Reality Check

Pitt Skyline 2Last week I wrote about what it might be like to quit my 9-5 and work somewhere simple, like the little coffee shop I frequent. I love the work I do, and the people I get to do it with, but I often look for and dream of ways my life could be simpler. While working as a barista is not a goal of mine, I found myself fantasizing about what it would be like to roll out of bed early in the morning and help others start their day with a great cup of coffee. This morning though, I had a little reality check on that idea.

I pulled up to the adorable orange drive-thru coffee shop, and the girl immediately knew my order. Normally I bring my reusable tumbler, so I don’t have to specify the size. This morning I was sans cup, so I just told her “whatever the biggest one you guys have, that would be great.” She laughed, and we said at the same time, “It’s Monday.” This cute, happy blonde reached back and got the biggest cup she could, and filled it with my morning regular.

While she stirred in the skim milk, she said, “Yeah, today is going to be a long one. I’m normally done work around 7:00, but tonight I work until midnight.” I looked at the clock, it wasn’t even 8:00 AM. I knew the little coffee stand closed at 7:00 PM, so what could she have to do after, I thought.

“Why so late?” I asked.

“Well normally I work 5:00 to 10:30 here, and then go to my other job until 7:00, but I’m working until 12:00 here and then working 1:00 to midnight at the other place.” She said it all so matter of factly, and finished stirring my coffee. “$2.89,” she said as she handed the cup to me.

I passed her my debit card, the one I know has exactly $97.00 left for this week. I thought for a moment how fortunate I am, how spoiled I was to think getting out of bed around 7:00 and getting to work by 8:30 was mundane and tiring. Especially when you incorporate the fact that I’m back at my house before 6:00 every night. And I have the freedom to write, and operate as a creative individual in my work. When I arrive at my desk in the morning, I’m not immediately bombarded by customers or clients or even coworkers. For the most part, the first few hours of my day are mine. I get to work, I check my emails, click-through anything new on Facebook, print and itemize my to-do list, and when I’m up for it, I write my 750 words, all before 10:00 AM.

Is my life perfect? No. Is my job absolutely everything I want from my career? No. Am I facing the right direction for where I want to be? Yes. And that yes is what I hold onto when I’m feeling frustrated, exhausted or lost. I may not be where I want to be, but I’m on my way. This job will allow me to grow personally and professionally, while letting me help the university. I will hopefully be able to complete my MFA in Creative Writing, finishing with little to no debt or cost. I will have the financial comfort I need to live, and the professional support and contacts to help me along the way.

As the cute blonde handed me my card back, she smiled and said, “have a great day!”

All I could think to say was, “You too,” but then I added, “I hope you survive your long day!”

What I really wanted to say was too long, too personal and too uninvited. I wanted to tell her that she was a rock star, that today would be long but that she’d be ok. I wanted to ask her what her long-term plan was, find out if she was still in school or if she just hadn’t figured out one job that would support her life. I wondered if she had someone to take care of at home, a husband, boyfriend or child. I wondered if she knew how happy I was to see her every morning, to get my coffee and have a friendly chat with her and her coworkers. I wondered if that would even matter.

But there was a car behind me and I had to get to work anyways, so I smiled and drove away. But I thought about my reality check all the way to work. I thought about it as I parked my car, paid the attendant my daily $5, and walked across the beautiful campus of the university to my sweet little office in one of the most beautiful buildings in Pittsburgh. Gracious, that’s how I feel today.

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