I spend way too much time on social media. If it wasn’t the best engine for reaching out to my readers and sharing what I do with a global audience, I would have wiped my accounts ages ago for the sheer amount of half-assed “hot takes” people are encouraged to belch out about everything from Sudanese economics to Dr. Seuss. It really is the dark side of the democratization of knowledge that anyone with a keyboard thinks “I have an opinion and a way to express it, therefore it is just as valid and important as any expert.”
Yes, so says the pastry chef and food writer with a blog who is about to expound on the psychology and philosophy of labor, but stick with me for a minute.
As a guy who works for a living, is trying to create a work environment that his employees can thrive in, and is having difficulty finding qualified help, I think I have some insight into the whole “no one wants to work anymore,” “quiet-quitting/working to contract” kerfufflefiasco mass whining “discussion” that has been making the rounds lately.
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.
Just putting in the effort/ hustling/ grinding is not enough- that effort needs to be in the right direction for what you want to do, otherwise you will just burn yourself out for no reason. Part of that process means constantly reevaluating what you are doing, and dropping the jobs, habits, and directions that no longer serve you like a hot rock.
Sometimes quitting is the easiest thing in the world- usually once it’s become a matter of moving on to something better or personal survival. Unfortunately, our pack-bonding brains are great at giving us reasons to stick around, endure the unacceptable, and sabotage our own happiness for the sake of security.
If breaking up with your job is hard to do, it might really be for the best.
Running, baking professionally, and writing have become very similar for me in a few ways. Namely, the fact that I don’t always WANT to do them until I start doing them. There’s the “work”/required aspect to them now- the feeling that all three of these things that I unequivocally love to do are now in some way required to be done on a regular basis raises a low-key kind of cold dread, and I have lately found myself trying to put them off or do something else first.
No, it’s not the best discipline to be sure. Discipline is a muscle. It needs to be exercised and flexed in order to stay strong, so when I’ve gone on runs or sat down to write lately, I haven’t been “in the mood.” There’s been an attitude of “Ok, I said I was going to do this. I want to do this. I need to do this and will feel bad if I don’t, so just do it.”
That’s how it starts… and then something clicks. The sound of my fingers clacking on the keyboard, the cold air in my face, or the buzz of a busy kitchen and people asking me questions somehow reroutes my thoughts. It stills them. Focuses them. It’s no longer a question of “mood”- just a fact of being.
When you slip into flow state, (a.k.a. “The Zone”), the past and future vanish. There is only the Present, and the Work- and it’s different for everyone.
Several years ago, back in New Jersey, I walked into the casino bakery in a sour mood, knowing it would pass in a few hours.
The sour mood wasn’t uncommon- the casino job wasn’t the most rewarding gig in the world, and I griped a lot to Emily and my housemates. This time, however, the fact I was going to a job I wasn’t enjoying was secondary- there was other, external issues weighing on my my mind and, perhaps appropriately, I have forgotten what was so terrible about those days five years later.
What I do remember was coming in, putting my tools up, and chatting briefly with Karen. “It’s so twisted… I almost find myself looking forward to going to work. Here everything makes sense even if it sucks, and I have control over it.” Karen nodded sagely and said, “You’ll realize that as you move along in your career, Matt. Your family and friends love you, they support you, and they absolutely care about you succeeding- but they will never understand this life.”
When you realize that you want to bend your time, energy, and life around something- in or out of the usual rat-race, regardless of whether other people understand why- that’s a precious moment of self-knowledge that you shouldn’t ignore.