There’s no fooling anyone — working in the kitchen is hard work. Hell, any career in the arts is challenging. It consists of putting our work out into the world, and hustling over prolonged periods of time, while often being compensated with far less than we deserve. We get to do what we love. It’s really no different than having a passion for accounting or marketing, but the world doesn’t see it that way. I found early on, that most of the people in my life didn’t really understand why I chose to make a life out of this. I speak with many of my fellow chef friends, who say the same thing. We’re an interesting bunch, and it’s a bunch that I’m proud to be a part of, but that pride doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s often a disconnect between the work, the career we have chosen, and that which our loved ones would prefer for us to have. I wrote an epic post on this entitled “Dear Chefs” that I strongly recommend you check out, if you haven’t already.
If you’re on the other side of the equation, check out my article, “So You Married A Chef?”
I receive emails from all over the world, literally, hundreds. From chefs and line cooks, to culinary students and instructors, to parents and even grandparents. It doesn’t matter where it is in the world, it’s the same storyline. Those most concerned are undoubtedly the young, up-and-coming cooks who aren’t quite sure how they will fit into the culinary world. Their parents voice identical concern, for the exact same reason — they are unsure of how this career will pan out for their precious little one, and that worries them. Any parent can easily gaze into the future and see their baby all grown up and sitting at a desk working a corporate 40 hour work week. But in a kitchen? Making how much? Surrounded by who?
This can be a slippery slope, as a parent’s innate desire to protect their child is conflicted with giving up control for a life they aren’t quite convinced of being worthy. We want to make our parents proud, and while doing what we love. Parents convince themselves they know what’s best for us. Maybe they do. Maybe they don’t.
So, how do you make your parents proud, when you tell them you want to be a chef or an artist, when they had their heart set on you going to some university, and then living the picket fence life?
At a certain point, the decision has to become yours, and that’s with whatever you choose to do with your life. It’s just that, yours. However you decide, you, at the same time, owe loved ones a demonstration of why this decision is important to you.
It starts with a compelling vision for your future, it’s imperative you show them how bad you want it, and how you really couldn’t imagine doing anything else with your life. This is the conversation I had with my parents, after finishing college and grad school and spending a few short years as a marketing consultant where I made decent money. They thought I had lost my mind, but as I dove in head first, they began to see something — they saw the fire in my eyes, and realized that I would do whatever it takes to become successful. It didn’t matter what industry I chose, I was going to be successful, and equally happy along the way, because I believed in it for myself.
In order for them to make this leap of faith with you, it’s imperative to demonstrate a sense of seriousness in this decision.
To them it looks like (and might be) the worst case scenario: a bunch of hooligans dressed in tattoos screwing around in the kitchen, taking turns shooting up drugs, then drinking at the bar into the late hours, while making a measly wage. Sure that exists, I suppose, but we all know that kitchen life is bigger than that if it’s what we really want. That lifestyle is not what drives us and certainly isn’t what keeps us going. You need to exude a maturity, by considering the life of a chef as the studying and honing of a craft. Do this by working your ass off. Learn as much as possible whenever you can along the way, which will show them you are committed. All in. It’s not a phase that you will soon grow out of, but rather a career that you have chosen, and each day becomes an investment in yourself.
To show them you are building this career takes self-awareness. It involves understanding where you are, where you want to go, and creating concrete goals along the way to help you get there. As the people close to you begin to see the same future you see for yourself, it will be that much easier for them to root for and be proud of you. Your absence at Thanksgiving dinner won’t be filled with disappointment, because you have assigned your life to something, which that day includes a meeting with 300 hungry diners. If you can’t take mom out for Mother’s Day, because you’re working brunch on the line, she won’t be bitter, but rather, appreciative of the sweet card you gave her, and for who you are becoming in your career as a chef.
If you are able to create a compelling enough future for yourself, one with which your loved ones can identify, they can’t help but hold pride in their hearts for you. They will be rooting for you, if you give them a reason to.
Creating this life takes courage, a lot more than most careers. It also takes tremendous belief in oneself, in order to persevere, as the road will often appear steeply uphill. Remember, this isn’t just a stint or a job, but rather a commitment of years at a time working on one’s feet in the blistering heat of the kitchen. It’s about making sacrifices, because of a belief in something. That something is who you will become, and the dent you wish to make in the world. After all, it’s more than just the food. It’s a life, and it’s up to you to make it a good one.
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