Monday, July 27, 2015

Last DSLR class of the summer!

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The last DSLR class of the summer is just a week away! If you're going to be in Kittery on Monday, August 3, and you have a DSLR you don't quite fully know how to use, invest in your photographic future and spend the morning with me.

You might think you're the exception, but I promise, anyone can take decent photographs. All he or she needs is a basic understanding of what a camera can do, how light affects a photo, and a few ways to compose clear, clutter-free images. The rest is practice, practice, practice. But those three bits of knowledge will take a photographer far.

I wasted two years using my DSLR with all my settings set to "auto" before I took a course that changed everything for me. I want to share the best, foundational principles with you, so that you can go and take great photos.

Here is all the info on the class. If you have any questions at all, contact me or check out my FAQ section.

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

My Sweet Score: Enchanted Forest by Johanna Basford



Before YCIYWT, I wrote an online series called Spotlight. I found interesting artists who had started making part or all of their living doing something creative that they loved—writing poetry, painting murals, crafting surfboards, designing custom tattoos—and then I interviewed them, hired a photographer to snap them hard at work, and published everything on my freelancing site. I did one article every month. It was the best part of my job.

Years later, committed to an entire website on young entrepreneurs, I decided artists would not be my focus. I wanted to write mostly about businesspeople who had actual storefronts—places consumers could go and experience. If not places, products that were accessible to everyone were key, and it would really benefit those products to have some sort of cause behind them.

I’m breaking my own rule today. I am so excited about the sweet score I made this afternoon that I have to include it on the blog. I think, though, that it still totally fits the theme of YCIYWT.

Enchanted Forest, by Johanna Basford, is what Amelia Davis (the owner of Folk Gallery, where I found my score) calls an “advanced coloring book.” The book is part “quest,” part pen-and-ink illustration. Intricate illustration.

“Apparently,” Amelia said, giving the book a flip-through, admiring the pages, “they’re all the rage.” She found Enchanted Forest at a trade show, and coloring books were all the vendors could talk about.

Having seen one, I know why. The illustrations in this unusual coloring book are imagination-invoking, in the most fantastic way. In a world where fantasy is for children, Basford has figured out how to break down grown-up brain barriers and tap into the part of the mind that once believed in magical things like talking woodland creatures, fairy homes in enchanted trees, fire-breathing dragons, and castles full of mystical secrets. Basford invites her audience to “tumble down the rabbit hole,” as she says on her website, and get lost in her rendition of a wonderland. 



I confess, I did a bit of cyber-stalking to get a better scope of Basford’s talents. In my mind’s eye, she was an artist waiting to be discovered, perhaps by this very book. In reality, she is a highly successful illustrator, who has landed gigs illustrating for all products ranging from rum bottles to boats, and accounts working with companies ranging from Chipotle to BrewDog. Videography of her hard at work, in a series called “Fringe” (by someone else), demonstrates how her designs resonate with thousands of people.

Basford’s autobiographical account on her website describes her inspiration as coming from the “flora and fauna” of her native Scotland. Her blog is mesmerizing. This woman is intensely creative and beautifully authentic. An entire section of her site is dedicated to the coloring accomplishments her admirers send her after interacting with her drawings. What an incredible tribute!

I myself have been trying to figure out how I’ll gather the courage to commit colors to Basford’s drawings. The pages just call out to be colored—but how should I do it? Colored pencils? Colored pens? Gel pens? Water color pencils? All of the above? And with so many colors to choose from, how will I choose just one for any given part of a picture?



I’m wondering if I shouldn’t share the book, as well. Maybe color one page, then open the next page to another person to color? It would be an interesting way to collect pieces of my friendships with others. I could have each friend sign his or her page, passing the book to and fro until the whole book is filled! 


In any case, I feel like I’m bound for an adventure. The $15 was easy to spend—and it will result in hours of creativity and entertainment. What would you call that if not a sweet score?


