How Not Drinking Coffee Almost Ruined My Career
I've never had a whole cup of coffee in my entire life. You're already judging me, I know.
Photo via Flickr user Basheer Tome
I long to be sitting street-side at a café on a crisp day, warmed by the steam rising off my Italian espresso. I love the allure of a cup of coffee.
I just don't love the taste of it. Actually, I kind of really hate how it tastes. And for that reason, I've never had a whole cup of coffee in my entire life. You're already judging me, I know.
Most people have a hard time believing that I don't drink coffee. Apparently, non-coffee drinkers are a rare breed nowadays. Starting the morning with a cup of caffeinated bean water has become so integrated in our professional lives and pursuits that surely, they say, I must have had one by now—but truthfully, I haven't.
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Until recently, I hadn't even stopped to wonder if the absence of something that is so important in so many people's lives had created a meaningful void in my own. But looking back, I now recognize three defining moments that demonstrated to me that abstaining from coffee has its repercussions.
The first moment took place when I was just beginning my career as a writer. I had been emailing, cold-calling, and exhausting my connections for weeks, and finally, I got a notification in my inbox, subject line: 'Coffee?'
I had landed a coveted job interview, and I was stoked, anticipating my big break. I responded excitedly without mentioning my distaste for coffee, because why would I? Surely, the coffee shop must have other beverages on offer, I figured.
I knew that not drinking coffee didn't make me utterly unhireable, but it sparked a dangerous question about whether I could participate in what she perceived as an important component of office culture.
The morning of, I was as nervous as in the minutes before a particularly high-stakes first date—except worse, because this person also had the potential to pay me a salary. I threw on my most impressive wares, put on my best hype song, and made my way to the coffee shop. I arrived confidently, and exchanged pleasantries in the cashier line with this potentially life-changing person. She ordered a mocha.
I opted for a bottle of water.
The vibe of the interview instantly changed from open and friendly to stiff and standoffish. She asked me if I wanted anything else; I told her that I was simply thirsty from my walk over and am not, as it happens, a coffee-drinker. As if a good first impression isn't hard enough to make, try adding the roasted scent of silent judgement in the air. I sensed that she felt uncomfortable for inviting me to a coffee shop only for me to decide that the hundred-some-odd options on the menu wouldn't suffice for my tastes.
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"Good for you!" she said out loud, but her face read more like, "You pretentious asshole." I knew that not drinking coffee didn't make me utterly unhireable, but it sparked a dangerous question about whether I could participate in what she perceived as an important component of office culture. And as hard as I tried to seem like someone she could hang out with over a hot beverage, it was harder to break through without a mutual love for mochas.
My next instance of anti-coffee adversity arose after I landed a job, when it came to solidifying my social status at the office. Apparently, it isn't as easy for non-coffee drinkers—at least in my experience, which took place during my third month at my first job in New York City. I was in a then-habitual slump over my desk, consumed by something or other on my screen. I looked up from my laptop and suddenly noticed that everyone seemed to have left. It was only 3 PM. Did we have the afternoon off? Was everyone hanging out without me? Spoiler alert: They most certainly were.
It wasn't that my coworkers didn't like me as a person; it's that they didn't want to get coffee with someone who doesn't drink coffee in the same way that many people wouldn't want to drink a couple of martinis on a date with someone who's having a 7-Up.
About 15 minutes later, I heard laughter and footsteps as I glanced at my colleagues in attempts to exchange a "Hey guys, please remember to invite me next time" smile. But they wouldn't, because as I soon found out from my first coveted work friend, I wasn't in the office "Coffee Time" Slack channel, and there are only so many times you can attempt to invite yourself to something before you seem desperate.
When I finally mustered up the courage to ask said friend why I wasn't invited on these coffee runs, she explained it in terms I could finally understand, which were as follows: When out having a cocktail, many people wouldn't choose to drink with a teetotaler. Coffee is the daytime, office-appropriate equivalent of alcohol, and the social culture surrounding it is very much the same. It wasn't that my coworkers didn't like me as a person; it's that they didn't want to get coffee with someone who doesn't drink coffee in the same way that many people wouldn't want to drink a couple of martinis on a date with someone who's having a 7-Up.
No matter how hard I tried to voice how few fucks I gave if someone drank coffee around me, it had almost nothing to do with my actual feelings. Someone who feels addicted to coffee might feel judged in such a situation; every time I came on a coffee run, someone would comment on how "healthy" I was (oddly enough, since coffee is proven to have many health benefits), when in reality, I just don't like the taste. By failing to connect with what my coworkers saw as their vice, I may have seemed holier-than-thou. (Rest assured, I have many vices of my own.)
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Beyond being an outsider during these daily moments of bonding, what really got to me was the casual brainstorming sessions I was excluded from—which brings me to the third issue with not drinking coffee: missed opportunities. In the editorial world, creative conversational riffing is everything, and the eureka moments that could spawn the next issue's cover story are rare. I learned the hard way that a lot of these decisions are made over cups of coffee.
Walking through the office one day, I overheard (well, eavesdropped on) a conversation between two coworkers on the edit team as they fleshed out the details of an incredible idea they had (a celebrity exposé for the next issue's cover story); as you can probably guess, it was conceived on their last caffeine run. As I tried to chime in and offer input, I realized that I was too late. I wasn't there when the idea was born, so I would have little say in where it would go.
It was at that moment that I decided I could either force myself to like the taste of coffee, move to Los Angeles, or put in the extra effort to bond in other ways. In regards to the latter, I realized that all I would need to do is find another consistent avenue of self-deprecating relatability. Friendships and acquaintances fall into categories of shared interests: The fancy latte enthusiasts meet for coffee; the office lushes go to happy hour; the watchers of garbage TV convene to chat about the latest episodes of their preferred reality soap opera, and so on.
Bonding is just about having a mutual weakness or habit that gives you an excuse to hang out, something to talk about, and a semblance of insight into your taste in things.
Luckily for me, I watch The Bachelor.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in October 2017.