If you had told me that I’d spend a few months, on the run in to my thirties, working as a barista I’d have told you that you are mad. Then I’d have panicked at the prospect. But I did. And it was great.
You’re told that by the time you’re 30 you are supposed to have your shit together and be well on your way to blazing a trail within a career. Especially if you hold a degree. Brainwashed to believe that success is defined by moving up the ladder.
Before I moved to the UK I had a good job, earning decent money but it was a position that drained me and left me frustrated and uninspired. Then I worked for myself for a while and it was great. The freelance life was wonderful and fitted in well with our plans at the time. There was also more money involved which gave us the freedom to save and plan ahead.
On this basis I started applying for a number of roles as I prepared to leave. I got nowhere. the skills and experience I had meant nothing. I was just a guy from South Africa. Then one day I decided to get on a plane and go.
When I arrived in the UK I spent a few weeks working as a stable hand, applying for loads of roles in the meantime. Shovelling shit in the middle of winter was far removed to what I was used to. But I hung out with horses in the mornings and it was great.
Then reality dictated that I needed to be earning a bit more money. Running out of time, and options, I saw an Instagram post from a restaurant looking for bar tenders and other staff. So I applied. With zero experience.
I was interviewed by someone way younger than me. When they asked why I wanted to be a barista my answer was a straightforward one. “Well, I like coffee,” I said. A trial shift followed and after successfully negotiating a busy Friday night that involved a never-ending blur of mixing Aperol Spritz cocktails I had the job. Being in the UK by myself meant that I threw myself into work. Weeks working upwards of 45 hours were not uncommon.
Why was it a good job while I did it?
I could switch on and off. I needed to concentrate during shift. That was it. Once I got to work and in front of the coffee machine I knew that for the next eight to 11 hours I had work to do. Once the shift ended, that was it. I got to switch off. No work to take home. No stress. No late night emails or phone calls to keep the brain busy while trying to chill out or watch TV.
I had to interact with people. Having to face all sorts of people on a day meant that I had to get comfortable making small talk, never one of my strong suits, and actually spend time talking to people and coming out of my shell. I was someone who used to be very quiet when first meeting people. In this role I didn’t have a choice.
I made friends. Moving to a new country, leaving wife and family behind, is tough enough. This job meant that I was always around people and quickly made friends. It made it a helluva lot easier.
It also helped me network. Crucial for furthering ambitions and it proved to be the case. Every single day I encountered possible leads and those faces became familiar ones. That then resulted in a move to my current role. As fate would have it, I didn’t even have any real plans to leave the space behind the bar, it kind of all just fell into place. As it was meant to.
I had fun. That was a big thing for me. I always knew that no matter what happened in a particular service I would be having fun doing it. There were days where that fun was smashing through a full lineup of checks as they backed up and then the sense of accomplishment when it all died down. I thrive under pressure so it was a real kick. Similar to my days as a journalist trying to make deadlines.
It was fun to learn the different cocktails and then to mix them up. A mixologist I was not. But I had fun trying. Even on days when things were slow there was fun to be had. There was banter with the other staff on the floor and chirps for the chefs in the kitchen. I enjoyed it and got paid doing it. Never a bad thing.