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Where I Went Today: Profile Coffee Bar



Because I love coffee and because I run a coffee shop, when new coffee places pop up anywhere within a two-hour radius of my workplace, the rumblings reach me quick. The rumblings for Profile Coffee Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire hit long before opening day. Having heard that the coffee place would be third-wave, I bypassed competitive jealousy and eagerly awaited the grand opening... and then somehow I missed it. Profile has been open a week already, but I was able to visit today, with coffee cohort Rachel Stahura, who stuck her head in a few days ago but didn't try anything.

For the record, Rachel's latte-crafting abilities are approximately how I currently rate anyone else's espresso technique. Yes, you have to start with great coffee; yes, it helps to use quality milk. But there's a definite finesse in making that velvety-smooth consistency over a thick, syrupy coffee, and Rachel has it down. If ever there was someone to visit a new third-wave coffee bar with me and give insight into the barista performance there, Rachel is definitely the one.




The coffee stocked at Profile is that of twenty-year-old Counter Culture. Counter Culture has grown exponentially in recent months, rapidly gaining positive press even in the wake of Blue Bottle's consumption of Handsome Coffee last year and takeover of esteemed coffee districts in England and Japan. It has won the respect of Tandem trainer Dustin Graham, whose bosses (and my colleagues) are some of the earliest Blue Bottle baristas from San Francisco. Having Counter Culture stocked is only one of the many telling details that Profile founder Andrew Levinson took every measure to do things right at his first restaurant-esque business.*

Some of the other details include milk from High Lawn Farm (third-wavers in the area, including D Squared Java of Exeter, use Hatchland Farms out of Londonderry; opting for another farm demonstrates that Levinson did not choose blindly based on his competitors), beautiful White Apron pastries baked on-site, and a wonderfully cohesive brand. Rachel and I both got tremendous delight out of the bowl-like blue mugs, which undoubtedly were sourced for their many sizes, a necessity to make proper macchiatos, cortados, cappuccinos, and lattes.








Rachel ordered a chocolate cortado and a rooibos tea. I ordered a cappuccino and a white velvet tea. While we do share a bias toward Tandem coffee (whose current Chelchele, a naturally-processed Yirgacheffe, has basically taken first place in my heart over all other coffees), the Profile choice of espresso did offer a certain something. There was nothing fruity or floral about it. Nor was it bitter or ashy. It was like what one might expect coffee to taste like having never tasted coffee brewed but only sniffed it out of the bag. The milk flavor was so-so, but it was perfectly steamed, both in consistency and temperature. 

The overall vibe of the room was very much that of swanky Portsmouth nightlife--an unusual choice for a coffee bar. Situated on the wide, one-way Portwalk Place (off of Hanover), Profile doesn't embody the cramped, busy, don't-change-it-it's-historical nature of much of the rest of Portsmouth. With windows on two sides, wide wooden tables, and a minimalist setup behind the counter, the layout allows its patrons breathing room. And yet, with the most expansive wall a charcoal black, the lighting ornately diffused from globes suspended from the ceiling, polished wooden decor and clean lines, the space could easily convert to a semi-formal meeting place for cocktails. According to the two baristas on duty, that was an integral part of the vision to set Profile apart from the dozens of other cafes deeper in the heart of Portsmouth: a coffee shop with a happening night life. A coffee shop that offered space for functions. A coffee shop with a twist.





Rachel and I enjoyed our visit. With any luck, I'll be back sometime soon for official quotes. It will be interesting to see where this place goes. 

__________
* Because I wanted to have the full customer experience on my first visit, I chose not to reach out to Levinson for comment. That Profile is the coffee shop he always wanted to have, in spite of limited or no coffee experience, I gleaned from a barista I spoke with for a few minutes while taking photos of Profile's LaMarzocco Strada.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Read Like Crazy: Start Something that Matters



I wanted to read and review Blake Mycoskie's Start Something that Matters almost from the day I launched YCIYWT. The story fascinated me. How did one man make one style of shoe so popular in such a short span of time? TOMS has only been around since 2006, and yet for the number of folks walking around out there in TOMS footwear, you'd think the TOMS shoe had been around longer than the sandalwhich Jesus wore. 

