We have all had those moments (some of us more frequently than others) when we question what we are doing, the level of commitment required, and the price to pay. As chefs we all are aware of the time, physical stress, and emotional trauma associated with running a busy kitchen. The labor pool is a true challenge, the pressure to earn a profit is relentless, the fickle nature of guests can be frustrating, the shear number of daily decisions required of the job is mind-numbing, and the need to put yourself out there with each plate of food that leaves the kitchen can be – frightening. Yet tomorrow morning you will wake well before sunrise, put on that starched, white uniform, walk through those kitchen doors and face the challenges of a chef once again.
There will always be the missed family events, the 5 a.m. calls when the breakfast cook fails to show up, disappointment with vendors, unpredictable hours, and weeks on end without a day off. Hard as those things may be – they are part of a chef’s reality. Should this change – probably; will it change – not likely. Is it worth it?
Sometimes chefs feel like they are the anomaly in life – that these harsh realities only plague those in double-breasted white jackets – well, that simply is not the case. These “costs of the job” exist for many other professions where there is a commitment that stretches beyond a job or career. To be a chef is the same, in many ways, as becoming a doctor, lawyer, musician, athlete, performer, nurse, dietitian, painter, sculptor, builder/craftsman, and dozens of other callings in life.
There is, in human nature, a desire to make a difference, to do something meaningful, or as Steve Jobs once said: “To make a dent in the universe.” Not everyone struggles with this need, but for those who are born with this deep-seated knowing desire – they understand that it is always present. Label us as you may: Type A’s, Obsessive/Compulsive, Driven, or to some observers – Ego Driven. The universal reality is that these individuals cannot pursue something without giving it their all. This can be both noble and self-destructive, but it remains their reality.
These individuals (in this case chefs) cannot turn it on and off. This need to keep pushing and commit everything to their career choice runs through their blood, through their nervous system, and totally occupies their active and passive thinking process. Being a chef occupies their mind, body, heart, and soul and as a result leaves little room for anything else. Those chefs who work towards balance in their lives have to REALLY work at creating this balance – it does not come naturally. The same is true for those doctors, artists, musicians, athletes, nurses, performers, and craftsmen. Being “all in” is the essence of who they are.
So, you may think that this sounds like an uncontrollable disease – well, it does have some similar characteristics – yet there is a bright side to it. Making a dent in the universe is what has brought society to where it is today. Without this obsessive behavior we would not be able to enjoy the progress that continues to be the result. Progress in science, medicine, art, design, product innovation, technology, and yes – cuisine, are all a result of obsessive, “all-in” people who spent their lives seeking to make a dent in the universe. Many chefs are part of this club.
There is a harsh reality that oftentimes creeps into the lives of those who are seeking to make a difference. Many of the careers mentioned (being a chef in particular) require that the body, heart, mind, and soul all function at the same level of intensity. The body sometimes begins to lose a step with age even when the other aspects of a chefs being are still operating a peak performance. As was so adeptly stated by the band: Little Feat: “You know that you’re over the hill, when your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.” When this reality raises its ugly head – then something must be there to take the place of the intensity lost.
So often, we see “Type A” athletes, musicians, doctors, craftsmen, and chefs seem lost when the desire and intellect is still running at 100 miles and hour, but the body puts on the brakes. These “all in” individuals make terrible retirees because they lose the channel for their energy, and sense that they are no longer able to make a difference. “This is your time to relax and enjoy life” doesn’t really resonate with Type A’s. They don’t want to relax and step off the roller coaster of “making a dent in the universe” – they want to stay in the driver’s seat, they NEED to stay in the driver’s seat.
So, this being the case – here are a few words to the wise for young, high energy, ready to make a dent in the universe cooks as they map out their career and their lives. Take it for what it’s worth.
- Early on – do what you can to build those skills and jump into the deep water. Find those restaurants where you can learn a great deal from others and grow your strength as a game changer.
- Invest those hours, sweat the details, take some chances, put yourself out there, and grab hold of the opportunities to challenge yourself and those around you.
- Don’t succumb to “the way it has always been” – you won’t make a difference by simply falling in line and protecting things as they always have been.
- Find a partner in life who will be honest with you, pull you out of the deep end when you forget to use a life vest, who will tell you when you are out of line, who will be the one to say no, but at the same time will be your greatest cheerleader when you are on the right path and bumps in the road come into play.
- Know that as your body begins to slow through age, and wear and tear is all too obvious, that your other attributes of mind, emotion, and soul become more fine-tuned. This is where you need to direct your energy and your career. Chefs do not need to carry the lions share of the physical workload when they reach that position – they need to guide their team with their intellect, emotional intelligence, and soulful passion for the craft.
- Know that the dent that you need to make will have the greatest impact when you share your acquired skill, your passion, and your experience with others. Thus, the aging chef has a true ability to make a difference as a teacher and a trainer.
- In the later years of a career, and as long as a chef walks on the face of the earth, he or she can continue to make a difference by sharing what he or she knows, guiding others through the process, becoming a mentor and sage to others, and finding ways to communicate those strengths to as many people as possible. Age is no barrier to this. A chef will make a dent in the universe when he or she seeks to become a vehicle for communication, a protector of traditions, an advocate for necessary change, and a cheerleader for others who’s goal in life is to leave their profession better than it was received.
Assuming that you can change a chef makes little sense – it is much more appropriate to help the chef channel his or her energy for a lifetime of difference making. Oh, and by the way – it can be worth it!
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
BE SOMETHING SPECIAL, BE A CHEF
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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