Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When you Fail, Reset the Sails

I've mentioned before that I have quite some career frustrations. Despite being in the restaurant industry for nearly three years and having demonstrated my abilities and skills, I remain at the bottom of the ladder career-wise, having gotten stuck with deceptive employers, employers who lie to me to keep me stuck in the dish pit, or bosses who can't promote me since I'm unfortunately irreplaceable in washing dishes, despite being capable of so much more, a marketplace injustice. Other people with lesser abilities, lesser passion, and weaker work ethic has surpassed me, via going through different channels or simply being of no use in an arduous job as dish washing.

Most puzzling is that there seems to be a "Factor X" in my appearance, which makes people respond to me in very unpredictable ways. Despite myself conducting in perfectly proper manners, people will shake with rage at the sound of my voice or chuckle in paralyzing anxiety, smirk at me continuously like a child, or even believe I'm mentally disabled. Is it because my hearing-impairment adds a touch of accent? That I hold my shoulders up? That my face has a certain definition? I don't know, but I suspect this Factor X is costing me a lot of opportunities, in employers thinking something in "wrong" with me, "off," or whatever. Most of the jobs I get are by pure luck, because an employer pitied me, or they're so desperate for labor they hire me without examining my merit. Many then get "surprised" by my ability, and then work to hold me back, as I'm either too irreplaceable in my starting position, or because bosses get envious at my exertion, trying to hold me back so they feel better about their lesser interest and ability. It's demotivating. I'm currently trying to work towards self-employment to get rid of the barrier employers currently impose on me.

The most important thing I've realized, however, is that there's multiple, even tons of different paths I could take to my ultimate goals. I had been thinking too strictly in terms of how I understood how other people got to their goals, and INCORRECTLY believed that I too must follow in those footsteps in some way, as if they were absolute requirements, and forgot all about the other options.

In the restaurant industry, it's pretty common to think that you get ahead either by going to a culinary school or by starting at the bottom of a restaurant, such as in dish washing or minor prep. History is probably rife with examples of great chefs starting out as lowly dishwashers, working their way up. Seeing it be so drastically common to have culinary careers play out that way, it seems that culinary school, prep, or dish washing are necessary prerequisites, as if they're the only three alternatives a person has to making it in the field. With that kind of belief instilled in me, and the inability to afford culinary school, I set out to pursue these improperly delimited options and got into dish washing, and got set back by its pitfalls. Way back then people were probably more ambitious so as to make productive dish washers easier to find, but in our lazy times they've become an unfortunate rarity, making unsuspecting dish washers get trapped when trying to work upwards. There's other considerations too, such as irrational employers simply unwilling to teach.

For awhile, this really made me lose motivation in wondering if my goals were really possible. Dish washing traps, people not willing to teach, unable to afford culinary school, earning little to teach myself -- how can I possibly succeed? Well now, I realize in a potentially unlimited number of ways.

I don't know who said it or what their exact words were, but the key is accepting that my own paths are my own, and not to worry about how my path compares to other people, such as what accomplishments I'm garnering at what age in comparison to others. Some chefs might be typical culinary school graduates. Some might be ex-dishwashers. Still others: A totally unique, self-defined path.

Why am I depending upon culinary schools and restaurants as the only way to learn the culinary arts? One or the other may be necessary for specific skills -- such as efficiently chopping a cambro of onions or speedily plating dozens of dishes during service -- but a hefty portion of the education can be self-taught. All the knife skills can be learned at home, all the primary techniques, all the foods, and so on. Why not focus on increasing my earnings and going on in self-directed study? Or what about hodge-podge classes? Sometimes fine dining restaurants actually have cheap one time classes in wine tasting, the preparation of certain dishes, and so forth. Or how about entering another portion of the food industry? Being a butcher's apprentice would be relevant to applying butchery skills at restaurants. Or how about even doing some odd things, such as consulting a well-known cook in the area and volunteering to do their cooking chores at home?

To become a fine cook there are multitudes and multitudes of various ways I could reach my goal, not to be limited by the stereotypical "school or dish washing" dichotomy. There could even be original methods I could invent myself, such as volunteering to cook for a large, busy family. It may be a odd and unheard of journey, but developing the culinary skills is all that matters, and if in some years down the road I can demonstrate my developed abilities -- in knives, speed, and accuracy -- I could make a "leap" to a respectable cooking position, just like how some computer programmers "leap" into highly paid jobs despite not having the college degrees of their peers beneath them job-wise. Getting a degree may be the most common or most representative way of obtaining something, but I realized that all that truly matters is that I develop my abilities in substance, and it's that substance that will get me to my goals, not following the footsteps of other people or following stereotypes. Just like those self-taught computer programmers, they may spend years studying and practicing without the endorsement of a college entity, and rise up beyond the people who do have degrees, sheerly by having more merit. I've heard of a car company hiring a homeless person on the beach into a highly paid position because he had so much self-trained ability.

What this means for others is that if you happen to be frustrated in trying to obtain some kind of goal, such as in your career, and you're simply not making headway, consider changing your route altogether. Consider a path less taken, or even invent your own totally original way of self-development to get there. In life there may seem like there's only a set number of doors for you to open to a certain destination, but if you go further down the hallway you may discover some that people have never opened before, and it'll take you directly, or perhaps even pleasantly beyond, what you've been struggling so hard to get to.

Question and examine your methodology. Is what you're doing really necessary for the obtainment of your goals, or is it simply popularly accepted, or simply the popular choice traditionally taken among generations? Do you really need to go to a specialized school, or can you be an autodidact, or get an unconventional teacher?

To do this kind of questioning is a great big help in not getting frustrated at one's failures, or even being deliberately held or pushed back. If the door you keep trying to open is stubbornly locked by the person on the other side it's time to look for other doors, not "patiently" wait for him to change his mind, such as a boss withholding a deserved promotion, or to walk away in hopelessness.

For me, I'm not going to worry terribly much about my restaurant education, as I trust in my ability to teach myself, and I trust in my ability to innovate unique and unusual methods for self-improvement. With Factor X, it seems like a wise idea to take advantage of other money-making opportunities, such as in writing, and use that towards a personal education. Surely I could rig a part of my household to hang sausages. If I learn to pretend each meal I prepare is in a restaurant kitchen, then meal-by-meal I can train myself to take accuracy, speed, and ability seriously all the time, rather than easing in the slowness of personal cooking, and to habituate it to the point it simply transfers over into another job, with no "transition" period. I could save up and pay for those hodge-podge restaurant classes and then add the skills and learning to my resume'. Eventually, with original paths and self-directed training, I ought to perform a stage for a restaurant and prove indefinitely my capability, and bypass the false obstacles of a culinary degree or starting out at the bottom. In the restaurant business all they care about is your demonstrated abilities; not your fancy degree.

If you feel stuck, maybe it's because you're taking a harder path when a better one is available. Perhaps there's a path that few take simply because it's "too hard," like autodidactism, and you may have the guts to be one of the few to succeed by it. Perhaps there's a path people just have never seen before. Whatever is in your way, never accept the "defaults" that society gives you, the traditional conceptions of the road to success, the supposed "requirements." If you're failing in a pursuit, reset the sails to follow other winds.

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