It's not as though the shoes are a clever or convenient twist on one of the classics. Actually, they're somewhat odd-looking, given the looks other twenty-first century, first-world casuals tend toward. The alpargatas are uniquely their own, which ought to have narrowed their demographic. And yet: rich, poor, liberal, conservative, off to the gym or off to a wedding, everyone seems to wear them. How did that happen?




Well, first of all, it turns out Blake Mycoskie may have had resources at his disposal he never realized he had. He was the son of a successful author and he had competed with his sister on The Amazing Race prior to starting TOMS. He had a face to recognize and he had a network. 

Then again, he also had a few things that seem less exotic and impossible to acquire, but which were nonetheless integral in getting his idea off the ground: discipline, determination, courage, and humility. He wrote down on paper the pros and cons of his ideas, working out every detail he could think of before moving forward. He had little education in the area he wanted to break into, shoes, and for that matter not a whole lot in his checking account, but he moved forward with what he had. He approached those in his network (everyone from a polo instructor in Argentina to a wealthy multi-company owner) for advice and help along the way. He graciously learned to accept the word "no." And he did not give up.

More than anything, Mycoskie had a business concept that rocked the boat. When he decided to start a for-profit company dedicated to helping others, retailers could easily get on board with his product. Everyone could bring home a little bacon to fry up in the pan, and yet at the same time, everyone also got to be part of something bigger. Many thought it would not work, but many more were compelled to be a part of it.

Mycoskie's book goes far beyond the story of TOMS. It is a book of many stories, and an excellent resource to anyone starting any sort of business or movement.




What I liked about it: Start Something that Matters is a quick read packed with information. There is no fat in this book. I was able to read most of it in a day, partly because it was short but mostly because the narrative voice is genuine, helpful, hopeful, and down-to-earth. The stories were both human and incredible. It was the first book I read on the topic of business that never left me feeling daunted; I felt that if Blake Mycoskie could climb this mountain, I could, too. 

What I didn't like about it: Some of Mycoskie's advice sounds like luck to me; while tips like, "Feed your employees" and, "Win, lose, or draw, never forget that life goes on" seem perfectly sound, a tip like, "Take advantage of the fact you don't have business cards," rationalizing that this sends the message that you won't spend money needlessly, doesn't match up.

Would I buy this book? I did buy this book! Barnes & Noble now price-matches Amazon, and since I want to support the bookseller, I went through Barnes and I got a bargain. But I was prepared to pay full-price, and it would have been worth it. I can see this being the kind of book I return to again and again when I need the reminder that every startup goes through hard timesit's what I do with those times that will make a difference.

Some quotes for the fridge:

"A few mistakes will seldom sink the entire ship. You may get a hole in the boat and start taking on water, but you aren't going to drown. In general, there is virtually no mistake you can make early on that you can't recover from." - Courtney Reum, VeeV, p. 56

"... if you are starting a new organization by yourself, calling yourself founder and/or CEO makes your company look small, clearly identifying you as the only person within the organization. At another of my earlier companies, one that I founded and led, my card read, 'Vice President of Sales.' If you call yourself a vice president, it implies that there's also a CEO and/or president out there, and you're just one part of a larger staff." - p. 87


Since Mycoskie invented the TOMS model, other companies, like Sackcloth & Ashes, have been able to replicate the concept and continue the movement toward change. You can purchase your own copy of Start Something that Matters at Barnes & Noble or at your local bookstore.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Working for Myself: Matt Trahan and Sap House Meadery, Part I



Prelude

I’d been told by friends who had visited Sap House, and my brothers as well, that the meadery was in an unmarked building in the middle of nothing commercial. I wondered how I would recognize it. When I hit the road, it was with flashbacks of my first trip to Tandem Coffee (back when they were only on Anderson Street, hidden in a tiny building behind stacks of warehouses), and a little anxiety in my belly. 

