How much should happiness cost?
Just before the long weekend, I quit my job.
The cafe I worked at is located in the same building as a big bank. It’s a terrible building that drains the energy out of everyone in it. By the bottom of the wide staircase, there’s a sign that says the entire facility is smoke-free. To the left, the cafe’s patio is filled with a cloud of smoke. Five days a week I get off at my tram stop, dressed head to toe in black and walk among suits and pencil skirts. The sky is just beginning to glow.
The zombies line up with their loyalty cards in hand. I greet them by their first name and ask if they want their usual. They hand over some money and immediately hold out their palm for the change. Everyone is in a hurry. They stand, they sigh, they look away, they fidget on their phones while they wait for me to drop the change in their hands. They don’t bother to ask for my name. Sometimes they don’t even smile.
At first I felt extremely grateful to be in my position. Here I was, earning a fraction of what they did with not a single penny going into my pension, yet I could hold a smile for longer than two seconds. But then my shoes began to feel uncomfortable and my all-black outfits started looking a bit drab. I was having the exact same conversations with customers 4 times a day. “Hi, how are you today? Any sugar with that? Sorry, was that a regular latte?” I stopped enjoying coffee and started needing it. Full cream cappuccinos with 2 sugars became sugar-free flat whites and then eventually became a small double-shot latte. I was turning into one of the people in suits with red take-away coffee cups. Except I was still earning a fraction of what they did.
Then there’s Rod. He’s maybe in his 40s, is in a band, and has a couple of piercings. When Rod lines up, he dances to whatever music is playing. On this particular day he practically skipped into the cafe.
"Hey Rod, why are you always so happy? What’s your secret?"
Rod paused, with his coffee loyalty card in hand and thought for a second.
"I work on it."
It was such an honest and simple response. It wasn’t much of a secret really but it seemed a huge chunk of people in the building hadn’t come across it. The more I tossed his words around in my head, the more I realized I had better things to work on than the profits of a business where my position was being threatened daily by the crazy manager. Sometimes it sucks to have backpacker status. That day I went home and had a cold beer in the shower. It was amazing.
On Monday I decided that I would hand my 2-weeks notice before the Easter weekend. At 3:45pm on Wednesday, after enduring a day of verbal abuse from my manager, I decided that the next day would be my last. I walked into work on Thursday knowing it was my final day and feeling like a million bucks. All day I pulled customers aside to say goodbye. The chef and the kitchen hand hugged and kissed me goodbye. I danced across the cafe and drummed on all surfaces. I was ecstatic, but I was also dreading the conversation with my boss. I had never quit without writing a letter and had always given 2 weeks notice.
Just before 4pm, she packed up her stuff and handed over my last paycheque in a form of wad of bills. I caught her as she was walking out.
"Hey, before you leave I just wanted to tell you that today is my last day."
She turned, looked at me and said, “that’s just not good enough.”
I wanted to tell her no, YOU’RE not good enough. But instead looked her in the eye, steadied my breathing and said “well, I was going to give you 2 weeks notice but I’ve already decided that today is my last day.”
"Ok", she responded, turned and walked away.
My hands were still shaking 5 minutes later. I called my dad to tell him that the deed had been done. He told me to sue her ass (always good to have your daddy on your side). But not before he told me for the 100th time that no job, no matter how well it pays, is worth my happiness. I didn’t exactly earn a lot of money at this place, nor did I actually learn how to make good coffee. I did learn what kind of person I didn’t want to become though. I’m just now getting used to watching my bank balance drop and not cringing too much. I only have four more months before I go home and want to enjoy my time as much as I can.
Once upon a time I discovered what my happiness was worth to me. In the past couple of months I seem to have forgotten just how much. Happiness should never cost anything. As I sit in my room now eating a block of double-cream brie, I think that I’m starting to get a better picture of what happiness
tastes like looks like.
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