It was a habit I’d gotten used to every Thursday morning. Thursday is Scone Day.
Every Thursday for the last year, I’d start my day in the bakery by double-checking our inventory and getting started mixing giant batches of scone dough. Sometimes three flavors, but lately just the two best ones. Giant masses of sour-sweet short dough, weighed into mounds, then pressed into discs. No real thinking about it, unless something went wrong- the mix too dry, too wet, not the right yield, or whatever. Otherwise, it was automatic- just like most aspects of the position I’ve worked in for the last two years.
Today I made my last batch of scone dough. Next week, I’ll be moving on to a new job. The staff says it won’t be the same and that they’ll miss me, and I know they’re being kind. I’ve trained the people I’m leaving behind well- they almost function better without me hanging around looking for something to do.
“Looking for something to do.” Once upon a time, the position was grueling. I sweated my bones trying to make production lists, meet the needs of a frantic bakeshop, and train a parade of faces and names to bake. Now, the job is almost… easy. It’s scheduled. Practiced. Thoughtless.
I helped make it that way, and now I’m too tired and stressed to enjoy the easy part anymore.
I used to joke with my previous manager that, at 2 years, I was an “elder statesman” of the bakery. I knew the way things “used to” be done all of two years ago. When the morning baker pooched an entire day’s bake-off because she missed one small setting on the oven, I laughed and told her about how I did the exact same thing my first week on the job. “You fucked up, kid. You know how, so just own it and never do it again.”
I know everything about some stations, just enough about others, and too much about how to grease the wheels of the kitchen to get things done right.
Things like knowing what’s wrong with that one mixer and the quirks of this particular oven. Where everything goes, and where to look if it’s not there. Methods committed to memory in the way that only the neurotic have, so that I know by description where my latest apprentice has fucked up.
All of that kitchen-specific knowledge will be reset as soon as I take on the new job. A new kitchen, new vibe, new rhythm, new quirks, new recipes. Despite the “universality” of food, no two places are quite the same. I’ve got some experience, but make no mistake- whenever you start somewhere new, you are the New Guy again, and you have a lot to learn.
Discomfort is necessary for growth in a lot of ways. You can’t improve on something if you don’t suck at it first. Even if it’s something you think you know in your bones, there’s always a chance to “wear the white belt” again and learn something new. In my case, I make the best pies I know… but I’m about to help take over the kitchen at a place that specializes in them. It’ll be a learning curve, but I’m used to those.
It was a learning curve to switch shifts at the French bakery. It was a learning curve when we changed recipes and production schedules in the middle of a pandemic. It was a learning curve when I was by myself, got and trained a team, then lost them and had to work by myself again. Every new face is a learning curve- in that I had to figure out the best way they learn and train them the best I could. Anxiety is too be expected when trying something new. The familiar is comforting, and I’ve spent a lot of time becoming familiar with this particular job.
On top of that is, frankly, the small sense of pride I feel about the work I’ve done. Yes, it’s a different job than the one I walked into- but it’s easier now because I carried it well through the times when it was harder. It’s hard to look at accomplishments and then just walk away… but that’s the nature of life. We keep moving.
We improve, change, and develop. New faces, new names, new challenges, new opportunities. When we cling, part of us stagnates. This isn’t to say we should forget what we’ve done and learned and struggled through- but we should not let our pasts encompass our future.
Part of me will always be “Matt the Morning Baker,” “Matt the Prep Guy,” and “Matt the Production Lead”- but now it’s time to let myself become something new and better.
As I told my trainees over and over, “It’ll be hard, but if it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be fun.”