I was 46.
And one night, I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep.
I was wondering how best to motivate my employees to do their jobs more conscientiously. Through the years it seemed to me that the quality of the work I got from them had declined. They just didn’t care. Truth is, I had known for a few years that this was the case. And I also knew, if I looked deep into myself, that the problem was me. They were only reflecting my leadership, or lack thereof. So the real question was how to make myself care more.
I used to care. I cared a lot for a long time.
Good coffee is such a thing of beauty and I’m such a fan of quality consumables, when I ‘found’ it, I sucked it up. The ambiance of the cafés, the vibrant feel of caffeine fueled camaraderie, the level of sophistication to the art and science of it all. How exquisite!
I spent my 29th birthday writing a business plan. Some of my friends crowed about “Saturn Returns.” Seven months later I opened Klekolo World Coffee. Within a year it was bordering on success. At 5 years it threatened to collapse under it’s own popularity, but we persevered. Always it created community. People who frequented the place called it their own.
I loved the coffeehouse for a very long time. It was special and magical and filled with artists and creative folk. Many of whom I admire to this day.
I couldn’t say anything was missing. Life, work, friends, a nice house, a rocking café, the good life. But nothing was jazzing me up like all this used to. And this was it, right? Here I was, deep in the life I’d built.
I began to let the place run itself. I no longer enjoyed smiling at people every day while I made their lattes. Better to let the perky young folks do it. They were all well trained. I tried to empower them to do what was right. Mostly the product didn’t suffer, just the cleanliness, the atmosphere. The granting of autonomy made employees feel like they could treat people however it suited them and when they learned they couldn’t, that they had to respect every single person who came through the door, they didn’t like their jobs as much. And I tried to care, and I put out fires and I engaged in retraining and I went to coffee conventions. And the lease came up for renewal again – 15 years!
So I signed up for another five. What other options were there?
Wherever my 30s had gone it seemed my 40s were going there too.
On this night I speak of, age 46, lying in bed, I thought of many things.
Nothing in my life was what I really wanted. That was obvious. The coffeehouse was struggling, the employees didn’t care. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it, because I didn’t know how to fix me. I tried one thing after another to turn it all back around. It wasn’t quite in danger of sinking but the economy wasn’t helping any. I didn’t know what to do.
I was laying there, not sleeping, wondering what to try next. And a brand new thought occurred to me. It was huge.
“If I find myself still here in CT, still running a coffeehouse I don’t love, when I turn 50, whose fault will that be?”
I am the only one responsible for my own life.
I didn’t have any solution but I knew now what was untenable.
I looked at my surroundings with new eyes.
I began to let things go.
It took most of two years to reduce my belongings by 75%. It was a learning process. With every layer I peeled away and freed from my hold, I gained more power and insight into what did and did not matter to me.
Along the way it became clear to me that the coffeehouse had to go. It was not moving me forward, nor was it part of my future.
I’m not the best at making big life plans. I didn’t plan to pass college by, I didn’t plan to run off and join the circus, I didn’t plan to return home and start a community, and I didn’t plan what would happen when I no longer owned a coffeehouse. That didn’t matter so much as freeing up space and energy for something new.
My friends shook their collective heads.
“What are you gonna DO?”
“Do you have enough savings till you figure it out?
Some people think you need to know what you want before you can go for it. I speak from experience. Sometimes, it is enough to start with knowing what you don’t want.