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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

Why I Left a Government Job for One in the Beer Industry

Chris Massad
Josh Bassett

Chris Massad didn’t plan on having a career as a beer and wine director. He didn’t anticipate going from nonprofit work in corrections to the hospitality industry. It’s a successful career change story of the coolest caliber.

Massad experienced his first horrible job during a college internship. Working nine to five in an administrative office of a trial court, he says that “every day was exactly the same: same cubicle, same work, same people, same office politics. I hated it!”

That, however, wasn’t enough to make Massad abandon the field altogether. Since he loathed the office part, he fared far better in his next internship, this one had him interviewing inmates in lock-up, spending afternoons in the courtroom, participating in city-wide gang unit meetings, and going for ride-alongs with police.

The internships led him to eventually pursue a graduate degree in policy/management so he’d be in a good position to move up the ranks. But once he graduated and began working, he found the bureaucracy tough to swallow.

Massad explained: “Again it was the same routine every day.” His ideas were regularly shot down by upper management, and he saw a long, miserable road ahead. “I had an MA in public management and it was looking like four to seven years before I would land a management position. I simply didn’t have it in me to do the same work over and over and over and over again for so many more years.”

For Massad, the Sunday Scaries became all-consuming, essentially propelling him forward—straight into the beer business! Read on to see exactly how he made it happen.

At What Point Did You Really Decide to Make a Career Change?

I was waking up every day dreading going to work. I couldn’t hit snooze fast enough. It got to the point where my partner, Abby, looked at me one morning and said “Either do something or shut up because I can’t keep listening to you complain.”

During this time, I was wrapped up in the craft beer craze. Trying new brews, dragging Abby to every brewery I could. I started home-brewing with a friend, hosting tastings and pairings. Everyone I knew kept asking me the same question: “Why aren’t you working in beer?”

Why Weren’t You Working in Beer?

I thought this was how life works. You do as you’re expected to do, you follow the path, happy or not, you do your time, retire, and that’s life.

Changing careers felt like something for the adventurous and free spirited—not me.

I had doubts about my own abilities. I had always heard it was important to know the difference between a hobby and career, and I wasn't confident enough in myself to turn my hobby into my profession.

And so, I found myself applying and interviewing for positions in my “professional” field, but none of them really wowed me. Then I got an email from my friend Niall with the title “Are you still looking?”

I was expecting him to mention a position at a nonprofit or policy organization, but he told me Broad Branch Market, a gourmet grocery shop in DC, where I lived, was looking for a beer buyer and floor manager and was I interested? I was 28, no kids, no mortgage, not married, with manageable loans. It was time to make the jump.

After about a year at Broad Branch, the owners opened a second store, Soapstone Market. I was offered the general manager position, and I eventually took over the beverage program as well.

What Was Your Experience Quitting Your Job and Starting Something New?

Quitting was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do professionally. I knew it was the right choice, yet I was still terrified. I had already accepted the job at Broad Branch, and it still took me a week to put in my notice.

I also had difficulty with the lifestyle change. Going from working Monday through Friday nine to five to Monday through Saturday twelve to eight and for less pay was hard.

Plus, I was the new guy who didn’t really know what he was doing. The confidence I had built up through education and experience didn’t feel like it counted here.

What Was the Most Stressful Part of Your Career Transition?

There were so many aspects that made it stressful.

What if it doesn’t work out? What if I don’t enjoy the beverage and food industry as much as I thought I would and have to go crawling back to my old career? What if the change puts my personal relationships in jeopardy? What if I let people down?

I had spent almost a third of my life (between education and working) in one field, and now I was jumping ship.

Do You Have Any Advice for Wannabe Career Changers?

You don’t have to jump head first into a new career. You can keep your current job and test the waters of your passion with limited risk. You can quit your job and find something you’re good at to pay the bills while you chase your passion. Or you can do what I did and just go for it. All are completely acceptable. You have to do what’s best for you.

How Important Is it to Carve Out Time for Passion Projects if Your Job Isn’t Fulfilling?

It is huge! Not only does the passion project give you balance and something to look forward to, it opens doors to following your career professionally. My passion for craft beer and home-brewing connected me with Niall, who ended up offering me the career-changing job.

What’s the Best Part of Your Job Now?

I feel comfortable. I truly feel like I fit in and I am being who I am at work. I can dress the way I’m comfortable dressing. I’m surrounded by people with similar interests, and I can progress professionally without the red tape. I feel like I’m finally where I belong.

The super best part though is that even after the worst day or week, I still love it. I look forward to going back the next day. Taking work home doesn’t bother me. Working a 14-hour day doesn’t bother me because I love what I do. When you love what you do it isn’t work any more—it’s your passion.

That’s good stuff to end on, but if I can leave you with one thing, it’s this: Listen to your gut. Massad continued applying to jobs in the field he knew even though he wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until he recognized that none of the roles excited him that it wasn’t the position itself he hated, it was the whole industry. Learning about himself and embracing his passion is what made things happen for him.

Not sure if you’re in the same boat? In this article, career coach Christie Mims lays out the two signs that it’s not your job that’s making you miserable, it’s your career. Already know the answer is yes? Then read up on the six different ways to find your passion.

It’s certainly scary to try something new—but it’s impossible to read Massad’s story and not want to go for it.