I knew this Monday would be like no other.
After weeks of anticipation, I would be face-to-face with my chosen destiny.
“Just be calm, take a deep breath,” I kept repeating to myself, “and remember to stay in the moment.”
Sound advice I had grown comfortable giving to others on the cusp of great personal change.
Now I was the one staring into the looking glass, feeling overwhelmed and out of place, facing a totally uncertain future after another hairpin turn in my career path.
If I could manage to stay in the moment, shoving fear and self-doubt into the background where they belong, I just might make it to Day Two.
“Might” being the key word in this chapter of the story.
A Little Background, Please
I had been hired as an Assistant Sous Chef, a culinary manager at the city’s newest full-service hotel, which was scheduled to open on February 19th.
The only problem was that my background is in baking and pastry, and as hard as I tried to convince both the Executive Chef and the Food & Beverage Director that I wasn’t qualified . . . they hired me anyway.
In fact, the F&B Director came right out and admitted:
“We like to hire good people. We’ll just figure out what to do with you later.”
I had survived my first week of employment because we didn’t cook anything, which was okay by me. It gave me a chance to bond with the rest of the leadership team, comprised of nine other managers and four supervisors.
Earlier the Chef had cautioned me about being a little too transparent when discussing my background:
“Hey bud,” he whispered to me on the side, “I wouldn’t go around telling everybody your background. They’re going to think if we hired you from outside of the company, you must be it.”
He didn’t really say “it”, but it rhymes with the actual words used and keeps my post professional.
No one else knew the backstory of why I was hired except the F&B Director, the Chef, and myself.
And I’m not good at keeping secrets.
Respect in a professional kitchen is earned one of two ways: You can either cook like a celebrity chef, or act like a celebrity chef.
I could do neither.
And there was no way in the three weeks between accepting my offer and waking up to this moment that I could have accounted for at least a decade’s worth of culinary experience.
That’s what I was facing when I walked into the kitchen on Monday morning.
We broke into teams and were handed clipboards with our production lists for the day. My team was assigned to prepare items for the Banquet Kitchen. At the top of the list was “Peel Artichokes” . . .
“Just great,” I thought as I focused silent prayers on that incredibly specific task.
“Lord, please let one of these guys know how to peel artichokes.”
What was the first question I was asked as a Culinary Manager?
“Uh, Chef,” one of the team spoke up, “None of us knows how to peel artichokes. Can you show us?”
That’s it, I thought to myself. I’m through . . . first item, on the first day, and it’s over.
This was before Google when I could have said, “Look it up, you should know the basics” and then just walked away.
And I certainly wasn’t about to say “Let’s learn together” like we were taping educational programming for the local PBS station.
No, I was on my own . . . and that’s when the magic happened.
At that precise moment, Hans, our Banquet Chef, walked by our station. I stopped him and asked:
“Chef Hans, I see that you have peel artichokes on your production list, and I know there are a couple of ways of doing that. How would you like it done for your kitchen?”
He took three or four artichokes from the bin and said, “Like zis” flaunting a cool German accent and demonstrating his technique for peeling the delicate thistle.
I thanked Chef Hans and asked the team, “Any questions?”
“No Chef, we’re good,” was the collective response as they began to mimic the technique.
“Good,” I thought, as I made my way over to a hand sink to splash cold water on my face, wondering how in the world I was ever going to survive.
Rule #1 – Stay In The Moment
Life seldom plays out to plan, regardless of how perfectly we prepare.
There will always be intangibles, unknown forces at work that can appear disruptive . . . which they are . . . but only in the sense of creating greater awareness and even more opportunities to learn and grow.
Staying in that precise moment allowed me to remain fluid and work through an experience given the resources at hand.
It was a split-second of creativity, ingenuity, authenticity, and audacity played out in divine sequence, strengthening my resolve, and granting me at least one more opportunity to perform.
Remaining in the present tense is the preferred option, especially when you consider the other two:
We do carry the weight of life’s experience as we move forward . . . it is only a burden if not examined and processed properly.
Failing to glean lessons from pragmatic elements of past experiences tethers and limits growth, allowing fear and anxiety to guide judgment and influence decisions we make.
Consider what I was facing that morning: I had forsaken a promising career as a Coast Guard Officer, bid adieu to the risk and uncertainty of entrepreneurship, and turned my back on an artisan lifestyle that I had grown accustomed to and absolutely loved.
That’s a lot of baggage to carry around if you don’t properly examine its purpose.
My experience shaped who I was and provided a foundation for who I could become. It didn’t teach me everything I needed to know . . . life is for learning.
So, what? I didn’t know how to peel artichokes . . . being in the moment allowed me to connect with someone who did.
Which, after all, was the higher purpose of the exercise.
The problem with goals and ambitions is that we become too focused on the pinnacle, the summit of achievement . . . and we forget the climb.
Ascending to that mountaintop may have you going up, then down, twisting to the left and circling back to the right. Spend too much time staring directly at the peak and you could miss an all-important step.
Follow these three tips:
First, recognize your ultimate goal. Mine was to provide security for my family, while utilizing inherent ability and a natural desire to influence the behavior of others.
Second, place yourself in a position to succeed. If the mountain seems like Everest or Kilimanjaro, perhaps there is a more appropriate use of your skills and abilities.
Third, perform. Bottom-line is that we learn from experience, so after you’ve identified a goal and found a great place to start, get to work.
Don’t worry about what’s going to happen tomorrow. That depends on what you accomplish today.
Two Decades of Days
I did manage to survive that Day One, which translated into the approximately two decades worth of days that followed.
Fulfilling the prophecy of “figure out what to do with you later” took me out of the kitchen, via Event Management, through Human Resources, and eventually into Learning and Development.
And change continues with establishment of my own firm TSHAMRELL, my latest Kilimanjaro . . . a glorious summit being approached one step at a time, equipped with lessons learned from all my past experiences, carefully gleaned as to not act as a tether or burden.
Except for peeling artichokes . . . that one still gives me trouble.
This is Tall Tim and I am At Your Service!