A story about what it feels like jumping out of a secure life and plunging into the unknown. 

Don't plan your career. Or do. Or maybe not yet...

It's mid-December, and I'm visiting friends and family in Australia. In a few weeks I'm moving down to Melbourne to begin the "career" in coffee. 

Here’s a typical conversation:

(*Friend/family sips wine*)

'So James, what are you doing nowadays?’

‘I’m moving to Melbourne to work in coffee’

(*Pauses. Brows furrow*)

Coffee?

‘Yeah'

(*Getting frustrated with my lack of clarity*)

‘….so what are you going to do, exactly?’

‘I’m not sure. The future’s open’

(*Takes large gulp*)

‘But why coffee? Do you have a job lined up? What do know about coffee? You don’t want to become a lowly barista, do you?’ 

‘All I know is that I’m passionate about coffee and I’m moving to the cafe-capital of the antipodean world (AKA Melbourne) to learn about the industry. I have no idea where it will take me’

Conversation races on to other people.

And I’m left standing still, asking myself: should I have a better plan?

Well, I wish I could. 

I’m quite scared about the future. I’ve sacrificed a fat salary and a comfortable life to be here. I worry it may not work out. It could all be a delusional mistake. To an outsider, the concept of rocking up to a new city, a new industry which you know comparatively little about and just expecting it to be a success is more than delusional. It’s mad. 

Planning soothes my fears. And I know it works. Planning for uni exams made the most stressful period of many people’s lives a breeze for me. 

And planning works for others as well. I remember being told as a fresh-eyed graduate in finance about a study of people who were very wealthy and played the corporate game. Those who knew where they wanted to be in 20 years' time more often than not got to the top and earned big bucks. The rest dilly-dallied, floating sideways through the corporate maze and occasionally up. They did fine too. But nowhere near as well as those who steadfastly focused on getting to the top. Those at the top planned their careers, worked hard and everything fell into a Grand Master Life Plan. 

Basically, a Grand Master Life Plan equates to success. To not plan your life equates to failure. I’d love to plan where I’ll work, the skills I will have learned at the end of six months, the date I set up my own business. 

But it’s idiocy to plan when you don’t know who’s who, what’s what and how anything works. I have ideas. Loads of them. Podcasts, youtube channels, helping disadvantaged growers through technology, new coffee brewing methods, cafe concepts.

'Just pursue your ideas now!’ a voice in my head screams. ‘Why the wait?!’. I know where that little voice is coming from, too. Remember the 'they started a business tinkering in their garage’ story? The subtext is always you should just pursue your ideas RIGHT NOW. Screw what anybody thinks. What’s frequently omitted is that the Wozniak’s and Bezo’s of this world were working in industries they already understood. Wozniak worked for Hewlett-Packard before Apple, Bezo in Wall Street in the computer science field before starting Amazon.   

I know very little about the Melbourne coffee scene. Or coffee, for that matter. All I know is that I love it and Melbourne’s coffee scene is deep and complex. Which makes it the perfect place to learn.

And at this stage it’s all about learning. 'Learning what?’ you might ask. Learning who’s who, which businesses work and which haven't, developing a deep knowledge of coffee flavours, learning about where it’s grown, how it’s grown, the networks through which coffee moves from a two-acre farm in Honduras to Melbourne’s speciality cafes, how to prepare the stuff, who your demographics are and what they want to watch and listen to.

Fine, but how will you pay the bills while you’re soaking up all this info? Working in a cafe, probably. I’ve done research on which are the best but I hear getting a foot in the door is tough. 

I’ve lined up a chat with someone who’s well connected with the best cafe chains in Melbourne. I’ll hear it from her what the industry is like and where she recommends I bag a job. Until then, it’s a question of making friends, sampling the best coffees in town and finding somewhere to live. Then, I can focus on bagging a job, setting some goals and testing out my ideas.

In a nutshell, relax. It’s okay not to plan sometimes. Get your feet on steady ground first, suss out what’s going on and then figure out your next move. At this stage I feel like I’m parachuting down into Melbourne, wind rushing around me, everything a blur. 

I need to focus on a smooth landing and then get running. 

First day on the job hunt

My first coffee job application