Thursday, April 25, 2013

Youthful Idealism, Uninterrupted

One thing I've often mentioned being disappointed in is how I'm not as ambitious or intellectually rigorous as I was during my teenage years, when I was first forming my ideology and intensively honing it. Nowadays I think I'm doing better to actually rekindle that old fire -- and keep it aflame, now that I know what gives rise to it -- and it spawns some thoughts on the phenomenon of youthful idealism.

It's well-known that at certain ages there a screaming intense ambition in youthful people to take ideas incredibly seriously and to work ultra-hard at practicing them properly, an energy level and seriousness that's usually unmatched in the rest of the person's life, and generally out of place with the enthusiasm of the culture as a whole. It's a precious and delightful gift of youth that leads to rapid transformation and development, and, used the right way, can set one up well for life.

Sadly, however, that's also that bit about it wearing out as the person ages, and rather rapidly. They call it a spark since sparks are so fleeting: There's this flash of energy and brightness, which then fades to the typical lethargy and reserve usually seen at large. The most unfortunate thing is that people consider this a fact of aging, that this petering out is inevitable to everyone in some way or another, and that this supremely energetic state of youthful idealism cannot be maintained, making it a temporary state which cannot be used to carry over into the rest of life, for all of life. How sad to think that the gift of youth cannot be kept, and must be depleted before the mid-twenties.

However, I think it's bullcrap. When I introspect on what caused me to originally peter out my own spark I can observe directly responsible situations for dousing the flame, and I also know firsthand -- however tricky and difficult -- that it's possible to get back up into that magical zone, stay there, and take it even further beyond.

Succinctly, in my own case and probably all others, I think the main reason why youthful enthusiasm peters out is because of the unavoidable follies caused by youthful naivete. No matter how virtuous an intellectual trait or long-term practice may be, the youthful people at the peak of their energy don't grasp well how to stay into this state, and, more importantly, run head-first into walls despite their best intentions, because they couldn't see the walls in advance, didn't know how to get around them, and couldn't figure out how to repair their personality after they gave up.

For instance, I've mentioned that eventually I'm looking to leave the restaurant industry, though I still retain intensive culinary interests, ones I'd rather take into my own direction. The main reason why an exit is so appealing is because I ran into the restaurant industry with the peak of my youthful enthusiasm about a passionate career, but I was not only ignorant of some professional pitfalls that exist in holding back development, but also pitfalls that society at large is ignorant of.

In this case, dish washing. Dish washing is a very impractical place to start a restaurant career . . . very impractical . . . and yet the popular conception is that many famous chefs have started by working their way up from the dish pit, which is true, and that it's a worthy consideration to start washing dishes as a gateway into professional cooking.

This is still true today, but society drastically oversimplifies this, and direly essential information is missing. For one thing, an important fact I didn't know when I first entered the restaurant industry is that, surprisingly, competent dish washers are very rare. It's an entry level position that's actually extremely hard for restaurants to fill, and all of the restaurants I've worked at struggle for months trying to find the slightest ability in that area, which is hard since people at large either don't want to do the job or cannot do it well since it's so fast-paced and stressful. My own opinion is that dish washing isn't that bad, but right now we live in times where people have irrational attitudes about doing that job.

This gives rise to what I call the "Dishwasher Trap." If you demonstrate ability in washing dishes, the odds are unfortunately good that you're either going to be stuck in that position, or else kept in it way longer than you deserve to be.

Since I didn't know this, and since a lot of restaurant literature doesn't even mention that that dishwashers even exist, I ran in with explosive energy hoping that my incredibly hard work would show just how worthy I am to be taught cooking and prep. If I'm so strenuous and thorough in the dish pit, imagine what I can do in other areas!

However, month after month passes by, and I make either no or very little progress. People by and large don't address the worth of my effort. Worst yet, I actually get passed up for promotions that I deserve, which are instead given to people who are my vast inferiors, having lied on their resumes about experience, refusing to do the job properly, have no prior jobs whatsoever, etc.

I kept working, however, believing that I just needed to demonstrate my virtue more and that eventually my worth will be recognized, but the Dishwasher Trap is cruel. At one restaurant I worked at I was passed up for four or more opportunities for promotion that I had earned in favor of kids much younger than me and with no prior restaurant experience, and was, at that same place, demoted several times back into the dish pit since my intended replacements couldn't keep the pace, getting buried by work, and ending either quitting or getting fired. At that same time excuses kept getting made, such as how I wasn't ready to work on the line yet (despite my demonstrated ability and prior experience, and that they're were putting above me a kid with no food experience at all). Worse yet, the more ability I demonstrated meant the work got harder and harder, as envious coworkers would try to sabotage me, frustrate me, or give me endless new work while harassing me about my "slowness" despite the greater time dedications.