Once I hit Route 16, though, and saw my first “Brake for Moose: It Could Save Your Life” sign, I felt the anxiety melt off my body. Most of my travels these days take me to the city; Cambridge, Portland, Manchester. I spend the drive hunched over the steering wheel, my glasses angled up at road signs, locals who are wondering what the hell's taking me so long on my back bumper. When I found myself on the one road that could take me from Maine to Ossipee, there was no counting the miles to my next turn. I actually got to enjoy the sights. It reminded me of why I love New England—campgrounds every few miles, old diners, hand-painted signs over all the businesses, farm stands and sugar shacks with their best products pushed right up against the road. Everything is named for trees or wild animals out here: Black Bear Cafe. Knotty Pine Grill. Beaver Hollow Campground. Deer Cap Ski.

By the time I reached Ossipee, I think I was grinning ear to ear. If I’d never found the meadery, I might have just stopped at every business on the way back to Maine, sampling maple syrup and taking photographs. As it happened I found the meadery with ease. I turned down a road I was sure must be wrong, and then suddenly, there it was.



There was no sign that read “Sap House Meadery” perpendicular to the road, but there was a sandwich board that read “Free Tastings, Sat & Sun, 1-5.” With nowhere to park, I left the meadery, found a diner (in my city mindset looking for a “Restaurant Parking Only” sign but finding none), and walked back to my destination.

I had originally intended a reconnaissance trip. I was pretty sure I wanted to cover the story of the owners, Matt Trahan and Ash Fischbein, whom I estimated from the website to be my age or slightly older and whose product has been satisfactory enough to find its way into my family Christmases three or four years running, but protocol dictates that I have as complete an experience as possible before I write about a company. Plans be dashed—when I walked into Sap House and saw two customers chatting familiarly with Matt Trahan at the bar, I had a feeling I’d get all the information I needed in one day.

As it turns out, I timed my visit both opportunely and awkwardly. Had I made the trip two weeks ago, as I had intended, I would have arrived two weeks shy of a new renovation. Trahan greeted me with a swift sample of Hopped Blueberry Maple, and between chatting with his guests at the bar, informed me that a wall had just been knocked down in the middle of the room where I now stood, and that all the barrels containing the aging mead had been moved to a larger, side building to make room for a Sap House restaurant. 



The restaurant wasn’t open yet, he added. Everything was up to code and in place, but the licensing guy was on vacation. Come back in August, he told me. Everything is sure to be up and running smoothly then.

I fully intend to do so.

Eventually his other patrons left, and Trahan asked where I was from and what had brought me in. I debated about glossing over the matter that I write a blog, keeping the option to come back later for a more formal interview, but then I figured: When in Ossipee, do as the Ossipee people do. I threw formality to the wind, and the interview began.


Sap House Meadery: Then, Now, and to Come

Matt Trahan and Ash Fischbein have been in the mead business for four years, but they’ve been in mead longer. They were both home-brewers before they decided to attempt every home brewer’s secret dream of opening a brewery—specializing in mead, a honey wine that is gaining traction in the U.S. but still has a lot of opportunity to grow. Offering mead would allow the duo to source their ingredients locally, something they would not be able to do if they were to make beer, or wine from grapes. Trahan wasn’t a fan of mead until he had his cousin’s home-brewed version, which was not sticky sweet, but dry. This was the place where the two entered the market: offering a quality experience for a type of wine no one else was selling.

The idea was a good one. It only took two years for Trahan to know he could leave his day job and work fully committed at Sap House. All the mead is made right on the premises, as well as bottled, corked, labeled, and sealed with wax—one at a time, all by hand. Like much of what you see in Ossipee, the process is informal and not at all secret; tours of the meadery are offered every Saturday and Sunday, and include a full viewing of all the equipment used to make the mead from start to finish. 





