Do you remember when you were a kid, and people would ask questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Do you remember your answers?
Mine changed a lot. I was fascinated by so many things; wanted to be an expert in everything. How could I choose? Well I tried, but I couldn’t. And it was frustrating. I had an idea of Who I wanted to be, but what I would do while I became that person was harder to define.
When I fell into cooking, for a long time answering the “what do you do?” question became easier. I’m a cook. I’m a cook at a Michelin starred restaurant. I’m a pastry cook. I am a baker. I am a Pastry Chef. I am a Sous Chef. I am a stagiere at a world renowned restaurant. Etc. There were easy “whats”. For a long time there were even easy, “What’s Next?”s. Here is the path. Push yourself, learn all of the prep, work every station. Learn more. Move up the ladder until you’ve learned everything you can and you are either in charge or ready to move on to something more challenging. Often a more prestigious position or restaurant.
“It started to matter less to me that my resume look a certain way, and more that I was doing something that I cared about”
A few years ago that path started to become a little bit less clear. I had reached a place where many of my moves started to feel linear. I was still learning, trying new things, trying to improve however I could. But what I wanted to learn was harder to define. I’d been working more management jobs that started to change my perspective about what makes a better Chef, a better teacher. And the “why” I wanted to take one job or another started to become harder to answer. It started to matter less to me that my resume look a certain way, and more that I was doing something that I cared about.
Many of my colleagues when they reached a place similar to mine would begin a path towards opening their own business. I wasn’t sure that this path was where I needed to be. I wasn’t sure that the timing was right. Or that what I had to say as a cook was unique enough that it deserved it’s own home. I was sure that what I was doing wasn’t working anymore.
A couple of years, a lot of life experiences, a lot of learning, and a few crazy risky wacko moves later- and I’m in a slightly different place. My “what do you do ” is a lot less easy to answer. The “why I do it” has taken over the top spot in my life. And I’ve decided to try something new. To take my knowledge and experiences and try to help other people, other restaurants. The what of that basically involves “going freelance”. So now, “I’m a consultant” or “I’m a chef without a restaurant.” And many other not quite easily defined roles. Sometimes lately I’ve answered the “What do you do question” with a self deprecating joke-“Well, nothing, nowhere”. Which isn’t actually true at all, it’s just easier to say. The “Why” I’ve decided to step off the pre-laid out path and go off on my own has both a complex amount of reasoning and a more simple soundbite. I’ve had to compact it over time. Make the explanation quick to convey when asked.
“I want restaurants to be a better place for people to work.”
I want to help figure out how to improve the hospitality industry in a way that focuses on not just the sustainability of the products we use and create, but also on our human resources, and the footprint on the community that builds up around us.
What I do while I work towards achieving this goal may end up being a lot of things. “Blogger”, “Private Chef”, “Consultant”, “Student”, “Writer”, “Photographer”, as well as whatever thing I come up with to help pay the bills. It wont be so easy to define who I am by what I do anymore. Which can be hard to take, hard to say.
It’s tempting to return to a more easily defined place. A more secure place. I try to keep reminding myself that my “Why am I doing this?” is more important to me now than ever. The “what” will follow.
Today I will be brainstorming ways to break up the work that I want to do into smaller steps so that they are less intimidating. I often feel dumb and frustrated while trying to work out how I am going to achieve my goals. But I think, if I keep chipping away at it, some part of this process will improve.