Want to really piss off a millennial? Ask them “What did you think your adult life would be like growing up?” Want to have a full-on existential crisis? Truly and sincerely listen to the answers– and wonder if you haven’t forgotten being that pissed off once too.
Sorry about that. Let me make it up to you by sharing a comforting truth- success is relative, and how it looks is up to you.
Fall is without a doubt my favorite season. Flip flops and shorts give way to jeans and boots, t-shirts becomes hoodie and scarves, and the world makes it clear that it’s getting close to time to wind down.
For everyone who’s not running a pie shop, that is.
As soon as summer ends, it’s the signal for my pie shop to shift into high gear. We’ve pulled out of farmer’s markets for the remainder of the year to focus everything on production. A frustrating and confusing decision for sure- fall is prime farmer’s market business- but in the context of a tight team, it makes more sense. The time between Halloween and New Years Eve is our Super Bowl. I have been trying to train my team and stock us up on supplies for the entire year, because we are about to make fully 30% of our income for the year in 8 weeks.
It’s “go time.” We’ll be ready, though. It’s what I’ve trained for, in the career I was born for. As pie after pie flies out the door into waiting hands, though, it’s easy to forget why I love being a baker. I’m no longer the adrenaline junkie I was when I started in this field, despite what my caffeine addiction might say about it.
Pie after pie after pie into one set of hands after another, it’s easy to forget that these customers are people- that our pie is going to be enjoyed by their families, and that it will make their various holiday dinners that much more enjoyable.
It’s important to do business well, but you can never forget why you chose to go into business or join an industy like this. For me, no matter how many pies I sell or books I write, I have one small and simple dream.
There’s lots of ways to be a “baker” or “pastry chef,” and the job itself can vary wildly. More time in the kitchen or less? Small operation, or a cog in a corporate machine? Fine dining or simple cafe? Year-round or seasonal? It takes a while to figure out what you like to do, and you can waste a lot of time chasing what you think you’re “supposed” to want or like doing.
So who would I be as “Matt the Baker,” and what would I do?
I would be Matt the Baker, and Matt the Baker would be me. I’d be a part of my community- The Baker. I’d make pies, cookies and pastries all day, everyday. I’d sell them and know each and everyone of my customers by name and face. I want to remember their birthdays and anniversaries, and make sure I have their favorite flavors on hand.
I want to have regulars. I want people who make my pie part of their routine, and I want to see their kids grow up eating my pie. I want to hire the ones that are curious, teach them to bake, and send them off to culinary school to learn to do more and better.
I have no interest in wholesale or catering. I want to pick and change my menu based on what is available near me and what my customers love. I don’t want any middleman between me that the people who eat my work. I know that will make my work more seasonal and give me less wiggle room- wholesale and events do offer a certain amount of financial security for all the effort that goes into making a retailer or organization happy- but it will never be worth the frustration and irritation to me.
My business will start. It will grow as far as I care for it to, and when- if- I’m ready to move on and not be Matt the Baker anymore, I will sell or leave it others and move on knowing I spent my life and time building something simple and beautiful, and needed for its time.
Plenty of people in this world will make a lot more money and be more “successful” without being able to say that.
I want to leave behind happy people, a lot of stories, and plenty of good memories. It may not happen as “Chef Matt”- but it will happen the closer I get and stay to just being “Matt the Baker.”
Back when I was a Scout, I learned one of life’s most important lessons by way of a story from dated, semi-racist book that exuded the “Noble Savage” trope. The book was “Gospel of the Redman” by Ernest Thompson Seton (who was himself a former Chief Scout of the BSA,) and the story taught me that we all define happiness and success for ourselves. It was about a man selling onions.
I really don’t like the idea of New Year’s resolutions. It’s not because most of the popular ones are superficial or shallow (as someone who wrote a weight-loss book, I know just how narrow my space to talk is by saying that.) It’s not even because they are cliche and nebulous (Not everything needs to be a “SMART” goal, but you can’t expect much from a resolution of “play less video games and get outside more.”)
What bothers me about them is that people set these big, noble but vague goals for themselves, then get down on themselves when they fall off the wagon- as they inevitably will. It turns the elements of effective goal-setting on their heads and, as someone wiser than me said, “people overestimate how much they can do in a day and underestimate how much they can do in a year.”
Regardless of your personal commitment, keeping goals “SMART”- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timed- rewarding yourself for achieving them, and working toward them slowly will add up to success more (and disappoint you less) often than trying to “sprint up the mountain” on Day 1.
Before you start writing those goals down though (and yeah, put them in writing,) you need to ask yourself two questions and answer them as honestly as you can: Who are you? What do you want?