A very good friend of mine has a theory. Many of us are familiar with the mid-life crisis. You reach somewhere in your 40’s and suddenly lose it completely, cheat on your spouse, throw away all your money, disappear into the mountains, grow an appalling beard or buy a Porsche you never wanted or needed. Or all of the above.
My friend’s theory is that we all go through a mini-crisis every ten to twenty years. For example you graduate college and have a total breakdown under the weight of the imminent and unavoidable life decisions that lie before you. Or you reach your 30’s and wonder if your chosen career path or spouse was the right choice after all. I believe this to be a very healthy system of checks and balances we use to keep our lives steered most directly towards balance and happiness. Being the over-analytical cynic that I am, I have had these freak-outs regularly enough to justify being described as a symptom of Benefiber.
There have, of course, been times when I have been absolutely (albeit temporarily) fed up with everything related to the world of professional cooking; when everything about The Life wasn’t sitting right with me. Perhaps my sous chef kept throwing food and utensils at me. Or I was made mercilessly aware of the long list of necessities that would go overlooked and incomplete if I alone didn’t take care of them. Maybe the constant horror show of neglect and malpractice with regards to hygiene and sanitation became too disgusting to tolerate. Whatever the cause, every time I peered out of my panic room into the vast sea of potential and possibility, I ran screaming back to cooking. I abandon ship and in the midst of the storm, the old vessel seems all too welcoming. The job, itself, is often like the bad food I occasionally prepare. I know it can be bad for me, but it’s somewhat of a home. It’s what I know, and it can be deeply comforting.
So what frightened me so? Well in short, everything else the world had to offer. Some jobs seemed too physically demanding or too boring, but the real fear resided not in the anxiety of being bumped back down to the bottom of the totem pole of seniority and experience, or even in the fear of not excelling in a new endeavor. It was the suits.
At each attempt at abandoning ship I was looking for an easy way out, so as you can imagine, thanks to Craigslist, I ended up at several meetings for sales jobs and insurance scams. The jobs themselves held little appeal, but the main discouraging factor was the stark professionalism of the business/sales world. Granted, I support professionals who have some pride in what they do, take it seriously and believe that performance and quality matter, but these people took themselves and their image too seriously. Not one of them seemed to possess a sense of humor. And it made no sense to me that they bothered to prepare themselves for work in such a way that had no defendable practical application to their given tasks. Salesmen, bankers, anyone using styling product in their hair endure a very unfamiliar discomfort to me. I can handle scratches, bruises, cuts, burns and biting sarcasm, but I have to be comfortably dressed. It’s hot, and we do a lot of bending, stretching and lifting. When I was in these meetings and interviews I was counting down the seconds to when I could untuck my shirt and change pants. The clothes were uncomfortable in anything but an upright standing position. Any cooking job I’ve had has involved the typical, breathable, movable, flame-retardant uniforms or the clothing of one’s choice which, in my case has the same requirements. I suppose I’m spoiled by being able to work in clothing that isn’t too dissimilar from pajamas.
Not only the suits, but the people wearing them scared me. They weren’t intimidating or rude, but I was very mindful of their presence because I would essentially become them. The men and women in these meetings and interviews were my would-be superiors. If I were to move up in these jobs, I’d eventually do what they were doing. So what were they like? Who would I become? Interview the people who are interviewing you. You are, with a little imagination, talking to your future self. What’s he like? What does he talk about and on what does he focus? Does he show interest in my interests? Not even close. They never mentioned anything about spending time with friends, making time for family, pursuing hobbies or fostering any part of their lives outside of work. All they talked about was making money. Money for what? All I could gather was that they wanted to make money so they could have money to spend money and then need to make more money. The way I see it, credit is imaginary and currency is flammable.
One of the more recent ventures out to sea was cut short by the same thing that slows down many other points of progress in life: alcohol. I met some cook acquaintances at a bar the night before an interview. I don’t typically drink much so calling it an early night for the morning’s obligations was no problem. There was me and a former coworker, Jason, in jeans and t-shirts. Robin came later still wearing chef pants and clogs, knives on his back and stinking of seafood. But of course, neither of us noticed. Shop talk ensued immediately.
Robin started with a hurried, “Sorry I’m late we were fuckin’ SLAMMED for lunch today, I didn’t get out until a minute ago.” “Sucks, bro. What’d you do to your finger?” said Jason noticing the damp, wrapped up wad of paper towels on Robin’s left middle finger.” “Tryin’ to julienne shallots and watch risotto at the same time,” as he rolled his eyes at himself. Jason held up his left thumb, pointed to a scar and said only, “Onions,” with a grin. I pointed at my almost matching scar and added, “Scallions.” As Robin lit up a cigarette with his shaky, wounded hand and puffed, “Why is it always aromatics?” We all chuckled and the bartender held out a seemingly once infected scar on her wrist. “Tomato can lid got me when I was takin’ out the trash. I got this round,” and she poured shots of whiskey for the four of us.
It occurred to me then that I took great pride in this kind of conversation. I’d rather be at a dive bar at 2:00 AM on a weeknight talking about the right way to poach salmon than waiting in line at Applebee’s on a Friday night complaining about the office’s broken printer. The unashamed, unassuming reality of a cook’s banter and profanity are too enjoyable to pass up. I suddenly became worried that my interview might go well and I’d only have these conversations in the past tense from now on. I’d run out of stories to tell, and I wouldn’t want to listen to any of my new coworkers’ stories. I felt too at home. I decided I wasn’t going to make it to that interview, and ordered another shot.
Work for yourself, not your wallet. Anyone can steal your wallet, but only you can lose yourself.