There exists a real dichotomy of enthusiasm towards working in the restaurant business. I realize that this may have always been present at some level, but in today’s kitchens there appears to be a polarization of those who love the business and those who are angry at their state of affairs. In the middle are the proponents of indifference and it is those who I hope to speak to through this article. The cheerleaders know what is before them and have embraced their calling with all of its opportunity and challenge. The angry cook will tend to remain so and for the most part he or she will point fingers at others and seek out blame for their situation. Of course there are reasons that are out of the individual’s control and challenges in the industry that seem to lack adequate attention from the decision-makers, however, some seem to find comfort in pointing this out and ignoring their role in making a change.
My answer to all, but especially those in the middle who appear to be indifferent and accepting of a lackluster fate, is: DON’T SETTLE! Grab on to opportunity, make your own opportunity, and by all means be part of the solution to challenges rather than accepting of a fate that does not inspire. So – this is a call to arms (not weapons), a moment to stand on a soap box and shout: DON’T SETTLE!
The Beatles in the landmark album: Rubber Soul wrote of the Nowhere Man:
“Doesn’t have a point of view
Knows not where he’s going to
Isn’t he a bit like you and me?
Nowhere man please listen
You don’t know what you’re missing
Nowhere man, the world is at your command”
As a cook the world is at your command. Opportunities are present, but lack meaning if no one grabs and owns them. This is profound and true. No person is held back unless he or she chooses to be held back. This may sound harsh, and there will be those who argue my point with loads of examples of roadblocks that have been laid in their paths, but I stand true to the statement.
To those who have become complacent in the kitchen, who punch a clock feeling that their primary goal is to get through the day, who have all but given up on moving forward with a career, I say: WAKE UP!
A CALL TO ARMS:
 ARM YOURSELF WITH AMBITION:
Elvis Presley once said: “Ambition is a dream with a V-8 engine.” It is drive that carries a person forward with a desire to work through any obstacles that take away his or her passion to reach a goal. This can be positive or negative, but to those who hold ambition as a tool with positive energy – ambition can make all the difference in success. You have to want it – to achieve it.
 ARM YOURSELF WITH A STRATEGY:
Ambition without a plan will fizzle out in frustration. What is your goal as a cook – to reach a certain position, to work at a particular restaurant, to make a specific statement with food, to make positive change in an industry, etc.? Define the end goal and build a step-by-step roadmap to reach that goal. Every day that you wake ask yourself: “Is what I am doing today helping me to reach that goal?” Build a plan and work the plan.
 ARM YOURSELF WITH VISION:
Reaching the goal is not always sufficient in the hearts and souls of successful people. What are you going to do with the success of reaching that goal? How are you going to leverage your success for personal, community, and even industry betterment?
 ARM YOURSELF WITH SKILLS:
You know right now that to move towards that goal you will need to acquire, and in some cases – master, a new set of skills. Research and define what those skills are and establish a plan that will allow you to build them into your bag of tricks. It may mean volunteering, taking classes, attending workshops, working with other chefs, reading more, experimenting, and certainly lots of practice. Commit to it!
 ARM YOURSELF WITH DETERMINATION:
Stay the course. Don’t let small failures and disappointments along the way slow you down and stop your forward motion. YOU CAN GET TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO – you are in the driver’s seat. If your current work situation makes it too difficult to stay the course – then look for another environment that is more supportive. The food industry today is crying for talented, energetic, committed people – if you have the drive there will be many terrific properties anxious to give you the opportunity.
 ARM YOURSELF WITH A NETWORK OF INFLUENCE:
The best opportunities come through those with whom you are associated. Build your network of friends and advocates who know you and trust that your commitment is unwavering. Pick and choose your team of influence with this in mind and be prepared to accept their advice. Be prepared to give back when they ask – receive/give is a win/win.
DON’T SETTLE is the process of never selling yourself short. When you start the day with I CAN, and I WILL instead of I can’t or I won’t, then countless doors will open. You will stumble, and there will be disappointment, but bounce back with two simple words: DON’T SETTLE.
“He’s a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody”
Be a somewhere man, an everywhere man, a man (or woman) who grabs those opportunities and stays the course until they come to fruition. Know this – there are countless opportunities in life and countless opportunities in the food business. Limitations are far too often – self-imposed. Don’t be an advocate for complacency, be an advocate for forward movement and a soldier for the kind of change that will keep those doors open.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC