Image from themanlybarista.com

5 things that happened when I quit my fancy internet life and went to work at a coffee shop

I usually make my living via Facebook and my blog as a coach for entrepreneurs and artists and as a freelance writer. That means I spend most of my “working” hours on my laptop, sitting on my butt, playing on the internet. But this past summer — even though I had quintupled my income over the past year of running my business (and that’s another fun story in itself), I still had questions about how to become a better business woman, writer, and coach. My success didn’t feel sustainable, it felt kind of off-kilter and exhausting.

So (as described in this previous essay) I asked my mentor, a sales powerhouse named Rachel Cherwitz, what to do.

She told me to quit writing and quit coaching for three months and to go get a job at a coffee shop. She said after that, she would tell me the next bit about how to be better at business.

Gulp.

Put briefly, I did it. I told my clients and my audience what was happening. I went out and got myself some sensible shoes and sent in job applications on Craigslist and showed up for interviews. I weaned myself from Facebook and pretty much the whole internet except for my email inbox and Google maps.

1. I got push-back from the outraged people of the internets that reflected my own scarcity anxiety.

As I powered down my online presence for my hiatus, I received many incredulous, rather rude messages from tons of Facebook acquaintances. “What the fuck are you doing Carolyn? Are you crazy?” was the gist of many of these concerned missives.

I mean, as a matter of fact, I *am* crazy. Folks, I live in an Orgasmic Meditation community, publish a magazine called BAD WITCHES, eat a lot of kale and spend a good deal of time organizing magic rituals, amongst other far-out things. I just thought it was weird and a bit rude that random folks who usually aren’t inspired to comment on the fact that I’m crazy were suddenly spurred to action simply because they heard that I was stopping my online money-making efforts in order to go get a much lower-paying job at a coffee shop for a few months. It showed me that in their minds crazy = not anxiously grabbing after the maximum amount of money possible at all times.

Which, interestingly, was probably also my unconscious definition of crazy. Because for years I had been anxiously pushing myself to make as much money as possible without giving myself a rest.

Yet my mentor’s suggestion that I go to work at a coffee shop didn’t sound crazy at all to me. It felt like a perfectly sound and restorative vacation from the endless bizarre stress of checking social stats and list sign-ups and sales conversations with clients and pressuring myself to write more, more, more.

2. I met awesome people and got connected to a small town.

I got hired at the Carnegie Coffee Company, a very beautiful coffee shop in a small town just outside of my home city of Pittsburgh. My hiring happened under slightly false pretenses because I presented a highly reduced resume. My coffee shop resume conveniently left off my PhD in Poetics and my published book and all that other fancy stuff. I didn’t know how to explain the whole surrendering-to-my-mentor and already-being-a-successful-coach-and-writer thing at the interview. I figured probably all that really mattered was that I had coffee shop experience from my college days and was ready to work.

The Carnegie Coffee Company is owned by a much-beloved-by-the-town-of-Carnegie married couple, Ashley and Greg. Greg also owns and runs the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy which is housed in the same grand old Carnegie post office building as the coffee shop. The effect of the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy and the Carnegie Coffee Company being housed is a homey, bustling Norman Rockwell feeling that I imagine used to emanate from Pharmacies with soda fountains or little diner counters inside.

During my time working there, I got to know the regulars — including the cool retired vets who hang out drinking coffee and smoking all afternoon, the bustling librarian who always orders decaf, the pizza shop owner next door, and the actors at the theater down the block. That felt wonderful.

3. I found the mental energy to exercise.

Ah, exercise. Something that I know how to make a really, really low priority. Obviously since I’m usually self-employed I could usually exercise any damn time I want. But in the past I haven’t. Not because of lack of time, but due to lack of mental focus and discipline. Suddenly since I just had to show up at work for the coffee shop and then I didn’t have to write or talk to clients or spend hours checking social media sites, I had all this free time and mental energy and will power.

I decided to put it into doing Bikram yoga nearly every day. And what do I have to show for it? A much sexier butt, stronger spine, and a deeper feeling of connection to my body. Now that I’ve returned to writing I’ve already found it a bit tougher to keep up with the exercising, but at least now I know how good it feels to not ignore my physical body and to get out of my head.

4. I learned that when people throw resentment at me, it’s really because they’re experiencing shame.

This is major. I’ve known for a long time that I hold myself back from being fully myself in the world because I fear receiving other people’s resentment. It’s kept me small. And now I feel really free of that. All thanks to a person we’ll call Deb.

Deb got hired at the coffee shop around the same time I did. I immediately liked her — in her late 50s or early 60s, sassy, streetsmart, a hardworker, into dressing sexy, talks with a really intense Western Pennsylvania accent — what’s not to like about that?

