Choices - Mary Kathryn's Story

Choices - Mary Kathryn's Story

Z Beans quickly became more than just an opportunity to gain experience. It provided me with a support system I didn’t realize I was lacking. 

“Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” 

- William Jennings Bryan


It’s the Summer of 2017. I’ve just graduated from Harris County High School. I’ve worked extremely hard over the past four years, but I can honestly say…at this point in my life, I have no plan—no idea of where I’m going. I made sure to set myself up for success but didn’t think to plan any further. Five acceptance letters have already been received: Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama…and Mercer University, the school I had never even heard of and only applied to because my counselor said I should. 

My eyes are set on Auburn. Then comes the letter.

It’s an invitation to interview for a scholarship to Mercer. 

I’ve already received offers from other schools, and I know Mercer is going to be something we definitely cannot afford. So I figure, “What’s the point in doing this? There is none.” My parents had the opposite perspective: “What’s the harm in trying?” So, I went. A few weeks later, I receive the offer. It’s one I can’t refuse. I’m going to Mercer.

It was at the scholarship event that I first heard about Z Beans Coffee—or rather, that I first heard about Shane Buerster. At that time, I didn’t remember either name and only vaguely remembered the story. It would be three years before I ever thought about it again. I didn’t drink coffee, and I didn’t know Shane: there was nothing to think about.

The next time Z Beans came to my attention was in my Marketing Research class with Dr. Tammy Crutchfield my junior year—a required class, naturally, so I didn’t have a choice. We would split into groups of marketing interns, working with a company of our choosing. There were three to decide between, and Z Beans was one of them. In order for us to make our decision, Dr. Crutchfield brought in the manager or owner of each business to pitch their company to us. This is when I met Shane.

I’ll be honest…I didn’t have any personal reason to care about Ecuador or the farmers in any sense other than in the general way that people care about strangers. But from the moment Shane started speaking, I knew that he meant business. Even if I didn’t believe in the mission yet, I instantly believed in Shane. He had the same attitude as me, the same perspective on life—to care for others and work hard but never take yourself too seriously, and to always, no matter what, be persistent in what you stand for. He was a winner, and I wanted to win. The choice was extremely obvious.

That day, I became a coffee drinker.

Fast forward nine months, I think I’m done with Z Beans. We found some success in our project, but nonetheless, the class is over. 

August 13, 2020: 

“Hey MK - how would you feel about being my teaching assistant for the marketing research class this year? Just Z Beans this time. -Crutchfield”

August 27, 2020:

“Mary Kathryn, can you give me a call when you’re available? -SB”

From September 2020 to September 2021, I worked three jobs and was a full-time student. I desperately needed to make a decision, or I was going to lose my mind. 

So, once again, I chose Z Beans.

And really, it was an easy decision. 

If you’ve ever heard of Golden Child Syndrome, you’ll know how difficult it can be both mentally and physically to meet your own expectations of yourself—how lost and alone you can often feel even when you’re not. Having felt required all my life to be successful to the highest of standards, I felt like an imposter in most situations. No matter how well I did actually, I always felt I could have done better. I wasn’t being challenged in any way; I had zero self-confidence; and I certainly did not believe in myself. 

Z Beans quickly became more than just an opportunity to gain experience. It provided me with a support system I didn’t realize I was lacking. 

Shane and Carter believed in me and pushed me daily to do the same. They forced me to accept that I’m good at what I do—moreover, that I’m not easily replaceable, and they don’t allow me to say or even think otherwise. To Shane, I am “Sisterrrr Mary Kathryn.” Carter is my “Office Bestie.” I never had older siblings, but I imagine it’s a similar relationship.

Rachel and Jessica put in the effort to get to know me, something that I was honestly not used to at that point in my life. They became my confidantes. And even though life took them to places other than Z Beans, I will be forever thankful for them. Rachel, in particular, is a kindred spirit whose outgoing personality reawakened mine. She has been a steadfast friend to me and a constant reminder that I am worth the effort.

Ben has been the person to challenge me. He asks me hard questions. I don’t know why he does it, but he pushes me to think, to push back when necessary, and even to question myself at times. He’s also not bad at quoting westerns.

Max has been the person that I can relate to the most—to talk about both stupid and serious topics. He is someone I know I can rely on to listen or to make me laugh. Whether on a ten hour delivery haul in the pouring rain, a five hour flight to Ecuador, or sitting next to me in the office, he just gets it.

I am so incredibly thankful for each and every one of them. They make me feel seen and understood instead of taken for granted and ignored. This company has given me the freedom to make my own decisions, to express my creativity, and to be honest about who I am, not only as a marketer, but as an individual.

From my coworkers next to me to the baristas in the shops, it is difficult to put into words what these people mean to me—to explain what they have done for me, and they don’t even know it. Shane, Carter, Jessica, Rachel, Ben, Max, Presteen, Kass, Cassidy…the list goes on. They have my back, and I’ll always have theirs.

My visit to Ecuador with Shane, Max, and Dr. Harshbarger only served to seal the deal if it wasn’t already. There’s not many people that I’d trust to drag me through the Atlanta Airport, let alone another country—especially one where I don’t know the language, but that’s what happened: my first time out of the country, and I spent half of it squished between Max and Shane in the back of a taxi. 

Nonetheless, meeting Arturo and his family, the farmers and theirs, Marie and Fabricio, Gerrardo: it’s an experience I’ll never forget. I couldn’t always understand what was going on, but it was always more than clear how passionate each and every one of them are about what they do. They welcomed me with open arms—a complete stranger who couldn’t even understand them—and I never felt left out. It was remarkable. Plus, the country itself is beautiful. I mean, I can ignore the lizard in the shower and the five hour bus rides if Mount Chimborazo is the reward.

And if in the future, I am no longer a part of Z Beans, I know that Z Beans will always be a part of me. Best choice I ever made.

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