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

Small business, big crisis?

I wasn’t expecting to feel this way. 

On paper, this gig is everything I was after: it’s fast, nimble, exciting. There’s no politics. No bureaucracy. The coffee is outstanding, the people passionate and lovely. If I want to take on more responsibility it’s there for the taking.

And that’s difficult to resist. I really want to give this business my all and make it the best it can be.

And that’s when the resentment kicks in. I never imagined assuming responsibility would breed resentment. But it does. And the resentment grows with the more responsibility I take on. 

Hierarchy. Back in the world of corporations, you’re surrounded by hundreds of people, none of whom own the company. You want to give more than 50 hours a week and make sacrifices because you want that next promotion. The biggest beneficiary is you (or, more accurately, your ego).

Which leads to me to small businesses. You put in 110%, work overtime, take on more responsibility and the benefit goes…straight to the owner. 

It’s not in my interests to give away my personal life to increase the valuation of someone else’s company. 

That’s fine, right? Because the conversation isn’t all about equity. There are many reasons you may want to sacrifice your personal life for a job: you passionately believe the product or service is great for the world (Médecins Sans Frontières springs to mind). Or you’re growing exponentially from the experience and increasing your value to future employers (shout out to all the interns across the world). Or you just love the job so much that it doesn’t matter who else is profiting from your hard work (travel journalism, perhaps?). 

Or, most commonly, you’re paid very well to sacrifice your personal life.

Looking over those reasons, this job gives me some of everything. And therein lies the problem: it’s not a slam dunk across any of the measures. And I suppose that means this job is not worth investing more than 50 hours a week. 

I’m uncomfortable being in this position. I consciously decided to find meaning in my life through work. While cycling through those high altitude mountains in Kashmir, I would tell myself things like “we spend the majority of our waking hours at work, so let’s make them count. Work has to be more than just a means to an end”. So, when I feel that working more than 50 hours a week is not worth it, that becomes a problem. It means I shouldn’t be searching for meaning in work. And that shakes the foundations that led me to pursue coffee in the first place. 

So…let’s look at my immediate options: I have a job right now and it’s going well. The smartest thing to do is figure out what this job can offer me and make the most of it, right?

I could come up with a hundred answers. They would all look great on paper. I could even try convincing myself they are what I want at this point in time.

But I need to be honest with myself: deep down, they don’t matter. 

And that’s because, quite simply, I don’t know what I want from life. What’s the point of it all? It’s the damn-well hardest puzzle to solve.

As I ponder this question, a little nagging voice reminds me of my past: “James, don’t forget that every turnoff you’ve ever taken has always brought you back to this sense of crisis”. Yes. You’re right. I’m stuck in a maze. No matter what direction I take, I inevitably end up where I started: staring at a crooked wooden sign engraved with the words “what is it you want from this life?”. 

I try to get a feel on my life direction by contrasting my current situation to the past: Am I happier in coffee than I was in finance? Yes. Am I happier in Berlin than I was in Melbourne? Yes. 

Okay, at least on the happiness index, things are moving in a great direction. But I’m a long way from attaining any profound sense of purpose.  

It’s very hard to process all at once. And it’s interesting how this crisis manifests itself. Right now, I cannot get over the issue the majority of my waking hours during this one chance at life are spent making someone else rich. And this is despite the fact that I may get on very well with and have tremendous respect for this person and the company they’ve built. 

If anything is clear while navigating this existential maze, I can confidently say this: the crooked sign is not telling me to sacrifice my personal life to make others wealthy.  

The Berlin fantasy

The magic.