Every chef, every employer, every team leader has stories about the different people they’ve had to work with and lead.
They’ve had old hands with years of experience step down to a lower position than they held and prove to be absolutely useless in spite of their experience. They had green workers come in and, while they make mistakes, they hustle harder than five cooks and bring their best every day seemingly for no reason beyond the adrenaline rush and the post-shift drink with the team.
There are folks who come through for a month then lose interest or move on, and there’s those who’ve been in the same arguably low-level position for years. While they’re pleased for a raise, they show no interest in promotions or doing any work beyond what they are doing now. They always seem pleased while peeling potatoes, prepping fish, or chopping vegetables.
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.
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.
Behind every exciting or awesome thing you have ever seen, done, or experienced, there was a lot of mindless boredom.
Someone coils and organizes every cable for that rock concert and goes through every switch on the light and sound boards. Before that big hiking adventure, there was a lot of packing, planning, and organizing. In the kitchen, every meal you have ever had- simple or complex- involved someone doing a lot of dull prep work.
This is “paying your dues” on the micro scale. It can be meditative, or it can be mindless. It can be soothing, or it can be drudgery. Either way, if you want that big beautiful pay off, there’s always some bullshit that needs to get done first. If you can “embrace the suck,” you can embrace the bullshit too.
If there is one rule I’ve learned that has radically transformed my life, it’s the Ten Words that form the heart of my book “Blood, Sweat, and Butter-“
“You Always Have Time For The Things You Make Time For.”
The collary and counterpart to this best expressed with the phrase, “Where attention goes, energy flows.”
That doesn’t just mean your personal energy… and your bank account will tell you it’s not just some freaky woo-woo stuff. The sooner you learn about where you are putting your time, your attention, your money- in other words, your energy, the sooner you start making wiser decisions about it.