If you are a cook who is happy working just for a paycheck – more power to you, but you can probably save some time and not read this article. If, however you have the sense that cooking is more than that and you have your eyes on many years connected to the professional kitchen, then read on. Moving forward in search of doing something meaningful and growing your position into a career may require some adjustments and a definite plan.
So, here are some golden rules that will help you to move in the right direction. Maybe this is who you already are, but if not, then view these as some “food for thought” that can turn your professional life around.
 BE POSITIVE:
Simple, right? Pushing aside the challenges and problems cooks face every day and resisting the tendency to find fault and complain is not easy. We can always find things to disagree with and people who frustrate us, but very little good ever comes out of this approach. As is often said – learn to become a problem-solver and not a finger pointer, build people up instead of tearing them down, and reap the long-term benefits of a positive attitude. People will notice.
 INVEST IN YOURSELF:
Self-improvement is the ticket to competence and confidence. Don’t wait for someone else to build your skills and knowledge – take charge of your own growth. Join, engage, read, learn, practice, connect, experience, and volunteer – this is how we improve.
 BE A TEAM PLAYER/LEADER:
Start by becoming an exceptional follower and an advocate for playing your part in a team effort. Look at your current role as the most important in the success of the operation and the power of the plate. Master your role and support those around you. Share, teach, and train others – this is the fuel that drives your own leadership engine. Every good leader understands how important great followership is and how the leader’s role is to give them all the support he or she can muster.
 DEFINE YOUR BENCHMARKS:
Find those cooks, chefs, restaurants, companies, or inspirational leaders who define excellence and learn from them. Study how they work, why they are so committed, and how they approach their work. Use all of this as your roadmap to success. Push yourself to be better and use their performance as a guiding light.
 WORK WHERE YOU CAN LEARN:
As you build your skill set make sure you select employers who are willing to invest in you; places where mentorship, training, and helpful critique are part of their method of operation. Everything else will come to you as you fine tune those skills and the knowledge to be exceptional at what you do.
 BE YOUR OWN WORST CRITIC:
Don’t wait for someone else to critique your work – assess your performance and compare it to those benchmarks. If you can improve then set a course to do so. Find out the best way to improve, seek out those individuals who have mastered a particular task and connect with the intent to accept critique.
 FIND A MENTOR/BE A MENTOR:
Set your focus on finding a person who will be honest in their critique and willing to show you how to improve. Don’t settle for a person who always seeks to compliment – you will only improve if someone is honest and helpful at the same time. Finding a mentor is the most important step you can take to change your professional life.
 THIRST FOR EXPERIENCES:
Be willing to step outside your comfort zone if there is an opportunity to learn. Seek out unique opportunities to experience great food, the source of that food, the people who dedicate their lives to it, the service that accompanies exceptional dining, and the commitment to excellence that very successful cooks and chefs are a part of. Immerse in experiences whenever they are available. Spend a week working on a farm, tour a meat processing plant, work on a fishing boat, save your money and dine at extraordinary restaurants, work the crush at a local vineyard, help the best ice carver in your area, stage at the best restaurants on your days off, shadow a coffee barista and learn their craft, attend food shows and culinary organization workshops – everything helps to build that base of knowledge, improver your resume, and change your professional life.
 FIND A WAY TO BALANCE:
If there is a lesson that most seasoned chefs will point to is finding balance. All work and no play make any cook rather dull and positioned to fail as a friend, sibling, spouse, or parent. Make sure your plan includes diet, exercise, free time, family time, travel, and relaxation. Work hard but know how to step away.
Be part of something larger than you, join groups of cooks, restaurateurs, bakers, and food enthusiasts who can offer a different perspective, cutting edge changes on how we cook and present food, or the best way to ensure financial success in the restaurant business. This will feed your competence and confidence and provide a network of resource experts who will be there when you need an answer.
 RESPECT OTHERS:
Remember the rules of thumb for teamwork and leadership. They all evolve around a commitment to respecting those around you who share a stove, grow the ingredients you use, carry your food to a guest, and manage the operation to ensure that it remains financially healthy. Respect for others leads to the respect you receive in return.
 RAISE THE BAR:
As good as you may be today, you should never accept good as the best you can become. Always push that carrot a little out of reach and then work like crazy to grab it. Just when you think you are there – push it out a little further. Remember, excellence is a journey, not a destination.
 ALWAYS BE IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE:
Use the concept of excellence, even perfection as the goal knowing that it will never be reached. Again, the journey towards excellence will always result in constant improvement – a chance to “wow” those around you.
Stay the course, enjoy the ride, and know that when your sights are on excellence your life will constantly change for the better.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Seek to be all that you can be.
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
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