I try not to miss weeks in writing this blog. If I am an Actual Professional Writer©, then that means showing up when I agree I will, putting out the words I’ve decided I will, and not making excuses about it. I think it was Ursula K. LeGuin who said she knew was a professional writer the first time she sat down to write something without really feeling like it and having no ideas.
In my case, I missed last week because I literally had no energy to do anything after a 60-hour week in the bakery. I wanted to write, I had ideas of what to write about… but the tank was on “E” and I was running on fumes for the downtime I had.
It’s a fairly common situation for folks in my industry right now- the Covid Culinary Brain/Talent Drain has hit everyone, and people are flocking to jobs where the pay is better, benefits more secure, and pockets are deep enough to possibly take care of them through the next crisis. That means that applicants for small Portland pie shops are few and far between, and it’s up to the folks who are there to keep the wheels turning.
I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get out of a field that is effectively lying in the bed of intransigence it made and now dealing with its legendary well of desperate labor suddenly running dry. A lot of my older friends and colleagues are staring down this situation and realizing that “the free market,” capitalism, and truthfully any economic structure looks great until you find yourself on the underside of it.
So why am I not part of this grand exodus? With my skills and experience, I could march into nearly any job fair run by one of those hospitality giants, lay down my resume, and conduct a bidding war for my services. More money, more benefits, fewer responsibilities (at least to start), and a clear career trajectory for rising in their company. Sounds like a no-brainer, so why not go for it?
Because I refuse to waste time working toward what I don’t want.
If You Have A Choice, Make It
First off, I know sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do. If my position was a bit more dire and I truly needed that bigger paycheck or better security, what I did or didn’t want wouldn’t enter into the equation so much. We all have responsibilities and they can often come in conflict with seeking out the work or opportunities that actually give us joy and validation in addition to a paycheck. That’s why you need to have a clear picture of where you are NOW first.
In my case, my wife and I work out our household budgeting together. We know what our savings goals and expenses are and have (thus far) gotten by comfortably on what we make now. Yes, we’d love to earn and make more, but our bills are paid and we’re not starving. Therefore, I can insist on doing the work I like provided I get paid at least X amount for it.
If you have a choice in doing what you like and being able to make a living doing it, make it… and remember that NOT making a choice is itself a choice. To quote one of my favorite lines from the television show Babylon 5, “We always have a choice. We only say we don’t have a choice in order to comfort ourselves about a decision we’ve already made.”
Decisions like this are made easier by getting a clear view of not just where you are but what you really want. I’ve mentioned doing a goal achievement inventory that I learned about from Chris Guillebeau. You can flip through and download it here if you’re interested in doing it yourself. It’s a time investment, but it’s free and absolutely worth the self-knowledge.
“Then what’s wrong with getting paid more to bake elsewhere?“ you might ask. “It’s still baking, you’re still working in your preferred field. What’s the problem?”
The problem is that after a year of creating my own menu items, hiring and training my own team, and learning how to run and manage a kitchen, I know I am not emotionally prepared to go back to following orders from others.
I love running a kitchen too much, even when it’s exhausting and frustrating. I love being in charge and having to ask fewer people to make decisions for me. More importantly, I love the feeling of control and agency this job gives me. I could be paid more to work in some massive bakeshop, scooping cookies and mixing kettles for 40 hours a week… but that work would be nothing more than a paycheck. It would not be engaging or rewarding. It would be “making a living” but I’d have no life WORTH living for 40 hours a week.
That level of self-awareness and self-knowledge is critical to making wise career decisions. Knowing what makes you happy, what pisses you off, and what you are willing to tolerate for how long in the name of what goals comes from some very frank and occasionally painful introspection. In the end, however, it is almost always liberating. Few things in this life are more discouraging than sweating away at a goal that was never truly yours, just to be left tired and unfulfilled at the end. That’s the real definition of “having nothing to show for” your efforts.”
Be honest with yourself. Learn where you are, decide where you want to go, make the decisions to get you there, and don’t work toward what won’t. You might make a living, but it’s not worth killing yourself to do it.