I've been in the restaurant industry for over three years now, and I still have barely a touch of authentic training in prep and cooking, and am still washing dishes. It's ridiculously unjust since I've directly observed other dishwashers getting promoted in a year or less.

So while people may recommend dish washing as a good start to a chef career, the truth is that, while you can find good employers who sincerely care about training you and advancing you someday, there's a lot of bad employers out there who can't find good dish washers and tie down the rare few they can get, which keeps those people locked in positions not worthy of their long-term ambitions and actual ability. At more than one place I was nearly or actually at the top-tier of quality and ability for the staff, and yet locked at the lowest tier of job function. If you work hard at dish washing to try and rise up, odds are that's exactly what will keep you there.

Consequently, the majority of my enthusiasm for the restaurant industry has petered out, and I'm looking around for more fulfilling directions. While my mind used to be exploding with ideas of the kind of restaurant I'd like to operate, now I admittedly, for the present, do dish washing just for the mere paycheck. In all these years it just hasn't gone anywhere worthwhile, and I rushed into it because of the stereotype that it's easier to professionally advance from that position than it actually is.

As such, I'd like to go forth and give a wake-up call to those aspiring chefs in the peak of their youthful enthusiasm: It's not true that dish washing is a practical start to a culinary career. It's not only a very stressful position that's frequently underappreciated -- and worse, if the serving staff and bosses are abusive to the dishwashers, which can happen -- demonstrating your ability here could get you trapped. Learn how to judge people and develop relationships so that you can detect earlier on which bosses will develop your career and which will keep you locked into entry-level positions, so that you can leave sooner the bad ones and devote your time to the best. Pay for cheap prep classes to get practical knowledge; chefs care more about that than culinary degrees, which is demonstrated in the fact it's tradition to work a night for free to prove you have skills.

Getting back to the bird's-eye view of the theme, the one thing I wish were more prevalent in our society are wake-up calls like these, bad directions that people may think are good directions (or at least look practical), which, as a hidden reality, are a waste of your time, especially when it comes to your youthful spark.

In my case, my youthful enthusiasm didn't wane out as it did because I aged, it waned out because I repeatedly ran in circles believing I was advancing my career when I was really doing something very impractical. If I had stayed at that one particularly abusive place, they would have continued bullying me indefinitely and trying to ensure that I advance at a snail's pace.

In other words, my youthful energy petered out because I took virtuous practices (working hard, innovating techniques, studying on my own, etc.) and apply them in an impractical direction, because I didn't know any better. While I'm slowly getting back on my feet, I find myself now having to overcome obstacles in my thinking habits that are the results of prolonged exposure to these frustrations.

What we could all do, perhaps, is do more to shine lights on these hidden realities to prevent other people from wasting their time in ways that will disappoint them and change them mentally for the worse. There's a lot of writing, for instance, on why people shouldn't go to graduate school, whole blogs and books. While there needn't be -- and isn't enough material for -- blogs or books on the Dishwasher Trap, it's still a little thing that an alarm should be sounded about.

Even if these frustrations do occur I don't think the energy and rigor of youthful enthusiasm is gone forever. It can be reignited with good thinking and a deliberate molding of the personality, but it's awfully hard to do so when you have to battle emotional issues spawned from your frustrations, and there's always the danger of relapse if you don't know how to maintain it or if you get into another situation that wastes your time and energy, depriving you of due reward.

Thus, one of the greatest gifts we could give our children and other young people is the knowledge of how to avoid pitfalls such as the Dishwasher Trap, so that they can direct their energy towards practices that yield rewards and keep their flame burning, without interruption. Shine lights on those walls you hit, so that other people don't have to hit them at the height of their game.

And these walls are everywhere. I'm surprised at how many times in my own greater youth that I've been utterly shocked at something, despite my studies of evil, political wrongdoings, and so on; the greatest hurts and frustrations came from the most unexpected places, which, again, damaged my youthful enthusiasm.

As some more examples, I grew extremely depressed in college when I started questioning its practicality. Before I started I had the impression that I'd be leaving behind partying and drinking classmates for an intellectually rigorous atmosphere, where everyone was extremely serious about knowledge and ideas, and that every which way you look you could always find someone that took the learning process as seriously as you do.

But, upon getting in: It's the same damn people! My college campus was rife with the same people who didn't care about learning, improving themselves, expanding in any area, and so on. In short, it was like all the high school kids I tried leaving behind followed me there. On top of the reading I did about the worth and value of a college degree, I grew so depressed I had to drop out. I even tried again only to get dismayed by the reality a second time, dropping out a second time and for good.

