Several years ago, back in New Jersey, I walked into the casino bakery in a sour mood, knowing it would pass in a few hours.
The sour mood wasn’t uncommon- the casino job wasn’t the most rewarding gig in the world, and I griped a lot to Emily and my housemates. This time, however, the fact I was going to a job I wasn’t enjoying was secondary- there was other, external issues weighing on my my mind and, perhaps appropriately, I have forgotten what was so terrible about those days five years later.
What I do remember was coming in, putting my tools up, and chatting briefly with Karen.
“It’s so twisted… I almost find myself looking forward to going to work. Here everything makes sense even if it sucks, and I have control over it.”
Karen nodded sagely and said, “You’ll realize that as you move along in your career, Matt. Your family and friends love you, they support you, and they absolutely care about you succeeding- but they will never understand this life.”
When you realize that you want to bend your time, energy, and life around something- in or out of the usual rat-race, regardless of whether other people understand why- that’s a precious moment of self-knowledge that you shouldn’t ignore.
You’ve found your Calling.
Know Thyself… and Don’t Forget
In my time as a baker, I’ve noticed that regardless of what kind of mood I’m in- bleak, pissed, depressed, or numb- it only takes coming in to the kitchen, looking at my production list, and getting my hands on some ingredients to bring me back to a kind of “normal.”
There’s something to be said about the distracting qualities of work in a bakery, of course- and I know that towards the end of an exceptionally long day that foul mood will return with the addition of being done with baking for the day. That doesn’t explain it completely, though.
Way back at the beginning of the pandemic, when I was wondering if maybe this wasn’t a sign I should take a break from the kitchen and try something else- a return to medicine, some kind of office job, something that would keep me safe from the virus AND let me heal- my therapist warned me to give it more thought.
“Whenever we sit together, you positively come alive when you talk about baking and the kitchen. Your eyes open wide and you glow. This is your Calling, Matt. Don’t walk away from it so casually.”
I stopped looking for office jobs immediately. I wasn’t desperate enough to stop doing what I loved just to survive, and I knew that if I did lose my job, I’d just have to find another way to keep doing the work I loved. What that looked like, I didn’t know yet- another (better) baking job, becoming a full-time food writer, becoming a culinary teacher, or starting up a business of my own again.
They all appealed, the timing wasn’t perfect for any of them (it never will be, by the way,) and I knew that if I tried to do all of them at once, I’d simply waste time and get frustrated failing at all of them at once. My job was stressful and frustrated me… but I still loved the work– so I’d just go with how I felt when I felt it. Not everyone understands or appreciates that mentality, though- and even the people who support you will give you an earful about it.
Advice Does Not Always Mean Support
Our current culture encourages us to have a bias toward action. It screams at us to push outward, to build, to create, to effect and enforce our will on this world, and to acquire whatever it is that society deems Good and Right. Currently, that means Money and Stuff. The desire to consider, to find something better, or even to be content is met with frustration and confusion.
There is no room in this ethos for someone to have a Calling.
Lately, my family in particular has interpreted my frustrations with my job as being frustration and disillusion with my work. They suggest jobs that pay well and have benefits- secure jobs that would let me earn Money and Stuff- but would assuredly leave me miserable.
“Well you don’t have to do them forever, Matt! Just until something better comes along that’s more your speed!”
“If that’s the plan, I’m already doing it.”
“But that job sounds miserable!”
“Oh, it is for sure… but it’s still work that makes me happy. I’d rather do that than work in a warehouse, regardless of how much they pay.”
I know that this advice is meant for my benefit and that they mean well… but the fact that that advice doesn’t benefit me doesn’t seem to stick. I understand that the goal is for me to be pragmatic, to accept security in something uncomfortable for a little while until I can go back to doing what I love. When it’s followed by common-sense advice about starting a food truck in an industry they’ve never personally worked in… that’s something else.
Sometimes, people need to vent more than they need solutions… and the need to vent does not mean a request for help. “Support” that isn’t helpful, actionable, appropriate to the situation, or even wanted isn’t supportive- it’s a distraction. It’s asking people to push aside long-term goals in pursuit of short-term solutions that present no real benefit. It’s begging me to cast off one of the aspects of my professional life that actually makes me happy in the the pursuit of being more secure.
If You Want It, You’ll Get It
Job security is a myth. This past year has proven to the world just how flimsy even “secure” jobs can be, and how easily many of them can be done from home rather than a long shlep to an office. It has shown how the gatekeepers are asleep and that if there is something you truly love to do in this world, there is a way to make it pay- by teaching it to others online if not performing it yourself.
Pragmatism is fine, but life is short to waste it not doing what you love. If you are lucky enough to find that thing that makes you light up when you talk about it and build a career out of it, don’t give it up easily and don’t encourage others to.
If you are worried about your friends and family and they seem like they are having a hard time, offer advice only if they ask for it. Sometimes people just need to vent, or they need support in a different way. If you don’t know, ASK. If what you’re doing is not supportive, it’s not Support!
Congratulations on finding your Calling. Stick with it, pursue what makes you come alive, and be patient.