🌀 From corporate to coffee

How I used my generalist skills to ditch corporate & open up a cosy cafe ☕️

Hiya! Today we hear from Arran Manu.

Arran is an early GW member who’s tapped into his squiggly skillset to ditch the corporate world and open a cozy coffee shop in Amsterdam.

Grab a cuppa, and let’s dive in ☕️ 

Est reading time: 2 min 41 secs

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Gratitude espresso is the name of the cafe that I recently opened.

And gratitude is how I feel about the early years of my career, and my path since then. The things that I learnt in my first job (which was quintessential corporate), have stayed with me since—both the skills and perspectives.

But how are my skills relevant to this move from quintessential corporate to “Chief of Barista-ingˮ? I’ve been a trader, consultant, operations, barista — seems there’s no real link, right?

But when you add in: living in Bali, start-up advisor, gaining a second nationality, becoming a coach, Generalist World founding member—maybe a link starts to appear…

Curiosity, problem-solving, exploration — generalist skills.

I consider generalist skills much like learning the language in a foreign country or improving fitness. The more you develop these skills, the more you get to experience.

In the cafe, we have a card that reads:

How life feels is more important than how it looks.

I’ve found this to be often a lost notion, especially when it comes to our careers.

So, where did it all begin?

My first role was in trading. The entire banking industry canvassed for graduate students who were entrepreneurial, creative thinkers and problem solvers.

However, the roles we were hired into were very well defined and those who excelled were those who became specialists in these roles. I struggled with this dichotomy, and I awaited for the day that it would click. Spoiler alert: it never really did.

It always felt wrong; like the world was not a match for me and vice versa. It took some time to realise that the ‘click’ was simply not coming.

But alas, I did develop, and I did grow, and I added countless skills to my belt.

Where did it lead me?

I got spat out into the world of consulting, though not the traditional corporate type. More by luck than judgement, I ended up at a boutique, start-up-vibes firm. And although I occasionally wore a suit, it was very different.

I had the space to take on responsibility, I jumped at chances to figure out undefined projects, and I asked question after question.

We had a core project, and I put myself at the core of that project. Why? Precisely because I was not a specialist, I didn’t have a label. The project was not well defined, it had to be simultaneously figured out and executed.

Due to our boutique size, we couldn’t go out and hire a bunch of ‘expertsʼ (not the focus of this piece, but I have plenty of considerations on how that word is both used and perceived).

Of course, if it had all gone horribly wrong, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.

So why did I take on that role in the first place? And why did it work out well?

The skills mentioned above give a hint to the answer here. Curiosity, problem solving etc. You see these on plenty of job descriptions, they are generalist skills that are also often requirements of specialists — hence the difficulty and irrationality of presenting specialists and generalists as polar opposites.

However, what is rarely in a job description (or online quiz to find your perfect job) is how it makes you feel? 

How does the work you do, the things youʼre tasked with, the opportunities youʼre presented with..how do they make you feel?

I was fortunate that I could execute my role without the need to name it first. I was similarly fortunate to have the remit to explore. The opportunity was there.

I have learnt, however, that the existence of opportunity does not necessarily mean that it will be taken. And should the opportunity not be taken, then further opportunities that did open up for me would not be created.

It requires, firstly, the foundation of core belief in oneself. This doesn’t have to be Olympia- level self-belief, but it has to be at such a level that others can follow you and listen to you, rather than them leading you and questioning you.

What happened in my case👉

This foundation allowed me to use my generalist skills to make solutions, processes, ideas, frameworks, and mistakes. Even though I wasn’t a specialist, my willingness to learn allowed me to continue to perform.

Some years later, it started to feel different. I missed something, or rather I was looking for something new. And to be clear, I saw that as totally okay.

Our views develop and change on a daily basis, so wanting a different role does not mean the current one has always been bad, it just means going forward there is a desire for something else.

Iʼll jump forward through the start-up years and travelling to the phase of the idea of the speciality coffee shop and the ensuing fear. This was an unfamiliar feeling for me in the context of career.

Of course, moments of fear had existed previously, but these felt more like challenges to take on and now it felt restrictive.

But why?

I was about to embark on something that I really wanted to do and cared about. I wanted to open a coffee shop.

…and thatʼs my why! There was a genuine feeling of want, but of course, that meant it was probably easier to not do it and therefore not risk being disappointed.

So I went on a process of unlocking the resistance and the deeper why, namely the positive side of “why do I want to do this?ˮ rather than focusing on “why do I have this fear?ˮ

Essentially two sides of the same coin, but the previous question pulled me towards positivity, rather than simply trying to distance me from negativity.

So, I commited. I made the decision I was in. And the rest moved very quickly.

I found a place, signed the rental contract for the property and there was no turning back.

Was there fear at this point? For sure, but fear in the sense of a new challenge to take on. And thatʼs where the years of learning and developing, and the months of idea generation and preparation came to the forefront.

For my generalist skillset and wishes, the cozy cafe is a brilliant option.

You know, at least for now. And that there is, for me, the final aspect of all of this.

The beauty of being a generalist is that you do not get pigeon-holed or limited to a certain path. You can choose your next step(s) regularly; you can veer or fully pivot; you can explore different industries, varied teams, organisational structures, company values, the list is endless. You can repeatedly choose and tweak. You do not need to work out your 40-year career path today!

So for now, I make coffee and chat to people. Behind the scenes, I plan, prepare, problem-solve, ask questions, create, play, explore, feel ... all fuelled by lots of coffee ☕️

Meet the Author:

Arran Manu is a problem solver, challenge seeker, and coffee maker. He uses his multi-layered experience as the foundation for his core focus of everything people-related. At present, this comes in the form of running a specialty coffee bar in a local neighbourhood in Amsterdam, advising early-stage start-ups, and coaching people seeking a new direction.

Keen to meet more talented generalists like Arran? You might be a perfect fit for our community. We’re opening a limited number of spaces on Monday. Just click ‘heck yeah’ to get first dibs on access 👇️ 

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