November 30, 2023

Woman Leaves Job As Lawyer To Become a Barista: ‘Searching for Happiness’


The long-term solution to burnout doesn’t usually involve more coffee. But that’s exactly what worked for Henna Choi.

As a busy lawyer, she wasn’t happy about being constantly stressed out. So Choi, 29, from Toronto, Canada, quit the daily grind to pursue her passion for a different form of daily grind, so to speak, by becoming a barista.

Despite the financial anxiety it initially caused, it’s transformed her life.

“I trust myself enough now to know that I will make the right choices when the time comes,” she told Newsweek.

Choi’s story of workplace stress reflects many others, with burnout among women rising.

Henna Choi, 29, from Toronto. Choi went from barrister to barista when her dream of becoming a lawyer almost resulted in burnout.
Henna Choi

Burnout is not classed as a medical condition by the World Health Organization, rather a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

“It’s a tale as old as immigrant time,” Choi told Newsweek, “I came to Canada from South Korea when I was three years old and grew up feeling like I had to become a doctor, lawyer or engineer. To be fair, I even convinced myself that I wanted to be a lawyer because I thought I could help people and make the world a better place. I quickly learned though that lawyering really means following and upholding existing rules, no matter how unfair they seem.”

53 percent of women say their stress levels are higher than they were a year ago, according to the Deloitte report “Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook,” and almost half feel burned out.

“This burnout is a top factor driving women away from their employers: nearly 40% of women actively looking for a new employer cited it as the main reason,” the report says. “More than half of those surveyed want to leave their employer in the next two years, and only 10% plan to stay with their current employer for more than five years.”

Even before Choi was “crushed by the reality of this profession,” she knew she was unhappy.

“I’ve struggled with my mental health for as long as I can remember,” she said. “I was officially diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD sometime during university and it got significantly worse throughout law school. When I look back now, I realize it’s because I knew I wasn’t meant to be there.”

Choi fell in love with coffee in the last year, and found herself to wanting to learn more about it.

“I wanted to see for myself how good coffee is made and what it takes to run a cafe,” she said. “At first I thought about paying for barista courses but it occurred to me that I could just try to find a part-time barista job and get paid to learn that way.”

Choi had gained attention as an influencer, creating content about her life as a lawyer, her mental health issues, and, of course, coffee.

“I was invited to the grand opening of Columbus Cafe as an influencer,” she said. “I had never heard of the chain before and did some research. I found out that they were hiring and submitted what I considered to be the worst resume in the history of resumes… but I was interviewed, hired, and that’s how we got here.”

Understandably, Choi was concerned about the financial ramifications of her career change.

“My main concern was making this work, financially,” she said. “Thankfully, my TikTok page was growing steadily and I started making money doing paid collaborations as an influencer. I am so honored and privileged to be able to support myself through content creation, especially during this otherwise unstable time in my life.

“I was also concerned about what others would think. Although I didn’t leave law explicitly to pursue content creation, I was afraid that people would judge me for being ‘weak,’ as someone who didn’t have what it takes to handle a prestigious ‘adult’ job like lawyering.”

When she was a lawyer coffee was about survival.

“I didn’t drink coffee for enjoyment but rather, it was like the engine oil that kept this machine—my body—running on auto pilot,” said Choi. “When I stopped lawyering and learned to appreciate the concept of self-care more, coffee became another creative outlet. I started experimenting with different espresso recipes and sharing those often-failed experiments with my followers online. I even started visiting new coffee shops throughout the city on a weekly basis.”

Despite the understandable fears Choi has about her career change, being a barista meets her need to unplug and focus on herself.

“I will say this though—every decision comes with sacrifice,” she said. “Some people sacrifice their passions to be able to live comfortably and vice versa. Both are equally valid and equally courageous.

“It’s scary to admit that at this age (29) I don’t really have a plan for the future… but as of now I’m just happy searching for happiness to be honest. I trust myself enough now to know that I will make the right choices when the time comes.”

Choi has received plenty of support online.

“From one lawyer to another, I f****** live this. I’m planning my exit as well. Hope to work in a gift shop at a museum,” commented one user.

“Good job!! As a lawyer, I know it’s not an easy decision,” said another.

Newsweek’s “What Should I Do?” offers expert advice to readers. If you have a personal dilemma, let us know via [email protected]. We can ask experts for advice on relationships, family, friends, money and work and your story could be featured on WSID at Newsweek.