Not that these young entrepreneurs need worry about anyone stealing their ideas. They’ve made a mark in the wine industry already with a product that is distinctly their own. One of the shelves behind the bar is heavy with medals, including two placements in the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition from the first two years Sap House was open, and placements at the Mazer Cup, the only international mead-only competition. On a shelf to the right is a granite trophy in the shape of NH, acknowledging Trahan and Fischbein as Young Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2014 by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

And business is good. While currently the meadery is only open for tours and tasting on weekend afternoons, the owners spend the rest of the week making deliveries and doing the other labor-intensive parts of running their successful business. They sell to 120 locations just in NH, and ship to seven states. The two men run the operation almost exclusively by themselves, but never want for work to do, and have confidence to plan months in advance for their products. As the honey and water need to ferment before they age, and aging requires a minimum of six months, flavors for seasonal beverages—say, blackberry in the fall—need to be planned up to a year before sale, so that the mead is perfectly aged for the time customers expect to see special flavors on the shelves. While some younger ventures might be afraid to bet on success so far in advance, Sap House has gained the reputation and following to be able to make that bet.





Trahan takes pride in the fact that he and his cousin are able to offer such a well-received product from such a far corner of the U.S. As he says, when other business people hear of two “young people doing something successful in Ossipee, it kind-of breaks their heads.” He looks at the pictures on old postcards of Ossipee and sees a town that used to have a thriving business community, and envisions revitalizing the town by sparking the match with Sap House. By his estimation, many of the small towns of the U.S. that fell into disrepair were reborn when a "swanky, hipster bar” moved in, and other businesses followed. 

With the restaurant so close to open, Trahan sees more employees and a bigger future than ever for Sap House Meadery. The menu, which has launched with mead cocktails (Trahan mixed me a Bluebonic Tonic to sample—Hopped Blueberry Maple mead, real blueberries, tonic water, simple syrup, and citrus bitters), will place an emphasis on cheese and charcuterie, the types of foods typically associated with wine pairing. Although Trahan has developed some sense on his own for how cheeses pair with Sap House meads, he says he’s also relying on the expertise of others (citing the specialty shops on the Sap House delivery roster “where they have someone who really knows their cheese”) to help with the initial product stock. He does not seem to shy from the live-and-learn method of doing; with his twenty-eighth birthday on the horizon, he says he’s young enough that it won’t matter to him if it takes ten years to get the business exactly right. 





I doubt he has to worry about that, though. Sap House's primary regular weekend traffic comes from people passing through. In addition to those driving by who see the sign and, consumed with the air of Ossipeean freedom, pull right over to find out more, Sap House gains attention from such events as the Barrel Tasting Weekend, when small wineries offer wines (and meads) right from the barrel in a tour to get wine-lovers acquainted with their local brewers. “We’re usually the least-attended because we’re the farthest away,” Trahan says, “but we get good word-of-mouth. ‘We ran into these people who came here and they just would not shut up about it!’ Then they have a taste, and they love it.”

It seems that Sap House has only a brilliant future in its sights. It's hard not to catch Trahan's enthusiasm and passion for his product. I can only assume I would experience a mirrored effect from Fischbein, the original brewer. Perhaps this will be confirmed when I make another visit in August to see the restaurant.







To learn more about Sap House, visit Trahan and Fischbein's website at www.saphousemeadery.com. For a special history of mead, visit Matt Trahan's blog post on the honeymoon. And stay tuned for Working for Myself: Matt Trahan and Sap House Meadery, Part II, after I visit the (what I'm sure will be absolutely successful) restaurant!


Friday, July 10, 2015

Where I Went Today: Maine Squeeze



Work has been crazy. We’re two managers down, 30% up in sales every day from the week before, packed to the brink with high school summer staffers and fighting the heat. It’s amazing I have any time to visit small businesses, let alone write about them.

Luckily for me, as noted in my post on being a boss, I work in a concentrated area of small business. Within a mile are a whole foods market, an Italian-style sandwich shop, an art gallery/gift shop, several bakeries, an Indian restaurant, a couple of pubs, and, my saving grace this hot, hot week, a smoothie stand.



We’ve hit that part of the summer when no one in New England wants to eat anything but salad or drink anything but water. Eating and drinking feel like nothing more than necessary evils when you’re five miles from the beach and obligated to work, especially when the AC does nothing for the humidity. At the cafe we’re pumping out gazpacho and cold brew coffee like it’s a generations-long family trade, and nearly everyone on staff has increased their grocery budgets to include regular visits to the Maine Squeeze, the juice-and-smoothie-stand cousin of the Juicery, which is not even a stone’s throw from our front door.

