

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Quicker than I thought, my roller-coasting time in France has come to an end; a year and a half 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!”

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

What’s in a Name? Living Life Without Labels

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
~William Shakespeare

PART ONE: WHAT’S IN A LABEL?

Take a look at this picture.

What comes to mind?

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credit to Ben Hoffman

Like me, you probably came up with a bunch of labels for him (e.g., man, young, Caucasian, dark blonde, attractive, punk/alternative, etc.). We put him in a little box, slap on the appropriate labels, and tie it with a nice little ribbon. Done.

We. Love. Labels.

Yes, the fashion kind, and also the people kind.

It goes without saying that labels make life so much easier.

Of course, some labels are necessary for our survival. For example, “My brain has recognized this piece of sushi as food, which will nourish my body so, I shall eat it” or “my brain has determined that the approaching object is a car, which can injure me so, I shall not cross the street at this moment.” But for the purpose of this article, I will only discuss labels that we associate with people.

Of course, people labels have a purpose.

They give us identity:

  • I am a vegetarian.
  • You are a Catholic.
  • He is a homeless person.
  • We are Canadian.

They tell us how to (and how not to) behave:

  • Vegetarians never eat meat.
  • Christians always go to church.
  • Homeless people will happily accept any donations.
  • Canadians are always polite.

Labels help us to comprehend complex concepts by simplifying them into easy-to-follow check boxes of attributes, and subsequently, depositing them into an appropriate mental category (e.g., vegetarian, Catholic, feminist, Canadian, etc.). Ergo, we can efficiently and effectively make decisions about any external stimuli (i.e., people) according to how many check-boxes it crosses off and which label we’ve subsequently thrust on it.

Easy-peasy-nice-and-easy.

 

PART TWO: JUDGEMENT PASSED

Within a split second, we observe the behaviour and physical features displayed by the person in question, and then, we assess when they deserve (or don’t deserve) a particular label. Of course, being our own worse critics, we use the same method to judge our own inclusion to a group. In return, people labels dictate how we think of, feel about, and behave towards others.

Don’t believe me? How would you react to the following people?

  • Even though I identify as vegetarian, I ate some chicken.
  • Even though you identify as Christian, you don’t attend church.
  • Even though he identifies as homeless, he rejected your donation.
  • Even though we identify as true blooded Canadian, we can’t stand the cold.

In the above cases, we would probably judge them as hypocrites, undeserving of their labels. Most of us would just laugh off these situations, but some of us might even act a ittle negatively towards them. I know because I’ve experienced all of them.

But…

What if I told you that…

  • the vegetarian ate the chicken because their friend, with their limited funds and unknowing of the friend’s dietary preferences, prepared a meal for them in honor of their newly formed friendship?
  • the Christian feels unwelcomed when they attend church because their beliefs don’t seamlessly coincide with the beliefs of the congregation?
  • the homeless person didn’t accept the food because they have an allergy to an ingredient in the food offering?
  • the Canadian has a physical condition that makes it difficult to regulate their internal body temperature?

Without even realizing it, people labels have influenced our perception of self (thought), limited our empathy (emotions), and allowed us to excuse our and other’s douchebaggery (behaviour). Herein lies the problem of using a simple method of categorizing on more complex situations.

 

PART THREE: OBSESSED WITH PUNISHMENT

We also LOVE to punish people for their labels. We point our fingers and do the victim dance, “He did it! He did it! He did it! PUNISH HIIIIIIIIM”

Recently, social media has been inundated with labels, used to condition the public’s reaction (i.e., the Stanford rape and the Orlando massacre).

  • Stanford all-star male swimmer raped unconscious girl
  • Islamic sympathizer assassinated LGBT party-goers

Like trained seals, the internet ate up these labels and went wild; some cheered their behavior while others condemned it. But most of these judgements were based solely on the labels associated with the culprits.

For Turner: He’s a young, celebrated Stanford swimmer

Against T: Great! Another white male overstepping the system.

For Omar: Damn those homos! They deserved it.

Against O: He’s a homophobic, ISIS sympathizer. Nuff said.

However, T & O’s only crime was getting caught in the label war. What about all the other acts of hatred that go unpunished? What about seeing people as simply people? We’ve become so preoccupied with dancing the victim dance and dealing out just consequences that we’ve forgotten to step back and apply some empathy.

 

PART FOUR: WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH EMPATHY

What is empathy? Check out this video [here] if you’re unsure.