(Though my ultimate advice isn't to avoid college, but rather think it through very thoroughly and don't go if you're against it. Going to college against your wishes is very bad psychologically, and my mind was so against me I couldn't function, failed nearly every class, and nearly got expelled. Wait until you're actually confident and motivated about your purpose, at least.)

As one last example, I've even gotten shocked by people not employing what I thought were common sense manners, which resulted in a lot of grief and personality problems for me for years afterward. When I first began making major changes in my life, such as by adopting the Paleo diet, I took it for granted that when a person disagrees with you on lifestyle unrelated to moral issues, then you simply disagree politely and accept the differences, and keep dealing with each other while letting those differences be accepted. I eat Paleo, you eat the Standard American Diet; who cares? I choose what I eat and you choose what you eat, and we should be fine with our judgment. I won't nit-pick about your choices and you shouldn't mine.

To my shock, however, a particular individual close to me in terms of daily contact literally developed obsessions with my life changes like this. No matter how much I politely asked them to leave me alone and how much I left them alone about their own lifestyle choices, they obsessed for years about my decisions, going so far as to intimidate me in front of other people in hopes of pressuring me to change.

However bad their behavior was, it took several months to fathom how deep it was in their personality, and how I needed to deal with it, so I naively left it alone, believing they would come around to common sense, only to get disappointed and flabbergasted time and time again with how intrusive they were about my choices. We even gotten into fights for a month on issues as small as the use of cruise control in the car!

By not knowing what a harmful personality I was dealing with, I kept dealing with it. As a result, my life became miserable, and it became impossible to concentrate on purposeful activities since I expected disruptions at every turn, or the smallest change to my life would bring about a new, literal obsession in this person. Having suffered this person for years, it lead to drastic changes in my personality and emotional nature, and I'm still repairing the damage.

The point is that since I was so naive about the nature of these situations -- the worth of college and this toxic person -- I brought upon myself such great frustration that it actually psychologically altered me, leading me into depression, anger, an inability to focus, and so on, while still trudging in that direction (i.e. staying in college, continuing relations with that person) in hopes that it'd get sunny somewhere down the line, such as me suddenly getting motivated the next semester or this person coming to sense and realizing that cruise control isn't a cause for yelling matches. Nope: I stayed dangerously depressed in college, and my relationship with that person got worse in a straight line for years until I cut them out.

And the main point is, again, my youthful enthusiasm did not peter out due to aging; it was again due to going in unproductive directions, and, in the above cases, directions that are so stressful it changes one's thinking habits. That change in one's thinking habits and emotional constitution is what results in the "petering out" of youthful enthusiasm.

Young people all over the place are probably seeing their flames snuffed out because of this. They get giddily intellectual, and then shocked at the anger people experience at views challenging their own, or see bullying from envious classmates. They come up with innovative and ambitious goals only to find their parents begging them for months not to do it, bringing their spirits down. They might do such simple things as try barefoot walking outside, only to get yelled at by punks driving by. All this, because they're too naive to protect their mental constitutions, and making them lose that magical enthusiasm due to the festering belief that people will be against them all the time, the world won't let them succeed, they'll always invoke hostility, etc.

The whole trend of people losing their youthful spark isn't a fact of aging; it's either that they never developed it in the first place, or probably got worn down by unforeseeable obstacles responding to their ambition. I consider myself in the rebuilding stage of youthful ambition, for it wore down by going in impractical directions, staying with bad people and manipulative employers, and so on.

There are ways to avoid these obstacles and protect your mind, its thinking habits in particular, from changing negatively from stressful experiences, but young people don't possess that knowledge, which is what leads to their downfall.

And it's best to prevent it beforehand, for combating emotional problems and irrational thinking habits can take years (months, if the struggle is heroic), and we'd all be better off if we were protected to begin with, not having that interruption in our enthusiasm.

I won't lay out here how to protect that idealism, since that pretty much a major part of this blog's whole theme: Staying strong in persistent adversity. Probably the two biggest pieces of the puzzle would be concentration and strenuous living. The former keeps our mind on productive matters and not petty worries, frustrations, fights with people, obsessive memories, etc.; and the latter keeps alive the electric emotional nature to be passionate in one's chosen activities. The rest is knowing how to deal with people properly and develop relationships (I recommend the "Social Intelligence" chapter in the book Mastery for this indispensable knowledge), what mental pitfalls to avoid (such as idle surfing on the web, damaging to that oh so important concentration), and blowing off steam properly.

For concrete incident by concrete incident, however, we could all play a part by pointing out the dead ends to young people that society either doesn't see or else extols as highly desirable when in reality it's not. My message to all aspiring chefs: Don't start in dish washing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Ah! So you want to comment? Good!

My only rule: Use common sense manners.