Coffee Perks: Why Millennials Work At Starbucks

Working at Starbucks isn’t always so bad, you know?

I mean, the only thing better, I suppose, would be an IV drip of coffee (or espresso, for “those” days) directly into my arm. But having a part-time coffee-slinging job isn’t as horrible as everyone makes it out to be. Can I say that?

It may even be a Rite of Passage for Millennials. Like, instead of alcohol on your 21st birthday to welcome you to adulthood, you have to be able to make eight different espresso drinks under five minutes. And take a shot of espresso straight up. (Been there, done that.)

But really, coffee-slinging jobs aren’t as bad as everyone says. In fact, they just might be doing more than supplying your morning joe or your after-lunch caffeine boost.

My Life As A Barista

I worked at the campus coffeehouse in college, where I learned how to keep track of exactly what went into that seven-word coffee drink.

Grande skinny double shot caramel mocha latte.

So when I came home from college with a fresh degree I couldn’t immediately use professionally, I found a job where I could put my real expertise—coffee—to work.

When I wasn’t working at the coffeeshop, though, I was writing. Because that was—is—my passion (and my skill set). I was trying to get a freelance writing career off the ground and it would be four years before I’d land my first full-time writing job with Shattered Magazine. And yes, I was living in my parents’ basement. And going to graduate school full-time.

My coffee slinging job bought me some time, some classes, and ironically, coffee along the way. It wasn’t my favorite job. But I couldn’t—and definitely didn’t want to—just sit at home all day waiting for my mom to do my laundry. (I did my own laundry, for the record.) And I would posit that most Millennials don’t want to be at home all day doing nothing.

I sometimes felt as if I was only as good as the drinks and food I was selling. That was the lie that settled under my coffee-infused hat. Even now, though I don’t work at a coffeeshop anymore, that lie gets reconfirmed when I hear someone say, “Well, you know, he/she’s just working at [Starbucks, Tim Horton’s McDonald’s, etc].” The tone is usually either one of pity, or shame. That somehow they’re not making anything of their lives because they’re just working at Starbucks.

More Than Coffee 

It seems one of the more popular descriptions of a Millennial is of a guy or girl “working at Starbucks, living in their parents’ basement, playing video games.” And I get it—stereotypes exist because sometimes they are true. But the danger comes when one assumes things based on one element.

In fact, 45% of Millennials feel judged by older adults for life choices, Barna reports in “20 and Something.”

I’ve already addressed the Boomerang Effect, and why many (not all) Millennials had to come back home after college. Read that post here. Now let’s talk about the Starbucks part. (Maybe someday I’ll write about video games but today is not that day.)

Having a coffee (or burger, or retail, or waiting tables) job doesn’t always mean we can’t land a “decent” job. Sure, when I graduated from high school I didn’t dream of pulling espresso shots and steaming milk. But when I graduated from college in the middle of an economic downturn and jobs were harder to come by than we all imagined, I had to go with experience and not just diplomas.

Believe it or not, many Millennials, when they’re not making your grande extra-hot, half-the-pumps raspberry mocha (my favorite, in case anyone’s taking notes), are doing really cool things with their off-the-clock time. Often, those really cool things don’t actually pay the bills, but provide a sense of fulfillment and purpose—not just a growing bank account and the oft-accompanying greed. Sometimes, coffee-slinging jobs are actually fueling (with both money and caffeine) a huge, altruistic passion.

My coffee job afforded me the time and money to pursue graduate work and hustle on my freelance writing career, including my work with Shattered Magazine. I am passionate about the power of storytelling and how we can share the Gospel through sharing our stories. I would have never considered working with Shattered if I didn’t have the time, flexibility, and money for living expenses that my coffee job provided.

Speaking of money—Millennials’ values aren’t tied directly to it.

A New American Dream

Millennials are reinventing the American Dream and the work-life balance—and if you ask us, it was due for a makeover.

A recent article from RELEVANT Magazine highlights that “Millennials have a healthier understanding of the relationship between money and happiness.”

We’ve seen an entire generation climb ladders, make a ton of money, and earn the mantle of “success,” only to leave marriages and families in ruins. We’ve seen first-hand how money does not equal happiness. We know there is not a direct, positive correlation (stats people, I’m looking at you) between money and happiness. The more money we have will not make us proportionately happier. We can see that doesn’t work.

Obviously, there is a threshold of money one needs in order to stay alive. Money is something—just not everything. We know we have to work so we can live. Buuuuut we also know that we don’t want to live just to work and make money, but to work and make a difference in the world.

In fact, Barna reports that 42% of Millennials describe their dream job as something they feel passionate about. And, a study in 2012 reports that 59% of graduating university students “believe that having a job where they can make an impact is essential or very important to their happiness.” And the trend is true for Christian Millennials, too.

Couple our desire for making a positive impact and living a fulfilled life with the economic downturn and no ladders with empty bottom rungs, and you get college-educated Millennials working at Starbucks. Barna also reports the unemployment rate of twentysomethings with a Bachelor’s degree or higher went from 7.7% in 2007 to 13.3% in 2012…that’s the year I graduated from college. Also the year I moved back home and worked in a coffeeshop.

So when we’re not the barista on duty, many are working on huge, altruistic ideas or volunteering for causes we’re passionate about. Like fighting human trafficking, coaching Special Olympics athletes, helping homeless shelters, or any number of worthy causes. Because we don’t want to just make a lot of money and be comfortable (we’ve seen how enough is rarely enough); we want our work to count, to matter beyond our own lives. To be fulfilled, knowing what we did is making a difference in the world, and not just our bank accounts.

But First, Coffee

Sometimes, working at Starbucks doesn’t mean we couldn’t find a “decent job,” or that we’re not doing anything with our lives.

Sometimes working at Starbucks is fueling a bigger mission.

The next time you meet a Millennial who works at Starbucks, please don’t let your tone communicate shame or pity. He or she may be doing lots of things with their life that you just can’t see in between shots of espresso.

So, no, working at Starbucks really isn’t so bad. And the direct access to coffee is a nice “perk,” too.

Image via Emiliomtz03/flickr

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