I'm walking along Sydney's coastal boardwalks, the sea pummelling the rocks beneath and the path in front. I try to get across a patch of boardwalk, timing my steps to avoid getting swept up by the swell. I spot a temporary break in the waves and make a break for it. Sprinting, slipping on the wet wood, I fall down. The next procession of waves surge towards me. I keep slipping. I’m not going to make it. I try shouting but the roar of the water drowns it out. A wave rips over the boardwalk.
I float in darkness, semi-conscious. I can’t see and my body is squeezed. I need to breathe. I need air.
I inhale and bolt awake at 4am, disorientated and scared.
That was a horrible dream. I rarely have dreams I remember, and negative ones rarer still.
I collapse next to my brother on the couch over breakfast. We talk and talk deep. Where do we want our lives to go? Why? He offers wonderful new perspectives. ‘You can’t force this new shift. It will unfold by itself'. ‘Be at ease internally before projecting outwards’.
I feel rejuvenated. I'm back on the trail later that day and things start getting better. I'm connecting with others better. Conversations flow naturally. I'm learning so much more.
But it's no panacea. Things are still tough.
I'm focusing on Plan A: working in a cafe that has a roasting and importing arm. I want exposure to the full spectrum of the retail end of coffee. I've narrowed down a list of four companies.
Plan B is working for a great cafe and getting trained up on the espresso machine. It's not ideal, but at least it's SOMETHING coffee related to pay the bills.
Which is a very different kettle of fish to Plan C: getting a job in something totally unrelated. Teaching English? Office temp? I'd save up money to jumpstart the next phase of my career: working for an NGO in a coffee-producing country and helping the struggling coffee farmer. I'd probably need a Masters degree in Development. And they're not cheap.
I throw myself into Plan A.
Within a week, I've sent my CV off to three potential employers. Things are looking up - I have interviews and hear positive things.
I'm an unusual candidate though. 'Can you talk about a time you worked in a great team?'. Wow, how many examples would you like? During the Euro crisis I was regulating Greek banks with a manager who took the time to really listen to us, and we were motivated to each pull our weight to save UK retail depositors from losing their life savings.
'Huh...um, great, well, how about the best idea you've ever contributed?' Well, when I was in a team reviewing the internal capital models of insurance companies...
I got rejected. They were just looking for an early-20s happy-go-lucky type for a chilled out admin role.
I haven't had to handle rejection in a long time. It feels shitty to be gunning for something so much and not being able to get it. Passing by a cafe the other day, I looked in and felt a little like Bart Simpson looking in from the outside on Christmas day at Ned Flander’s family while it's cold and lonely outside.
This is how it's going to feel. This must be what aspiring musicians, artists, actors must feel all the time. Being on the outside. Dealing with rejection.
There's a reason every time and it's not personal to me (...I think).
But it hurts.
It's not helping when you're on the house hunt too. You give your best, you get on great with your potential housemates. You leave laughing to a chorus of 'it was so lovely meeting you' and 'speak to you soon!'.
And then they reject you.
But that's nothing compared to dating. That was really messing me up. One date just after New Year's Eve turned up the highs to deafening levels, while the lows anchored me deep underwater. Had I become bipolar!?
The triple whammies of work, living and relationships were slapping me left, right and centre.
It was too much to handle. I had to take drastic action. Something I thought I would never do...
I took a cold, hard look in the mirror.
Then swiped: I deleted Tinder off my phone.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Fast forward two weeks and Plan A is on its last legs. I have a short trial with an importing/roasting cafe. But it was made clear to me: we're more than well staffed, it takes years to be “promoted" and there are loads of other suitable candidates. Plus, even if we want you, you won't land a full-time job until March.
On the upside, I find a house to live in with an amazing bunch of housemates. What a relief!
...but now I've got another problem: rent. I need money fast. I need to find a job in the next 14 days.
I accept my circumstances and switch to Plan B: learning to be a barista at a regular cafe. It's not ideal, but not terrible.
As I zigzag down the high streets handing out CVs I reminisce the freedom I felt while travelling. I remember feeling how bright the future was, how much hope I felt. How easy I imagined things would be.
The future is still bright and I still have a lot of hope.
But the realities of getting started are emotionally exhausting. It's a good thing I really love coffee and want a career in it. There's no other way I could last even a week of this.