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No Imposter Syndrome at this Café

18 years ago, almost to the day, I got my first job at a coffee shop. EIGHTEEN YEARS AGO. Am I even old enough to say that?

I remember pretty clearly that nervous excitement for my chance at being one of those hipster, bike-riding, poetry-toting, take-my-coffee black kind of gals who held the title of barista. It was probably one of my first forays into imposter syndrome, before I even learned what that term meant. I was faking it til I made it, literally.

“How do you take your coffee?” my future boss asked during the interview. “Black, obviously,” I feigned.

It seems I’ve had a long-standing affinity for putting myself in imposter situations. After four years conquering the hipster culture of my Oklahoma roots in cafés, I was desperate to fly the coop and test my wits in all kinds of uncomfortable places. I spent a year circling the globe with my boyfriend, living out of a backpack, sleeping in bumpy cots and backs of trucks, keeping my eyes ever-peeled to all the different ways of living around the world.

Amidst the chaos of a young woman searching for herself, I always found comfort in the myriad cafés I found along the way. No matter how out of place I felt among the indigenous click-clacking of coca tea sippers in Ecuador, the hijab-adorned ladies of Jordan, or the barefoot beachgoers of Laos, I felt a sense of belonging in that transcontinental joy of sipping something warm and watching the passersby on a sunny afternoon cafe patio.

Later on, I jumped in a U-haul one year with a couple friends on their way to a new life in Colorado. I found a whole new set of “cool” to be intimidated by - climbers, composters, and holistic health enthusiasts that put my weekly jog to shame. To find my way, I picked up work at another local café. I met funeral home owners, car mechanics, university professors, tortilla makers, and moms, and I relished in the thought of just how powerful a café can be for bringing community together, for making even the oddest set of folks bump into each other and find common ground in the cup.

Probably my biggest imposter syndrome came when I decided to move to Guatemala. Faking comfort in my new foreign life in every way possible - learning to speak a second language that I never felt funny, sassy or confident in. Learning to navigate the bureaucratic obstacle course of an asociación civil (non-profit) in another country (it helps to know their word for submitting documentation is tramites, which has an odd affiliation with its English homonym trauma). Learning to drive a stick shift through narrow urban roads stuffed with stones from 1945 and through washed out rural throughways among the sugarcane.

As with so many other times in my life, the places I felt most at home were the cafés. Anywhere I could rest, read, relish in the bustling world happening around me and remind myself I’m not an imposter, I’m simply me, experiencing the world.

Years later - did I say eighteen? - I find myself feeling like an imposter again. I’m starting a business. I started a business. Faking it til I make it at being a business owner. Learning marketing and sales projections and architecture design contracts and refrigerator plugins… not to mention the less-sexy opportunity zones and quickbooks tracking and instagram posting. I’m building on my experience in community work, locally and abroad, and trying my damndest to believe in the power of meshing all my talents, experience and passion into a project I believe is needed.

I cling similarly to what I know:

First, community is invaluable, it’s the currency of my life and I’ve been given a passion and talent for building it, protecting it, and doing what I can to help it thrive.

Also, cultural celebration is needed, maybe now more than ever in our communities, and we can play a role in bringing the goodness that comes from connecting with someone and something different than what you’re used to, the joy of realizing diversity is strength.

And lastly, well, coffee is good. It’s the stuff that gets us through our day, and we may as well drink a cup that provides economic justice for farmers while we’re at it.

Overall, what I truly know is I want to build a café where no one feels like an imposter.

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