Last week I was made aware of a Summit barista who was experiencing some self doubt because they (name and gender redacted, and irrelevant) had been confronted with my least-favorite customer question: Do you know what you’re doing next?
This question, of course, implies that continuing to work for Summit Coffee (or any similar business for that matter) is not an acceptable answer to, “What’s next?” And this question, of course, irks me on several levels.
This question assumes a lot. It assumes that a) making money is a key metric to success and contentment, and b) Summit isn’t a place that can provide that. It assumes that said barista is at Summit as a default, as a stop-through, as a means-to-an-end until something better comes up. It is in egregious violation of “be here now,” and not only insults the person for the work they’re doing, but also insults their coworkers and their employer (here I am, insulted).
I am a graduate of Davidson College, and I work at Summit Coffee. My wife also went to Davidson College, as did my brother and his wife. Sure, we own Summit, but we didn’t always. No more than three years ago, a Davidson professor (name and gender redacted, and irrelevant) waited in line at Summit and, once across the register from me, elbowed a visiting professorial candidate and said, “See, here’s what you can do with your Davidson education – serve me coffee.” I love Davidson College, but I hope this visitor took his college-funded cup of coffee and ran far away from that candidacy.
My college roommates have gone on to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, consultants — a real collection of Career Development office all-stars. And more power to them – the world needs doctors, lawyers, teachers and consultants. You know what the world also needs? More happy people, more kind people. More people searching not for a job as a means to an end, but rather for a job that provides stimulation, development and joy. More people who live in our communities and make our lives better each day — through good coffee, and intentional conversation, and events that bring people together.
The barista as a part-time, temporary rest stop for people without drive, without college degrees, and without a plan for the future is quickly becoming a thing of the past. In the last three years alone, the type of applicant we’re seeing is staggeringly different. Really smart, really motivated people are choosing to work at places like Summit Coffee, and it’s my responsibility as an owner to make their employment as fulfilling as possible while they’re on our team.
We all start somewhere. Four of Summit’s top employees, and the ones most often mentioned in these stories — Andrew, Evan, Dora, and Jamie (pictured above, happily I may add) — started working for Summit making $8.00/hour. They seized opportunities to make Summit better, to ask hard questions and demand real answers. Wes and Ashley signed up for my Leadership Development course this winter, part of Summit’s new School of Innovation, and their participation and curiosity in those sessions led to two new positions in Community Engagement. Elizabeth jumped at my offer for Summit to cover costs for an evening marketing class at the local coworking space, and after 3 weeks of working alongside her on Mondays, I made Elizabeth our digital marketing lead.
Not everyone will make Summit a forever home. In fact, I may be the only one. And even the most rapidly growing Summit employees didn’t intend to make Summit a career. But working for Summit isn’t a default. It’s not a place to hang until you figure out “what’s next.” Sure, something may be next, but there’s meaning to be found and meaningful work to be accomplished while you’re here.
So, to the professor who mocked me in front of a prospective colleague — yes, in fact, this is something you can do with a Davidson College education. I can work with other people (some from Davidson College, some from other colleges, some from no college) and make an environment you want to visit and a product you want to spend money on. I also can make a workplace culture where people like to be, where people feel fulfilled and treated equitably and like they have every opportunity to succeed.
To the customer who wants to know why a twenty-something is working in coffee shop: I know you probably have good intentions in asking this question. But also be open to an answer such as, “I love working here,” or “I’m making an impact in my community,” or even something as simple as, “I don’t know, but I’m happy.”
And, to the employee who may or may not still be doubting themselves, know that it’s ok if you don’t have a “next,” or even if Summit is your answer. There’s meaning to be found in the work you do each day, whether that’s for three more months or three more years, or if you work your way up to become Summit’s next CEO. Thank you, for choosing Summit and for making meaning at work. The world needs more of you.