You Might Be Doing Better Than You Think

There are more measures of success than the ones that show up on paper.

This job is my first time running a kitchen crew, and it’s my first time leading one through a massive holiday push. The fact that supply chains are screwy, getting ingredients are unreliable, and the country is still winding its way through a pandemic is just icing on the cake, so to speak. The “cake” in that metaphor, however, is “this year more people have ordered pies from us than ever before.”

No pressure, of course. I know how to plan. Bakers are practically born for logistics and time management. I had plenty of warning that the holidays would be “busy,” and I got lots of preparation done. Yet there’s still that nagging, deceitful feeling each and every day. It’s the one that sees me pulling my hair out over the schedule. It sees me racking my brains as supply lines fail and suddenly we can no longer get the apples and hazelnuts we need through the usual avenues. It sees me wince at every employee call-out, every frustration, every complication that isn’t going according to plan. It looks at the total predicted number of pies like Sisyphus at a holiday gift of muscle rub and soccer cleats.

It’s the feeling that goes, “Why is this so hard for you? Why are you sucking at this? You should have more control! This should be easy. Maybe you’re just not up to leading. Maybe you’ve been running a scam on these people and yourself the whole time.”

It’s the feeling that doesn’t let you look up and see the full picture.

“If I can feed 120 people at a wedding out of a home kitchen by myself, I can pull off 2000 pies with a full restaurant kitchen and a team of seven.” That was what I told myself when the orders started coming in and my boss said “Ok, we need a production schedule- everything from making dough to boxing pies.” It was the end of a long day though, and as I stared at those endless order numbers and the blank spreadsheet and calendar in front of me, it all started to blur together.

Each flaw in our ordering system and the inventory spreadsheet we devised came with a twinge of “what now?” The dates and times piled up, and every minute I spent staring at a screen in the office that voice was screaming “What are you doing wasting time in here for?! There’s work to be done! You’re going to mess it all up! Screw this planning bullshit, JUST START DOING SOMETHING!”

I felt angry, exhausted, useless, stupid, and slow… until I finally asked for help and showed what I had so far, certain it would add up to nothing. My boss looked over the production schedule I’d written.

Wow… good job! This is a great start!”

Wait, what?

Photo by Rachel Claire on

When your heart and mind are dead set on the struggle, it’s harder for you to recognize the solutions- even the ones you’ve already come up with. My schedule needed some added details, but it was a good start. I was building it the right way- backing out from the due dates of each order, batching production together, and making it all clear.

Yes, the new inventory and ordering system we made had a few bugs- but it was a system that didn’t exist before. Former kitchen managers used to have to do inventory several times a week. Now we do it once a week and it all takes about two hours because we know exactly what we will need to order. It was a system I mapped out on clipboard and that my boss turned into a spreadsheet. (Seriously, I really need to learn to use Excel better.)

Supply line problems are affecting everyone, but not always equally. By asking for help, I was able to continue managing the kitchen and give my boss the exact weights of ingredients we needed. From that, she found new sources for missing ingredients- including some at bargain prices.

Personel problems are especially frustrating when the team is so small, and small problems can seem to magnify quickly. A few grousing faces or frustrated grunts can translate as “everyone is miserable. What am I doing wrong?” What I couldn’t see was that I was handling those problems well and that more people were carrying on happily (and even performing better) than I had assumed because my mind was stuck in that exhausted “everything is going straight to hell” space.

Image of a quote written in crayon that reads "Do what you love and you'll work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally."

This past week was very busy. I had to write schedules, do inventory, and make sure my team knew what the plan was… and for a good chunk of that week, I was unable to look up and realize I was getting it done until my boss pointed it out to me.

Give yourself a break, ask for help, and take time to get out of your own head. We are evolutionarily hard-wired to look seek out problems more than recognize happiness. It kept us alive for millenia- but we need to be able to recognize when we’re doing a good job too AND point it out for others who look up to us and can’t.

It really wasn’t until just now that I realized that earlier in the week, one of my bakers made a certain recipe for the first time by himself and was stressing out over everything he thought he did wrong. I looked at him and said, “Stop. Breathe. The pies in the oven, it looks fine, you did alright.” My boss did the same thing for me over the schedule.

Who can you remind that they are doing well right now?

Stay Classy,

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