What does it take to get ahead? Maybe the more appropriate question is what does it take to feel good about what you do? Self-Esteem is important, maybe one of the most important motivational tools available – tools that are always within your grasp, are personal, and truly beyond anyone else’s interference. The answer to Self-Esteem is doing what you do – well, never being truly satisfied with the results, and constantly dedicating the time and effort to improve. I guarantee if this is your approach – then it will be noticed, and in time – rewarded. In the meantime – when you look in a mirror you will do so with the knowledge that you are heading in the right direction.
We hear friends and associates cry foul when it comes to how they are, or are not rewarded for the work they do, but how often can these same individuals say: “I am approaching each task with passion and the commitment to doing the task as well as I am able to in the moment. I know where I need to improve and have set a course of action to improve on that skill.” So what does this really mean?
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
How appropriate is this quote and does it apply to how a cook may perform his or her job in the kitchen? The answer is simple – a cook will never be allowed to progress in a professional kitchen unless he or she is willing to approach each and every task with the context of this quote in mind and heart. Here is some food for thought:
 EVERY SINGLE TASK IS IMPORTANT
A common mistake that cooks make is viewing one task as more important than another. When you begin to realize that everything is important then excellence is within your grasp. Is it important that those knife cuts be perfect? Is it critical that items placed on a sheet pan be spaced equally? Is a simmer really important when a boil is so much faster? Is it important to fold side towels a certain way or make sure that panhandles are facing in the same direction? Is it real important that my uniform is spotless and pressed? The answer to all of these questions (if your goal is to set the stage for personal success and positive self-esteem) is YES! This is what great cooks do.
 THERE IS ALWAYS ROOM TO BE EXCELLENT
Look at your work, any part of your work – from the way you dress and groom yourself, to the sharpness of your knives, the organization of your work station, your attention to sanitation, the care with which you print out your prep sheet, and the way that you time your work – is the quality of your effort noteworthy? Do others recognize you for your attention to detail? Treat every task as if it is the most important work that you will do today.
 EXCELLENCE IS A HABIT, SO IS MEDIOCRITY
When we view excellence as a goal we tend to miss the point. Excellence is how you live your life – it cannot be turned on and off, and should not be viewed as a destination with an end in mind. You don’t reach excellence – you live excellence. Mediocrity, ironically, is a close cousin to excellence. It is a fork in the road that requires the traveler to stay the course of excellence, or turn towards mediocrity. Excellence is not a “sometimes” effort; it is a habitual “all-time” effort.
“If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”
– Colin Powell
 BE THE EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS
If the rule that you follow is to approach each task differently, to categorize certain tasks as more important than others in terms of effort, then how can you expect to be viewed as truly committed to your craft? The best scenario should be a work environment where others use you as the example for how things should be done.
 ASK THE QUESTION: “IS THIS THE BEST I CAN DO?”
Excellence, as a process, infers that your work, in any given moment is the best you may be able to do, but will improve incrementally as you repeat the process. The adage: “Practice makes perfect”, is based in truth. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are both excellent golfers who are never satisfied – they strive to be better than the best and as a result become their own worst critics. Watch their self-assessment after a successful match and you will note that they rarely focus on what they did well, but instead talk about where they made mistakes and what they need to do to improve.
“I have always looked at it this way: If you strive like crazy for perfection – an all-out assault on total perfection – at the very least you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night. To accomplish something truly significant, excellence has to become a life plan.”
 FIND YOUR ROLE MODEL AND USE HIM OR HER AS A REFERENCE
Everyone benefits from a positive role model. Find people who have become advocates for doing everything well and constantly seek ways to improve – seek their counsel, discover their methods, and as you approach a task, ask yourself; “How would my mentor approach this work?” Focus on accomplishing each task with this commitment to excellence.
“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.”
 BE PROUD OF WHAT YOU DO – NOT SATISFIED
Having pride in your work and knowing that it can still be done better is the sign of a person who has made excellence a habit. Look at your work and note that the effort is there, but that there is always room for improvement. The Japanese call it “Kaisen” – the process of constant improvement.
 WOULD YOU BE WILLING TO SIGN YOUR WORK
Can you imagine that there would be a difference in effort if every task completed by a cook carried his or her signature? Can you envision what it would be like if every guest, co-worker, and business leader was able to make the connection between the task and the person who completed it? Treat everything you do as if it were a representation of your personal brand and a statement of your commitment to quality work.
Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well can and should apply to everything that you do: how you present yourself, the quality of work that you do, how you treat others, your professionalism, the passion that you show for your craft, and your desire to learn. If you want to “get ahead”, improve your status in the kitchen, earn more money, or simply feel great about what you do for a living, then welcome the habit of excellence into your life.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant and Culinary School Consulting
*PICTURE: With my mentor: Laster Chef Anton Flory – The Adirondack Food and Wine Festival 2005