Deb, however, truly did not like me. She’d snap at me for no reason I could fathom and was constantly critical. I started to dread working shifts with her. For weeks, she had me convinced that I was just a terrible, lazy worker and that’s why I was getting such mean treatment. But that didn’t quite add up. Deb was really sweet to some of the other folks who worked there who were definitely slower and lazier than I. So what gives?

Well, I’m still not entirely sure — but it did turn out that just the same week I was winding down my tenure as a barista, Greg told me that he had fired Deb because he’d caught her stealing hundreds of dollars.

Deb? Stealing? But she worked so hard! She seemed to care so much about Greg and Ashley! What the fuck, Deb?

And it was then I realized: very often, when people throw resentment my way, the reason is not that I suck but actually that they’re struggling with some shame and I’m somehow (usually just by going about my business, letting my freak flag fly) triggering their feelings of shame.

Deb was dealing with her own feelings of shame about stealing, and she somehow found me a good scapegoat to project her negativity onto. It could very well be that it was actually my positive qualities that she envied that triggered her and made her feel like being unkind to me.

This is an incredibly freeing realization. It’s shown me that I truly don’t have to fear the resentment of others no matter what I do. Instead of making myself smaller and more boring so as not to trigger people, I can be as big and as magical as I really am — and be willing to be present and loving with others as they experience their negative reactions, knowing that those negative reactions aren’t actually reflections of me or my value or the quality of my work.

5. I learned my real wealth comes from being in community.

The start of my coffee shop tenure coincided with my Orgasmic Meditation community in Pittsburgh deciding to give up our separate homes and apartments and all live together. We would be temporarily living in a two bedroom apartment while we looked for a larger house. This, in fact, is what made it possible for me to do the coffee shop experiment in the first place. I didn’t have to pay $1000 a month in rent for my own pad — I was sleeping on a couch in a cozy two bedroom apartment with six other people, doing our spiritual practices together everyday, sharing meals, and running our public events.

I had always previously thought that I needed a ton of my own money and privacy in order to live the life I wanted. What I discovered was just the opposite: I need a ton of deep quality connection, a tiny modicum of privacy, a lot of love and a lot of help from my friends and a lot of time to do the practices that wake me up and let me be of service.

Living in community, I found I could lead a joyous and fulfilled life on a minimum wage income of about $1000 a month. Whoah.

6. I’ve increased my havingness level.

So my days of coffee slinging have come to an end. I’ve returned to my writing and my coaching. And my approach to my writing and my coaching has dramatically shifted as a result. My mentor couldn’t have known that I would meet Deb and learn a lot about shame and resentment and have the joy of connecting to the small town of Carnegie, but she probably did know that I needed time to sink into my practices and enjoy the abundance of community in order to really learn what my coaching and writing work are worth.

I’ve come to a place now where I can write and coach from a sense of having rather than a sense of getting.

Rather than worrying about getting money, clients, accolades, validation I now feel much more capable of sharing my creativity and skills out of a sense of already being full-to-the-brim and having all that I want. Rather than depleting me, my writing and coaching can now be generative happenings where I get to play in the wealth that already exists.

This is rather incredible and awesome.

In the Orgasmic Meditation world, we talk about “increasing your havingness level.” That basically means increasing the amount of good stuff you can let yourself have before you freak out and start negatively judging yourself and pushing away the good stuff that’s trying to come to you.

Since I’ve gone back to writing and coaching after my hiatus, I’m finding that I’m now attracting high-paying clients and jobs in a way that’s effortless and magnetic instead of a hard slog. I haven’t changed anything about my marketing — in fact, I’ve hardly done any at all since I’ve been back in the saddle. I can only attribute this shift in my external experience to my internal shift in my ability to let myself have.

7. I fell in love.

Giving myself a break from writing and coaching meant I also had time to focus on my love life. In a very synchronous fashion involving mojo bag love spells and a Craigslist ad (“Seeking hot magical super-genius” was the subject heading), I reconnected with a man I had known way back in time when we were both naughty teenagers who hung out at (guess where?) a coffee shop all the time. We fell in love on our first date and things have been pretty damn amazing since then.

Interestingly, when we met he was working a minimum wage job. That’s something that the me of a few months back would have turned up her little nose at and judged him for. But after three months of waking up early and working hard all day long on my feet, I had massive respect for his work ethic and was able to let him into my heart.

He’s about to move into my community’s new big Victorian house with me, I’m in the process of teaching him what I know about business on the internet so he can grow his own — and I’m thrilled.

In Conclusion

If you’re feeling stuck and stagnant in your entrepreneurial or artistic life, consider taking a break. Don’t be afraid that giving yourself permission to “drop the ball” will mean you’ll turn into a total failure. Be willing to move in the direction that you’re going — which means, if you’re burnt out — stop. When you come back to your business and your art, you’re likely to find that you’re a hell of a lot richer.

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