Empathy requires a conscious intention to:

  1. Take another’s perspective
  2. Stay out of judgement
  3. Recognize their emotions
  4. Communicate your recognition

We refuse to empathise with T & O because we’re afraid it will come across as accepting their behavior and devaluing the victims. I think we are confusing sympathy and empathy. Please note that expressing empathy does not in any way excuse people from the consequences of their behaviour. After all, we live in a civilized society: you do the crime, you pay the time. As well, it does not shift empathy away from the victims. I, like most of us, spent days crying, reflecting, and empathizing for the victims of Stanford and Pulse. Some of us have even been in similar situations.

Empathy is simply a method of thinking, separate from emotions & behavior. T & O did not exhibit any empathy before, during, or after their crime, but why?

When you choose to elicit empathy, you put your own emotions, judgements, and agendas on hold and consider the situation from all possible perspectives. When you practice this thought process more and more, you’ll become a bit more objective, and a little less punishment obsessed. Perhaps you will even discover the underlying reason that the unwanted behavior occurred in the first place.

Let’s practice!

Turner:

  • He lives in a society that coddles young, white males
  • 20-year olds think they are invincible
  • Media is saturated with oversexualized, submissive images of women
  • Sexual consent is not taken seriously
  • The victim should be able to drink in a safe, respected place without fear of being taken advantage of
  • He believed that his own enjoyment was more important than showing compassion
  • His sentence was considered unfair, yet thousands of marginalized youth are disproportionally incarcerated by this “fair” justice system
  • We want his sentence to be longer, but that’s like putting a band-aid on a stab wound; it won’t put a stop to ALL future occurrences of sexual assault
  • He’s insecure and was taught by society to find one’s value in external sources and prove that value to the world

Omar:

  • He was a closeted homosexual
  • His father has publically admitted homophobic views
  • Homophobia is a real issue
  • The victims should be able to socialize in a safe, respected place without fear of being taken advantage of
  • He believed that his own opinions were more important than showing compassion
  • Americans can purchase and wield a weapon without a licence, training or background check, yet cars (road weapons) are a different story
  • The common factor in all socially unstable individuals is a lack of emotional support
  • Males are encouraged to express aggressiveness and repress their emotions
  • He’s insecure and was taught by society to find one’s value in external sources and prove that value to the world

As much as we want to believe we are the innocent victims with the rightful culprit in handcuffs, we’re forgetting who created the environment for these crimes to happen. We are in fact the culprit, too. Shouldn’t we dole out punishment to ourselves? We created this label war; this method of appraising each other’s value; this system of intolerance, superiority, disconnection, anti-socialism; this unspoken doctrine that says “My views are more important than yours”. And then, we act so damn surprised when someone plays along and forcibly act out their opinions.

Imagine if T & O had one person to turn to about their insecurities and that one person simply reached out to them and said, “I’m glad you talked with me. I know how you’re feeling. You might feel like you’re not enough, but you ARE enough. You are valued for being you.”

“Love with your whole heart even if there is no guarantee. Practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror. Believe that you are enough because then, you will stop screaming and start listening. Once we believe that we’ll be kinder and gentler to those around us and to ourselves.”

~Brene Brown

 

PART FIVE: LIVING LABELLESS

Now.

Consider people for the sole fact that they are people, and look at what happens when you take away their labels.

  • The vegetarian [The person] ate the chicken because their friend, with their limited funds and unknowing of the friend’s dietary preferences, prepared a meal for them in honor of their newly formed friendship
  • The Christian [The person] feels unwelcomed when they attend church because their beliefs don’t seamlessly coincide with the beliefs of the congregation.
  • The homeless person didn’t accept the food because they have an allergy to an ingredient in the food offering.
  • The Canadian [The person] has a physical condition that makes it difficult to regulate their internal body temperature.
  • The Stanford all-star male swimmer [The person] raped unconscious girl [another person].
  • Islamic sympathizer & closeted gay man [The person] assassinated LGBT party-goers [other people].

Look beyond the labels. Search for the person of value within; a person worthy of empathy; a person responsible for the effects of their behaviour.

From now on, when people ask, “Are you x, y, or z?” I will say “No, I am labelless, and still a valuable member of the human race, deserving of your empathy, and unexcused for my own douchebaggery.”

It’s as simple as that.

帰る [kaeru] Domicile Café welcomes the labelless.