Between middle school and college, I studied Spanish, French, Japanese, and American Sign Language. Over the years, I learned a few words in Korean, Turkish, Hebrew, Portuguese, and other languages from my friends and coworkers, so working at Berlitz Language School in Rockefeller Center in New York was a dream come true.
Every day, I met people from all over the world and I got to practice the languages that I had little opportunity to practice when I lived in Cleveland. The job paid well, I had great benefits, my coworkers and students were wonderful, but at some point, I had to admit that I wasn’t really happy.
My day started at 10:30am, which meant that I had to get up at 8. I finished work at 7:30pm, got home at about 8:30, and by the time I ate, prepared for the next day, it was about time to go to bed. Out of 24 hours in a day, 12 and a half hours were spent getting ready for work, working, and commuting to and from work. Add eight hours of sleep, and it left me about three and a half hours of “free” time, most of which involved chores and prep for the next day. Everyone at work loved me. I smiled and helped people all day, but at night, I often cried because I felt that my life was passing me by.
I tried to stick it out, but the last straw came when my company started requiring us to wear only gray, black, and white clothes to have more of a “professional” image. (This rendered my whole work wardrobe null and void right after I had spent a fortune on new work clothes and shoes for fall.) Business was slowing down, and I guess it never occurred to them that the problem was the $1,000 language classes that no one could afford, not what we were wearing. Finally, it got to the point where I couldn’t take all the constraints, and I decided to go back to being a barista, like I had been in college.
At first, I felt a bit ashamed of being a 30-year-old barista, because I was told that wasn’t what one was “supposed” to do at that age. But it felt great when I got so much respect from my younger coworkers, who were inspired by the fact that I didn’t just settle and get stuck in a mind-numbing career until retirement or death — whichever came first!
For the first time in years, I felt alive again. With my jeans and cool clothes, I looked as young as my coworkers, who were in their twenties. And with my less rigid work schedule, I had time to pursue my freelance writing career, which had been put on hold because of limited time to write. After becoming a barista again, I published my first novel, and I also did some freelance work for Yahoo! and other websites.
My advice to everyone is to — not necessarily quit your job, because not everyone is in the position to do so — but in a more general sense to throw away society’s expectations and do what feels right for you. We are individuals, and not everyone can fit into the mold that society has laid out for us. I’d rather be a happy 40-year-old barista/freelance writer than a young, depressed office worker any day!