Baristas and Bachelor’s Degrees

Three days ago I met someone new; an experience which, for me, hums with possibilities. What has this person seen in their life that I have not, or what inspiring stories might they have to tell? Questions such as these course through my mind each time I get to know someone. Regardless of who they are, where they are from, or that meeting new people is an everyday occurrence, I am grateful to listen to every person’s story.

Every once in a while, though, someone casts a dark cloud over this simple experience. The person I met a few days ago did just that. Perhaps I feel compelled to express these thoughts since what this person said truly had power over me, the power to make my fragile joy crack and splinter, in light of my current circumstance.

As many of my close friends and family know, maintaining my “Post Grad Plan” has become akin to bottling the wind. Nothing has worked out as I thought it would: I have been rejected from every job I applied to, even part-time positions at retail stores and coffee shops. Each and every rejection, every “you do not have the skills or qualifications necessary for this position” makes me feel worthless. Not only this but since I have been unable to secure a job in my time away from university, the possibility of not beginning my Master’s degree next autumn is slowly becoming a reality I do not want to face. And with the ocean separating me from the land and people I have grown to love so much, these difficulties seem even harder to bear. To be frank: I feel empty, upset, and alone, and wish nothing more than to be back in the United Kingdom living my ambitions with my closest friends a mere train ride away.

This is why what this person said to me stung so keenly. Over the course of our conversation, where I went to university and what I studied inevitably came up. When I explained that my degree was in Comparative Literature and English, she primly replied, “Oh good for you. So do you want to be a barista?” Too stunned at the condescension pouring out of her mouth, I merely stood there spluttering while a smug smile lit her face.

In hindsight, I wish I had fired back with an equally demeaning statement to make her realize just how rude she had been to me, a total stranger. However, as this woman was over the age of fifty, standing up for myself would most likely have confirmed her suspicions that I was indeed a rude, self-absorbed, and entitled millennial. From my perspective, her compulsion to say these things as a subtle yet deliberate insult is perhaps the very soul of the word “entitlement”: feeling as though you are in a position of power over someone else to say and do things without regard for the consequences or how that may negatively impact another person.

Where I come from — the land of lawyers, doctors, and engineers — asking someone if they want to “be a barista” is intended as an insult, an insult usually leveled at liberal arts majors. The thought behind this sentiment is simple: liberal arts majors are incapable of making a “successful” life for themselves and are only destined for either unemployment or “menial” work such as making coffee.

I found myself questioning what is actually wrong with being a barista. Baristas often make someone’s day by providing them with the perfect cup of coffee. Local coffee shops also serve as an important thread in the fabric of a small community. There is something very comforting about having a barista make your coffee exactly the way you like it or them knowing what is going on in your life. This, to me, is what it means to be part of a community. To wield the word “barista” as an insult detracts from these feelings of comfort and community, as well as putting down those who have the power to improve a person’s day with something so simple as serving coffee with a smile.

Furthermore, what this person did not know when speaking to me is that I cannot even be hired as a barista in the first place. I have applied to several jobs that this person would deem “menial” — though appropriate for that silly liberal arts degree of mine (sarcasm intended) — and was considered unqualified for all of them. If I cannot even be hired as a barista, which in her mind was a subtle insult to my choice of degree, how does this help the feelings of worthlessness that are now part of my everyday life? The staggering amount of rejection I have faced in the past months has taken an immense toll on the self-esteem I worked so hard to rebuild. The pride I felt upon graduation seems like a dream. Negativity of this kind astounds me, as I believe that the ambitions of the younger generations should be encouraged and supported by those who have the benefit of living long and successful lives.

However, I am no stranger to receiving subtle insults and veiled attacks regarding the path I chose for my life. What I find strange, though, is that others often feel so compelled to voice their negativity when faced with my determination and passion for the kind of life I want to lead. As I am currently in the midst of one of the most intense transitions in life — that seemingly endless void of inactivity between university and the “real world” — I felt that it was time to begin collecting my reactions to these criticisms endured over four years. What this person said to me was simply the catalyst for putting them to words on this blog.

I also realize that the criticism and negativity regarding what I’ve studied, where I went to university, and what I want to do with my life will not end. So instead of dwelling on the subtle hurt this woman may have intended, I have decided that her words are merely more fuel for the fire. To every person that has ever sneered, “Why?” or, “What are you going to do with that degree?” or even outright deny me of success based on my passion as this person did, and to all those who will do so in the future: thank you. These are the people I will remember when I am feeling as though I have no worth in the industry I desire to work in, or when I have hit a creative slump with whatever project I am working on at the time. What these people do not know about me is that telling me what I cannot do only makes me work that much harder to prove them wrong.

So here’s to pursuing ambition as passionately and determinedly as possible.


4 thoughts on “Baristas and Bachelor’s Degrees

  1. You’ve very eloquently encapsulated the attitude that goes along with comments to liberal arts majors- I was one too. I remember feeling so frustrated and I’m filing your response about entitlement away for the next person who gives me crap about it. Even now, I eventually went into teaching and people are awful about it.

    I respect the leap of faith that it took for you to study so far from home, and know that eventually it will pay off. Good luck. From one stranger on the internet to another.


    1. Hi there! First and foremost I would like to thank you for such kind words. As someone who at times struggles with confidence I really appreciate the encouragement. It really is shocking how negatively some people feel they can respond to another person’s ambitions, particularly if they don’t fall into what is deemed “acceptable.” I’m glad that what I wrote resonated with you in some way; that is probably the most rewarding thing about putting my writing out there. Thank you again for reading and your comment!


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