Friday, May 5, 2017

Changes, Fears, and Following Dreams

espresso portafilterLast week I turned in my keys and nametag, after over three years at my barista job.

I loved it to the end, but graduation and on-campus student jobs don't mix, ya know?

So it was a really bittersweet final week. I went through a lot at that job, and the job carried me through a lot, as well.

I worked there for one year before I applied for a promotion to supervisor. I thought it was going to be great. I got a raise, I got extra money added to my meal plan each week, I would run my shifts and handle whatever issues might arise. It was going to be great!

And it was. I really enjoyed it.

But one Friday near the end of my first semester, my coworkers and I were sitting in our weekly meeting and our boss dropped the news: we were cutting hours... and cutting hours means cutting staff.

So I and my fellow supervisors waited a whole weekend in heartbreak, knowing that Monday night, over half of our friends would lose their jobs.

Midway through the next semester, the school administration added a few hours back, with hardly any warning or time for us to hire more people to handle the extra five hours each day.

latte art heart
collage arrangement
My second fall as a supervisor, the manager (my immediate boss) was expecting a baby. We were all thrilled; this baby was an answer to so many prayers. But things got pretty crazy when, five weeks before the end of the semester, she was put on bed rest. We were already understaffed, with three student supervisors handling the work of five. But we managed the coffeeshop for five weeks, and even handled hiring three new supervisors and several new associates.

This last semester, with my boss back (and posting adorable pictures of her baby son on her days off!), has been a time to recover from the horrifying stress of last semester. But I've also struggled with feelings of immense frustration over the state to which the coffeeshop had fallen while I and my friends were fighting just to keep from drowning in stress.

I still enjoyed supervising, and I still loved my job. Just... Understand me when I say: this job was home, and it was also hell.

making espressoDon't get me wrong. I'm not trying to bash on a former employer, especially since I'm graduating and jumping headfirst into the job search! I love my coworkers, my boss, and I loved learning to make coffee and handle a business. But I want you to understand how much this first job challenged me.

And yet, through all those difficult and stressful times, there was also a lot of good. I got to know people I probably never would have spoken to otherwise, and have some really meaningful conversations that grew my understanding of faith, community, and various social issues. I learned about responsibility and doing each task well to prevent problems for the next shift. I learned to value a clean, organized work space, and preparing ahead for the times I knew would be busy. I learned about customer service and ensuring that each customer walks away feeling good. I learned to work with others, to delegate tasks, and not to ask someone to do a job that I wouldn't be willing to do myself. I learned to admit when I couldn't handle something, and I learned that my personal doubts are not a reason to refuse to try first. I learned that mistakes and messes happen, and things can always be fixed or cleaned up.

notes and doodles
I got experience interviewing, hiring, and training new workers, and handling when workers broke the rules. I got experience promoting products and events on social media. I learned the value of communication, and that late communication can be just as bad as none at all.

Most importantly, this job was my support system. It became a common practice to leave encouraging notes for the next shift and to write kind words on the coffee cups. We laughed, cried, prayed, celebrated, and mourned together. We have a thousand inside jokes, and I and my two closest coworkers can read each other's expressions with ease. This job could be hell, but it was also home. I truly loved it, and I'm forever grateful to my bosses for taking a chance on an awkward college freshman with zero work experience.

Last summer, I made the collage below using things I'd collected while at work. An old espresso grinder burr, a dried teabag, an old list of cleaning tasks, a few stale coffee beans, and the blade from a 18" role of plastic wrap.

"Dreams" collage
"Dreams" (2016). Collage. 
I arranged all of these things around a drawing of the ASL sign for "Jesus", and a poem written for me by a good friend who graduated a couple of years ago. I also added some scrap paper and metal, and a couple of feathers. I glued it all on a canvas I'd started painting years ago, but never finished.

This piece holds a lot of meaning for me. It includes materials that indicate things like transformation, renewal, and freedom...

Like the espresso burr, transforming roasted coffee beans into fine grounds to brew. The cleaning list from work, renewing items that were once dirty and worn. The sign for Jesus, indicating faith and freedom in Christ, and an old key signifying freedom from captivity.

