September 30, 2011

Better Than the Rest; Not the Best

Being the best is relative, of course, and fleeting beyond that. But even still, there are cases in which it can be applied, with some level of objectivity. I can say, for instance, that at my previous coffee bar jobs, I made the best drinks. (There is one exception here, which I'll get to later.) What I mean by that can be debated, but would serve no greater purpose than the questioning the meaning of "is". If you're reading this, you have some basic idea of what good shots and good milk look like, and how they combine to create a good drink.

This, along with the flowery prose in my last post, probably has you ready to comment on my unbridled arrogance - if not outright condemn it. But hold on a moment. My stature as "best" at my previous cafes doesn't speak to any feelings of grandeur on my part. Rather, I was just about the only one invested in learning the craft. And that's really what it comes down to - investment. There is nothing inherently difficult about the skill of making a drink, nor is their any innate ability required. All it takes is the desire to seek out a proper method, and then consistent practice. As with many things, those ingredients will get you a long way.

Neither is this meant to condemn previous coworkers. Many people have other interests, and better things to do than watch latte preparation videos on youtube. As it turns out, I don't. But for them, that's honestly fine. They're better than I am at countless other things; and as they say, to each their own. They spent time doing whatever it was they enjoyed, and so did I. The fact that I'm the one to start a coffee blog probably tells you something about what I enjoyed then, and still do now.

All of this is really fine print, however. It's tangential rambling, mostly just to try and make sure I don't come across as a prick. (Mission accomplished?) The point, ultimately, is that I made better drinks than my coworkers for those years.

But not now. Now, the other three people working on my staff (one of whom I worked with previously, and is the aforementioned exception) And, far from damaging my ego, it's inspiring. The environment is more collaborative than any I've experienced before, and as such, we're all learning. It's competitive as well, so we're all striving to improve - though, as noted before, not at each others' expense.

These last several days have featured the most consistent drink quality any of us has ever produced. Were any one of use clearly "the best", none of us would be improving as we are. Thus the (somewhat paradoxical) conclusion, that perhaps being the best isn't really satisfying. At least, being better than those around you isn't. The goal, ultimately, is to realize your potential, to be better this week than the last. More fundamentally, you want to enjoy yourself, and that's hard to do without having something to reach for. Most of all, it's best if others are reaching with you.

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