Colette Fountain works in a coffee shop in South London.
Courtesy of Colette Fountain
Colette Fountain was a high achiever at school and thought she’d land her dream job after graduating.She couldn’t find a full-time job, so she picked up barista work and really enjoys the freedom.Although she’d still like to see her hard work pay off in a respectable role, she’s content for now.
I started working at a curry house in Norfolk, England, when I was 14. Since then, I’ve dedicated nearly a decade to cleaning tables, steaming milk, and pulling the perfect pint.
Each time I started a new hospitality job, I thought it would just be a way to make money while I continued working toward my ultimate goal of a ‘real’ job. I’ve always been a high achiever at school, which was accompanied by an expectation that I would go on to do something great.
I thought that once I graduated, I would saunter into a version of my dream job working in a publishing house or as a journalist. But now, I don’t know if that will ever happen — or even if I want it to.
Hospitality always helped make ends meet
Working at a bakery in my final year of university gave me the funds to buy the books on the reading list for my English Literature degree.
I spent most of my days boxing up £4.50 pastries. After we closed, I would beg my boss to teach me how to use the coffee machine, and after a year of working there, I began to master it.
During my final year of university, I applied for graduate schemes in journalism. These schemes usually guarantee a job for two or three years and can be accompanied by additional in-house training and a possible permanent job offer.
By the time I graduated in July 2022, nothing had panned out. Instead, I solo-traveled around Europe.
When I got home, I realized I had drained my savings, so I got a job at Costa Coffee. It was a fast-paced and often brutal work environment but a great place to gain experience.
My end goal was still to move to London and find a respectable job
I’ve always wanted a job I could imagine my parents proudly telling their friends about. I continued to apply while working at Costa, and it was soul-crushing. The applications were demanding, and the constant rejection made me doubt my self-worth.
In January 2023, after I had saved a bit from the Costa job, I quit, found a room in a four-person flat in South London for £800 a month, and moved. I started applying for new barista jobs so I could pay my rent.
I found a job at a coffee shop called F. Mondays — the name captured the exact disillusionment I felt toward the traditional 9-5.
I’m paid an hourly rate of £13, and I rarely earn tips. Instead, tips come in the form of favors: a customer repairing my cello for free, flowers, and discounts at neighboring restaurants.
To make myself more employable, I continued my studies while working
I started a six-month intensive course to earn my NCTJ diploma, a national recognition for trainee journalists.
I began only working weekends and commuting on weekdays to study from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Working less led to me eating into savings to keep up with rent.
I also freelanced, hoping that expanding my portfolio might help me stand out from other applicants. I had the time to brainstorm articles idly while working.
I graduated in July 2023 and upped my work at F. Mondays back to five days a week. I still haven’t found a full-time journalism job, but I’m finally accepting it.
It’s hard to explain, but I get a lot of joy out of my job
Sometimes I feel insecure about my work, especially when customers ask if I have higher ambitions. The insecurity returns when I speak to my grandparents and have to justify why I haven’t walked into a job like they managed to when they were in their 20s — why, after spending thousands on my degrees, I’m working in the same job I was when I was 18.
But there’s a simple pleasure in a customer taking a photo of the swan latte art I’ve just presented. The gratitude and the instant joy I bring to someone’s day are hard to replicate in an office environment.
I also love having the freedom to choose my own hours, listen to my own music, and speak to customers like friends. That feels more valuable to me than a big salary, holiday pay, or private healthcare.
This is not where I want to be forever, but for now, I’m content
Overcoming what felt like wasted potential has taken a long time, but I’ve got decades to work.
I’m still applying, and I’ll transition into journalism one day. I miss creative fulfillment, and it’s a job I’ve worked exceptionally hard for.
At the same time, I’ve found contentment and learned not to get frustrated when another birthday rolls around, and I’m still in a coffee shop, not a newsroom.