Just as meaningful, however, is the poem which inspired the rest of the collage.  This poem speaks so clearly to what I've been thinking about and seeking lately. It's a little hard to read in the pictures, so here's the text:
detail from "Dreams" collage
Mam, have you seen the stars or sun?
Or cried whilst seeing the coral reef?
Or allowed the sun to kiss your face,
 As you dream away your day?
Mam, are there mirrors in your eyes, 
For when you look upon the sea
Your eyes become crystal as the swell
And are almost as beautiful as your dreams
Mam, do you dream as your drawings look
Or think of songs as elegant as the pictures you pen?
Do your dreams keep you going in strife?
And if not, I know they can. 
Mam, so many people lose their dreams on the path to finding themselves
In cubicles across this land, boxes become like work, not hell
Mam, don’t lose your dreams while finding your way
For you are stronger than many, who on this very same path fell.

It's interesting that this poem might actually mean more to me now than it did when my friend wrote it for me, or when I arranged and glued together this collage it inspired which I'd been thinking about and working on in my mind for months.

To someone who wants to piece together a career in writing and art, a personal poem about seeking inspiration and following your dreams means a whole lot. 

Only... I don't know about you, but from where I stand, on the other side of my first real job, about to graduate college and jump into building my life and career, the idea of following my dreams feels pretty near impossible.

detail from "dreams" collageI mean, sure, you could say that every Etsy or Redbubble sale, every blog reader, and every poem submitted for publication (with prayers and crossed fingers) counts as following my dreams. Sure.

But also, these little steps toward my dreams aren't going to pay off my college debt any time soon! Sometimes it feels like I'm on a meandering path to nowhere, and any minute, that path is going to just stop with no warning.

It's a scary thing, stepping away from everything I've ever known - school, homework, my first job.

It's a scary thing to submit that last essay and give that final class presentation and then prepare to walk across that stage, into a whole new stage of life.

I finished my last class at 12:15 today and I can't believe I've completed more education than most of the world. I feel just as unprepared as ever.

It's a scary thing to take my passions and my joys and say hey world, look what I love to do. Do you love it, too?

It's just a lot to process.

I've grown so much in the past four years. As graduation approaches, I've had a lot of conversations with people about change, the future, and memories. Yesterday morning, I was talking with a friend who, throughout my college career, has been a voice of kindness and encouragement for me. We were talking, of course, about graduation and about feeling ready. He still needs a few more credits to graduate, and he was explaining that even though he's taking a little longer than the traditional four years, he feels good about it because he doesn't feel ready to move on from college yet. And I was thinking about how eager I am to graduate...

...But deep down, I don't know if I feel ready. And I don't know if it's possible to feel ready, really.

Detail from "Dreams" collageI know that a large part of that is because I don't want to depend on others for my livelihood. I don't want to put myself out there and say this is me, I'm just keeping hold of my dreams and trusting that I'll find my way.

But I'm an artist, a writer. If I want to do those things, I have to trust that I'll find my way. I have to trust that there's a place for me among all the creatives and makers out there. I have to trust that God gave me this driving passion to create, in order to share the stories and truths that are most important in this world. I have to trust that God made me and my talents, and that he will make a place for me in this world. Without that trust, my dreams are just bottomless boxes into which I'm throwing every bit of my time, money, and energy.

After graduation, I'll do a six-week internship, after which I have nothing planned, yet. I won't say I'm stressed, but let's just say I'd reeeally like to know how I'll be paying off student loans and moving out of my parents' basement.

Abundance of Hope word art
I can feel my dreams hanging in front of me, daring me to reach out, jump into the sky, and let the sun kiss my face. I just haven't gotten the hang of reaching or jumping, and to be honest... I worry that I'll only fall on my face.

So now, let me ask you... What are your dreams? What gives you the courage to keep going after them? What is it that gets you out of bed each morning, despite those fears and worries that you're not "ready" or not good enough? I would love some outside perspective and words of wisdom from the best readers on the planet.


No comments:

Post a Comment