The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

The Student News Site of Niles West High School

Niles West News

Opinion: Why I Wish I Was Never Hired at Starbucks


School is out, summer is here. What to do with all that time? It’s not uncommon for students to have summer jobs, which is what I planned to do fresh out of my sophomore year. In May 2022, I was hired at a local Starbucks the Friday after finals week and started training the first week of that June. My barista position was supposed to be a temporary summer job, but that quickly escalated into something more. Working about 35 hours a week, I loved the feeling of keeping myself busy and being financially self-reliant. At the end of the summer, I decided to keep working throughout the school year.

Flash forward to the end of July 2022. I spent the month before the first day of school figuring out how to fit school, extracurriculars, sports and work into a seven-day week. I quickly felt the burnout as soon as school started, and the stigma of “junior year is your hardest year,” was at its peak. Outside of school, I spent Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings at cheer. If I wasn’t at cheer, I went straight to a four-hour shift after school. My weekends consisted of working seven to eight-hour shifts, usually starting early in the morning or clocking out late at night. I never went home right after school or spent the weekends sleeping in. As a new driver, I also took on the responsibility of paying for my gas and helping my parents with insurance.

Starbucks requires at least 18 hours of availability each week, so I cut corners wherever I could and sacrificed free time. Many weekends, I worked 12-hour shifts on both Saturday and Sunday. If my friends or family asked me to hang out, my usual response was “Sorry I can’t, I have work.”

Needless to say, I was incredibly overworked, and the burnout caused me to miss a lot of school. Going from a student who hated missing school to asking my parents if I could stay home was very out of character for me. I struggled academically, mentally and physically due to my heavy workload. The easy answer was to quit my job, but I loved it despite the struggle.

My coworkers were part of why I grew to love my job. For most of my junior year, I saw them more than anyone else, and eventually, they became a few of my closest friends. Most of them are in their mid-twenties, and I was the youngest at 16. So while they were planning nights out at bars and clubs or going on trips together, I couldn’t go because I was in school…and underage.

Predictably, this came with some complications. I got caught in the middle of unwanted situations and was exposed to many adult conversations and circumstances. The lines between my personal and professional lives were blurred, and I communicated more with my coworkers outside of work. I’m not sure the line even existed. One guy in particular, who was 23 at the time, became a really close friend of mine, not just a work friend. We gradually increased our frequency of communication to where we were talking and texting daily. The messages evolved to a point where I started feeling trapped and uncomfortable, as it was clear that he was interested in more than friendship, and I didn’t want to hurt him.

When he didn’t show up for work one day last winter and no one could get ahold of him (not even me, and he would always respond to my messages), we feared the worst. An accident, an overdose, or even suicide.

It was none of those actually. As it turned out, he was arrested on charges of predatory criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse. He’s currently being held without bond, awaiting a trial. Considering how he acted toward me, the dots connected and everything made sense.

Even from jail, he found ways to contact me. This kept on going for months. Despite knowing this was bad for me, I felt guilty if I didn’t respond, fearing what would happen to him if I stopped. Now I realize what it truly was: manipulative and predatory.

Eventually, I blocked him on everything. Cutting all communication was the most freeing thing I’ve ever done for myself. After doing so, I went on to cheer a basketball game for the rest of my night. With a newfound pep in my step, I walked into the girls varsity locker room to prepare for the game. This was the happiest I’d felt since this started months earlier. When I looked at myself in the mirror, sparkly uniform on and bow sitting on my ponytail, I felt like myself for the first time in months. It was a relief: the only thing I had to think about for the rest of the night was whether or not we’d win the game. And we did! 

I still love my job and as it turns out, I’m pretty good at it. In less than a year of working there, I won Partner of the Quarter (POQ), something similar to an Employee of the Month award, but greater since there are only four quarters in a year. Not to brag, but I was the reigning POQ for almost a year. I also became a barista trainer and will celebrate my two-year Starbucks anniversary on the same day as my high school graduation. I stand high at still being the youngest employee at my Starbucks.

If I had quit at the end of my first summer, I probably wouldn’t have made these close relationships or experienced the freedom and independence that comes with earning my own paycheck. I also wouldn’t have met this particular predatory coworker or had to deal with the fact that he was grooming me. In hindsight, if I had known then what I know now, I probably would’ve applied somewhere else.

Now, I go to work and worry about just work. I’ve been good about keeping my school, work and personal lives separate, and now I’m spending my last few months at Niles West as just a student with a job. I don’t have to worry about receiving unwanted messages or feeling some sense of guilt for not responding. Graduation and moving on to the next chapter of my life are my main focus, as they should’ve been in the first place.

These experiences forced me to grow up and mature faster. Most days, even now occasionally, I felt like I was a full-time employee and a part-time student. I never felt like just a high school student.

This aspect of getting a job is often overlooked. When I sent in my application two years ago, I didn’t even think these situations could happen until I was in them. As I was already managing a lot beforehand, I thought, “Oh, just another thing to add to the list,” not realizing that I shouldn’t have had to in the first place. I realize now how much these scary situations impacted my mental health. But, it wasn’t only working that disrupted my peace. The exposure to potentially dangerous people did it, which is why I wish I was never hired at Starbucks.

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