2: Coffee Break

2: Coffee Break

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

Coffee Break

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour.

~Author Unknown

Of all the memorable films to grace the screen in my living room, American Beauty is one of the most unforgettable. One of my favorite scenes occurs when Kevin Spacey’s character, Lester Burnham, is at a fast food restaurant drive-thru and politely asks for an application, saying, “I’m looking for the least possible amount of responsibility.”

This was my own career path between June 2011 and April 2013. This was the stretch when I hid from my career as a dance educator and assumed another identity as a “partner” at Starbucks.

The first thing that struck me was how overwhelming it was to learn the recipes for all the drinks. I actually brought in a journal to make some notes on my bar shifts… something I’m sure was a source of much amusement to all of my co-workers, I mean partners. Those damn caramel macchiatos always threw me off — I often forgot to pour the espresso shots last. Nor did I get the hang of the drinks at the cold bar. For an entire summer I made smoothies with the vanilla bean powder instead of the actual protein powder we were instructed to use; my apologies to anyone who received a smoothie made by me during the summer of 2011. And I can still vividly recall my sense of panic as I watched the cups line up down the bar in my queue. I felt like I was in that episode of I Love Lucy where she’s a factory worker in charge of wrapping up all the chocolates that pass her by on the conveyor belt — only stuffing all the missed drinks down my blouse to avoid the disapproval of my supervisor wasn’t really an option for me.

For all its initial challenges, I still regard my time at Starbucks as my “extended vacation from work.” And that’s precisely what it was, a break from being responsible for other people. For nearly two years I got to have a job that required no planning prior to showing up for work, no phone calls to make, e-mails to send, no endless search for ideas, music or costumes. I wasn’t responsible for anything outside of ensuring that I showed up on time for my shifts and provided courteous and reasonably competent service to customers. Not to mention I actually got to be at home in the evenings to have dinner with my family — a novelty for many of us in the dance industry.

But perhaps the most surprising thing about my stint at Starbucks was how I found myself forming friendships with people who were at a completely different stage of life than I was, being a good decade or two younger. A couple of months into my employment, I found myself receiving invitations to parties where games such as beer pong and Twister were played. We had a picnic in the park, a casino night, an evening at a comedy club, a romp at Laser Quest, a karaoke night, and an entertaining evening that involved listening to a very intoxicated Latin-tongued partner recite the works of Dr. Seuss to an audience of co-workers who were only too happy to delight in his difficulties.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also had the privilege of interacting with a rather cheeky partner who was in his eighties! Like me, this remarkable gentleman viewed his hours at the store as a break from his own set of personal challenges. Each weekday morning he would check his “baggage” at the door and spend two hours smiling, singing, and pulling out the best parts of himself to make each customer who came through the door feel personally acknowledged. I cannot adequately express the incredible strength, wisdom, and optimism this man possesses but he was an inspiration to us all. I am both humbled and inspired by his courage, and make great efforts to remember the words he left us with at his retirement party: “Just being alive means that you’re successful.”

The best thing that I took away from my sojourn at Starbucks wasn’t the pride I felt when people looked at my gleaming pastry case (I actually miss cleaning that thing… is that weird?), but rather the way it helped me sift through my depressive fog and reconnect with the ability to have fun. It gave me the time to stop and actually reflect on what was happening in my life, allowing me to see the areas where I needed to make some changes.

And, inevitably, change did find me. It started with the occasional appearance of a certain retired professional dancer who, as luck would have it, opened a dance studio in my neighborhood. She came into my store to grab some goodies one day and recognized me. On two separate occasions she offered me a teaching position at her studio. On two separate occasions I politely declined and instead offered to put whipped cream on her beverage. When the spring of 2013 arrived, I turned in my green apron and took some time off to recover from the exhaustion that had been accumulating since the birth of my second child. The end result was improved health, a finished manuscript, and the realization that I deeply missed being a dance teacher — thankfully, I knew of a place where they were looking for one!

Luckily for me, my story ends on a more cheerful note than that of my American Beauty counterpart. Lester Burnham never got to enjoy his newfound wisdom when the fog of his midlife crisis began to dissipate. Because I have the good fortune of having neighbors who are kind enough not to shoot me, I can happily move forward with my now healthier sense of self-awareness and construct my life in a way that works for me. By setting firm boundaries for what I can reasonably handle, not only as a teacher, but also a writer and a mother, I can be one of those lucky people who get to do what they love and love what they do.

And I can’t think of a more beautiful gift to receive than the knowledge that the life I’m currently living is just that: a beautiful gift.

Thanks for the coffee break, Starbucks.

~Lucy Lemay Cellucci

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