A few years ago, I got a job working part-time at Starbucks, for the same reason as approximately 75 percent of coffee shop employees: to augment my writing income. The ‘Bux I worked at was a drive-thru store out in the suburbs, and although I’m still trying to figure out whether or not it was a positive experience (sometimes I really miss making perfectly layered caramel macchiatos, other times I’m plagued by nightmares about the espresso machine breaking during the 8 a.m. rush), it was definitely a difficult, fascinating, and educational one. Here are seven life lessons I learned while wearing the famous green apron…
1. You can’t judge a book by its cover. I will never forget the day I met a customer named Chris, who shuffled in wearing stained cargo pants and cracked aviator sunglasses. Judging by his outfit and body language, I assumed he was homeless or mentally challenged. We started talking while I made him an iced tea, and I found out he worked at a hightech company down the road and was actually kind of a genius. Every afternoon after that, he would come in and we’d discuss time travel or the Human Genome Project. I learned a ton from him.
2. Everyone is fighting a battle. As I got to know my coworkers, I was stunned to find out some of the things they were going through: messy divorces, money troubles, serious illness in the family. These amazing people whom I’d sometimes find crying in the backroom were always the ones with the biggest smiles greeting customers and kindly offering to remake drinks if they weren’t absolutely perfect. Please remember that when you step up to the counter at Starbucks, or anywhere for that matter.
3. “Morning people” might be aliens. Nine out of 10 customers who came in before 9 a.m. were of the groggy, bleary-eyed, slightly cranky variety. You know, normal. But those 10th customers? The morning people? Oh sweet mercy, they’d come bounding in the front door at 5 a.m. with energy normally reserved for Disney Channel stars and meth addicts. To be honest, I was always a little suspicious of those people. I mean, they could totally take over the planet at a quarter to 7 and very few of us would notice.
4. Stressful situations create the strongest bonds. Walking off the floor after a busy opening shift feels a lot like coming home from a battle. There were times I’d clock out and fall to my knees to thank the sweet lord that I’d made it through alive. Between the boiling milk, the beeping timers, and the endless caffeine addicts demanding their fix, this job is seriously stressful, and you learn quickly that you can’t succeed by yourself. The connections I made with my Starbucks coworkers were forged in the fires of stress, panic, and eggnog burns; I know they’ll last a lifetime.
5. Some people are assholes. There are people in this world who find their joy in ruining other people’s days, and they will do whatever they can to cut you down and make you feel like shit. A lot of these people happen to be Starbucks regulars. My time as a barista taught me that the best way to deal with these people is to nod politely, remember that their issues have nothing to do with you, and then serve them decaf.
6. Most people just want to be heard. The vast majority of people who might seem to fall into the “asshole” category don’t actually want to ruin your day, they just need to feel heard. Many times if you listen to someone’s problem, reflect it back to them, and offer to help find a solution, they transform from cranky curmudgeon into cuddly lamb.
7. As long as we’re laughing, we’ll be fine. This saccharine sentiment started as a joke between my friend Kyle and me to deal with mean customers and mocha syrup explosions, and quickly became our general life motto. Because really, no matter what you’re going through, as long as you can find a way to laugh, you’ll be just fine.
[Photo by Marcopako]