I’ve been trying to hold onto my pennies (paying off a surgery and a car loan have me more frugal than I’ve ever been), but this week I finally caved and hit the Maine Squeeze… three times… in five days. Not that I mind spending money there—the owner, Alex Vandermark, is a jovial, down-to-earth fellow with a lot of good business sense and a terrific product. And my former roommate and close friend Deborah works a few shifts a week there, so it’s an excuse to stop by and say hello. I’ve put off visiting because the excuse to spend the cash just didn’t seem honest enough—until my day off came and my apartment, a top-floor space with no insulation, no AC, and a huge skylight (a delightful characteristic nine months of the year), became about as inhabitable as an oven, so cooking fell right off the options list. Suddenly a smoothie seemed like a very reasonable investment.



I will not lie. That raspberry-mango-flax smoothie refreshed my whole being. I had errands to run and it was an easy eat on the go. Plus, the smoothies I make at home just don’t come out the same, because I don’t have a high-speed blender. I can’t puree frozen fruit; it always has to be room temperature. Frozen fruit may be frozen, but there’s something about it that makes it more like… dessert. That smoothie? Was delicious.

Which is probably how I’ve wound up back at the order window again and again this week. I expect until this humid spell breaks, I’ll be there at least once a week. My next challenge, by the way, is to try a wheat grass shot. I’m put off by the inside-information that it’s unexpectedly sweet—but the idea that it packs a nutritional punch like eating four pounds of green vegetables is enticing. I am, actually, starting to get just a twinge tired of salads.





With a couple days off coming up I’m looking forward to hitting Sap House Meadery—a favorite of my brothers’ up in Ossipee, New Hampshire. It will be a whole different kind of refreshing to get into a recently tuned-up car and hit the road. I look forward to reporting out on it (I hope) this Monday.

Until then!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Learn to Use Your DSLR: one more class this summer!

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Happy to announce the first YCIYWT class: Learn to Use Your DSLR!

A long-time lover of photography, I finally coughed up the dough to take a DSLR course myself a few years ago. It made an enormous difference to my own work. To this day I wish I'd done it sooner. I'd been wandering around with an expensive camera I had no idea how to use, with no idea that learning would be much easier than learning to ride a bike or drive a car.

I would like to share the same relief and excitement with you that I felt after my first photography course. With anyone, really, who has a big fancy camera and a fear of the complicated settings. They're not complicated! Take two hours and come learn with me. You will be so happy you did.

Here is all the info on the class. If you have any questions at all, contact me or check out my FAQ section.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, July 6, 2015

On Being a Boss


Robert Frost, the same optimist who penned “The Road Not Taken,” is famous for saying, “By faithfully working eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day”—a view which I’ve decided is no more truly or succinctly stated.

By working diligently and coloring within the lines, I have been afforded opportunities swiftly at all of my jobs, working my way a little higher at each company, such that even with a spotty education I’ve risen to the highest place available at the Parisian-style bakery where I now spend the vast majority of my waking hours. I enjoy working there; I know the owners of the neighboring businesses and get on amicably with them, and my employees are, on the whole, timely and motivated. I also have a leaning toward experiencing fewer, finer things in life, and enjoying them more than one would a higher quantity of things of shoddy or “good enough” quality, which is a shared standpoint of all the businesspeople on the street where the bakery resides, so I am daily exposed to foods and craftsmanship that puts my universe at a tilt. Removing myself from all this would (I sometimes think) be like removing a crux from a Jenga—not for anyone at the business or in the neighborhood, but for my life.

Still, I look forward to the day when I can finally break free. In my Plan A of being a writer and my Plan B of being a successful coffee shop owner, Plan B has taken a front seat, due to the hours of my life gone to covering the shifts of those who fall ill or claim to, supervising the installation or repairs of equipment, sorting our misdeliveries, or managing whatever the disaster of the week decides to be, such as the gushing of boiling hot water from the tea dispenser all across the cafe floor or having to run the entire cafe alone because one of my openers threw up upon arrival and the other went home concussed. I don’t mind doing these things—far from—but I do have moments of forgetting what, exactly, my return is on the investment.

