Disclaimer: I’ve never cried at work because of work. But I have cried at work because of life. I think that is actually what makes this so good, because it gives a glimpse of how amazing our coffee community can be.
So, life is hard, right? Relationships, passions, dreams, friends, family- all colliding together in the beautiful mess of it all. We spend the majority of our adulthood learning to not only deal with the different aspects of our lives, but also how to compartmentalize them. Leaving personal crises at home and dealing with them there: this is a practical and necessary way to live when you work in customer service. But, you know, life is still messy sometimes.
One particularly-hard day stands out. I was opening at the shop, sleep-deprived from a late night spent trying to help my heart deal with the chaos of my life. (Because sleep deprivation definitely fixes things, right?) The shop was busy from the moment I walked in, which inevitably meant two things. One: no, I did not have time to consume caffeine before I started interacting with humans. Two: I had to force my brain into functioning at full capacity, sans-caffeine.
Functioning? Without coffee? Not cool.
At my shop, we strain our cold brew in the early hours before the morning rush. That day I missed my cold brew-straining window and found myself frantically running around, trying to juggle straining the cold brew and handling the morning rush simultaneously. It wasn’t an easy task. I was dashing back and forth from the cold brew jugs to the registers to the espresso machine and back again, turning the spout on and off every 30 seconds to prevent overflowing the pitchers, while simultaneously labeling and prepping cups for customers. It was chaotic and exhausting and intense but for a while there, I was amazing. I was a multi-tasking machine. I was superwoman!
…Until I wasn’t.
“Brittney! The coffee is overflowing!” yelled one of my regulars. Lost in conversation with a customer (while still running around like a lunatic), I had forgotten to turn the cold brew spout off. I gasped and I whipped around. The cold brew had spilled and spread under the brewer, all over the counter and down onto the floor. Dark brown liquid, rapidly covering everything in its path, was E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E.
In and of itself, this was not a meltdown kind of situation. You should know that I know this. It wasn’t the worst spill that I’d ever seen and I could’ve just thrown down a fistful of towels to soak it up until I had a moment to clean up the mess that I had made. But, you know… life. It just gets hard to handle sometimes, all at once like that.
In that tiny instant of failure, all of the overwhelming feelings about my personal life came flooding out, not unlike the cold brew had done seconds earlier. I cut off the spout and sat down with the coffee and the towels on the floor, crying. I’m talking eyes-watering-pretty-bad, super-red-faced, cowering-away-from-customers crying. There I sat, covered in cold brew and tears, feeling defeated and pathetic and exhausted all at once.
It was the worst.
But my customers and co-workers are the best. Hugs came all around from graciously patient and sympathetic people during the 15-second window that I needed to just breathe and calm down. I went in the back, wiped away my tears, put my (metaphorical) cape back on and convinced myself that I was still superwoman. Then finished my shift like a boss.
Moral of the story? Well, there are several. The first is that life happens, whether you want it to or not, and even the best of the best in customer service have their days. Clocking in does not alter our humanity. The living, breathing, coffee-loving friend you run into all over Charlotte is the same person behind the counter as they are when they’re in front of it. They’re still carrying the same beautiful mix of struggles, passions and emotions that makes us all so perfectly imperfect.
The other one is that- and I don’t think I’m the only barista that feels this way- my regulars have become like my family. And on days when I feel my worst behind the counter, they’re the ones that come in and remind me that I’m loved, special, unique and important. That I’m not a failure, even in my weakest moments.
Thank you, coffee community, customers and fellow baristas alike, for seeing me and loving me. You are truly one of a kind. You make me superwoman.