Good evening, friends and neighbors.
What exactly does it mean to be “indispensable?”
As I write this, I’m sitting on the patio of my house, under a cloudy summer night sky. Crickets and frogs in the sparse woods of this neighborhood are making a racket, but it must be way louder up on the mountain.
A cold Californian beer is sweating next to me, doctored up with a chili-lime salt-rim, watching while I try to fulfill what the single biggest responsibility of a professional writer is supposed to be, since that’s what I’m calling myself these days- in addition to “blogger,” “baker,” and “entrepreneur.”
This is rather the kind of office I’d imagined I’d always have– the portable kind, in the form of a satchel packed with a dependable computer (stop laughing,) a few books, and some other bits of tech so I could get my work done from wherever I wanted to be, whenever I wanted to do it.
That’s the point of working remotely, right? It was one reason I found my way into the kitchen- I knew at a young age I didn’t want to spend my life chained to an office desk. Whether it’s the fire and madness of a kitchen, the intense hush of a busy bakeshop, or the serene ambiance of a summer deck- it had to be- HAD TO BE- superior to quiet office desks and the blaze of fluorescent light for hours on end.
During this past stretch of joblessness, I got to thinking that office work may not be so bad.
Yes, that’s how bad my mind was at that time.
Now I ought to say out front- no judgments if that’s your job, or the kind of job you want. In an office, you are NOT likely to burn your hands on hot metal, slice yourself open with a knife, or get beer on your computer (unless there’s an office party, I guess?)
You should go for whatever kind of job will give you the life you want to live. In fact, I insist on it. There’s a lot to be said for jobs that would put you in that kind of environment, and screw the naysayers- including me.
I just knew that, with nearly every single job of my life involving manual labor or otherwise working on my feet, a quiet desk job- regardless of pay- would feel like slow death by asphyxiation. I am the kind of guy who needs to move, needs to hustle, needs to build, create, and get my hands dirty.
If I can’t finish the day and look at either a list of accomplishments or hold something in my hands, I feel as though there’s no point. The day is lost, I wasted my time.
Why, then, was I thinking about a desk job? Why, then, am I offering myself up as a writer?
Well, a couple of reasons really- both have to do with that first question.
What does it mean to be indispensable?
Back when I first started in this field, at my very first baking job, I was told point-blank my exact worth to the business:
“Every single one of you is expendable,” the woman running orientation said. “All of you. Even me. We can all be fired at any time, for any reason, in a heartbeat. So don’t get cocky and think you’re irreplaceable.”
How uplifting for a new baker, right?
In a way, it was.
“Well hell,” I thought to myself. “I better learn as much as I can as fast as I can and MAKE myself indispensable.”
I learned every recipe, procedure, and trick anyone would throw at me. I learned to do as much as I could, whether it was my job or not, and how to do it well.
I delivered results, and was trusted to deliver more- to handle experimental recipes, to adjust recipes for new purposes.
I wanted to be a debrouillard- a man who could Get It Done.
That’s one reason I thought of taking an office job. After all that, the hassles and procedures involved in working at a desk couldn’t POSSIBLY be that hard, and if the pay and benefits made it worth it, then…
The second part came from that first orientation- I never wanted to be in a job where someone could tell me how worthless I was ever again, or where I would even need to prove them wrong. As a writer, I AM indispensable- to myself, and to my readers, because only I can write my work.
So there’s a couple reasons I thought of leaving the kitchen- I didn’t want to be called “expendable” ever again, and I knew I could make myself indispensable at whatever I did simply by becoming a debrouillard of the office world.
The other reasons came from my mind- bent up, burned out, and exhausted as it was.
After the previous few months, I’d become too worn out and anxious to care much about my work. I did enough to not get in trouble and to keep things running as smoothly as possible for myself, but didn’t enjoy it anymore. I couldn’t.
I thought that maybe that was a sign- that I was over the kitchen. That a decade was enough, and that it was time to give something else a shot. Maybe I could find my way back in later. Maybe I could learn to love baking again on my terms, and rediscover the fire that burned in my gut when I started.
Fortunately, I found a new kitchen job quickly- new tasks, new recipes, and a new environment where all that was needed- not a new livelihood.
At the same time, though, so many of my friends are cooks who have been in the game any number of years. I know that, despite my best efforts, sometime in the future my body might betray me. It probably won’t be for several decades, but I know that someday I won’t be able to keep up with the pace of the kitchen anymore.
My body may make me leave- but even in that nightmare scenario, I can’t imagine turning my back on food and cooking for the rest of my life.
That leaves me only a few options: teach others, or write for others.
I’m pretty good at both, I think- so it never hurts to start practicing.
Looking back, I was utterly ridiculous after leaving that last job- but I don’t think I could have been any other way.
Strictly speaking, I was only unemployed for 4 days or so before I got my current job- but my state of mind made it feel like an eternity. I was inconsolable. Insufferable.
I didn’t like being left alone with my thoughts very much.
With the new job, new energy for this blog, and new goals, things are a little better. My mind and I are on better terms, but there’s still plenty of work to do. Lots of side work.
I can make myself indispensable to a kitchen, or a business, very easily.
Now I gotta remember how to make myself indispensable to myself.
Trickier than it sounds, really- but the beer and the night on the deck are helping, and so are you for reading this.