Part of my desire to leave to have my own place is sprung from the matter that I am the only front-man on the street where I currently work who is not also an owner. This provides a surprising amount of segregation for me from my customers, and also reminds me that nothing I have is truly mine. In the butcher shop are the butcher, the wife, and the apprentices; in the studio are the artist and the cashiers; in the noodle bar are the chef and all the little minions; and so the list goes on. The butcher, artist, and chef all own and run their businesses, and all the locals like to think they have an “in” with them, but when asked (some days every hour), “Are you the owner?” I feel disappointment in both our hearts when I have to answer one of my own customers, “No. Just the manager.”

Also, at the end of the day, most of those with whom I share social interactions hour after hour are people with whom I have only superficial connection. Either they are the customers—those with whom I share regular chitchat which can neither forego our previous conversational context nor exceed two minutes—or they are employees, who, I’ve come to learn, must respect me more than see me as a source of compassion or comfort. I find it no wonder that three to five days a week I arrive home with just enough energy to microwave a dinner I prepared and portioned at the beginning of the week and then collapse into bed.

The business owners on the street, I recognize, share a similar experience. If they are not at home, they are at their business, re-explaining concepts they’ve covered a thousand times to those they’d hoped to leave in charge, or figuring out large orders, or doing maintenance. Their work is inseparable from their lives. But what they have is what they've built and get to take pride in. What they have is theirs. And for every day that I show up and throw my heart and soul into my work, another person gets to claim success. And I just have to accept this as the reality for a person who did not plan well enough ahead to have something of her own by now, a person who has to put in time building someone else’s empire.

When I see my hourly workers taking time off to go to the lake, or strolling in a minute before start of shift (ten minutes early is five minutes late, I always thought) with yesterday’s shirt and a sleepy smile, or cutting hours to accommodate an education or a hobby, I think of dialing back a bit. I think, “I work to live, I don’t live to work.” And I consider what it would be like to be a barista instead of a boss.

But I always come to the same conclusion. I didn’t plan before, and now I’m paying in professional purgatory, caught between servant and master. I would no more be free in an hourly position than in the salary one I hold now. I would struggle more to cover the costs of living, I would have no opportunity to save money for the future, and I would be no closer to becoming my own boss, because I wouldn’t have the experience or be able to afford the risk. Yes, I might have a bit less stress; yes, I might have a bit more time on my hands to go to coffee with friends. But as a person who can’t help but work hard, would I be happy? Those who work hard are rewarded with more responsibility, regardless of title or pay. At least this way I have a little more to take home at the end of the day than knowledge that my boss thinks I do good work.

I might sound like a belly-acher, but in truth, I’m doing what the writer in me is compelled to do: sorts out her thoughts in paper. I am weighing the pros and cons of my decision to be a boss, and seeing why it is that I renew my commitment at the start of every day to be the person I am. In a way, even though my heart sinks a whole six inches every time a customer asks me if I’m the owner and I have to say no, I also take a smidgen of pride in the notion that people see me bustling around behind the counter and think, “This one must be the proprietor.” That is a little beam of light in the darkness. One day, if all goes according to plan, a customer will come forward and say to me, “Are you the owner?” and I will get to smile and say (with immense satisfaction): “Yes.”

These are the little things I am learning to grasp throughout the work week. In a position of authority, I am able to know that matters of significance are handled quickly and in a way that honors the face of the business. I am able to coach my employees in a way I believe lends them dignity. I am able to rest assured that the business is set up for success at whatever time I leave for the day. All of these truths are of immense value to me, and I would not have them if I was not a boss, putting in her Frostian twelve hours a day.

Being a barista was hard, but there was a measure of reward. Being a boss is hard, but there is greater reward. I expect that when I am an owner, I will work harder than I ever have, but the reward will be greatest; I will be able to stand back and say, “I built this. This is mine.” Believing this is what helps me to press through the hard moments. 

Onward and upward.