I’ve always been the chef that no matter where I was or what I was doing, I always put my organization first. I could have been on my death bed, and I still would have been the first one to clock in and the last one to leave work.
For months my dad kept telling me I should get a dog. I told him he was crazy, how could I own a dog when I’m gone 16 hours a day? Looking back, he knew what I was doing. I had somehow managed to isolate myself from everything and everyone and bury myself in my work. I came home only to shower, eat, and sleep.
Every day he would send me a new picture of a dog that needed a home, and every day I looked at the picture, put my phone down, and went back to work.
Until one day he sent me a picture of Nellie. I looked at her and immediately I knew I was in trouble.
The owner of the restaurant where I worked called a few minutes later for her daily check in, and before she could say anything I just blurted out, “I think I’m going to get a dog.”
For some reason it’s like I needed her approval before I could go through with it. In my head I kept thinking, I’ll have a life that is depending on me, you know that right? That means I can’t be gone for 16 hours every day. I was searching for reasons why this was a terrible idea.
Her response terrified me because I knew it meant change. She said, “I think that is an excellent idea”
So that night, I brought my little Nellie home. She was so scared, I couldn’t put her down for a minute. All I could think was, “What did I do?” But I was in love!
Everything was going great at work the next day. I was going to be home at a reasonable hour, which meant my new little friend wouldn’t be in her cage as long. I was just finishing up closing duties… and then the freezer started going down.
Normally I would have just dealt with it. I would have always stayed until someone could come in and keep an eye on the temps and safety of everything as usual, no big deal. But today was different.
I had something, someone, who needed me to come home. She was relying on me to take care of her. So suddenly for the first time in a while, work was not the biggest thing in my life.
I looked at my team and told them, “Sorry, but someone has to stay because I have to go home to my dog.” And you know what happened? Everyone volunteered to be that person. They were all excited for the opportunity to be responsible for something important to me.
So I went home. I was so focused on Nellie, I didn’t even have time to think about the walk-in. But then I got the call. “Chef, everything’s working, and all the food was kept safe the entire time. I just locked up, and I’m ready to go home for the night. Is there anything else I can help with?”
It was at that moment I realized my team was ready. I just hadn’t given them the chance to prove it.
I think so many of us get so caught up in doing it all and believing that, otherwise, something will suffer. But by doing that, we suffer. The demands of the business were not forcing me to be there every second of the day. I was doing it to myself.
I often wonder if the reason I spent so much time in my kitchen was that because the “real world” was so unfamiliar, I avoided it. Whatever the reason, I knew what I needed to do next. I needed to be their leader.
Nellie gave me a reason to go home. She forced me to become more efficient at my job and learn how to rely on my team.
She saved me from me.
For those chefs, owners, managers, and workaholics out there who are just like I was — I get it. I understand how easy it is to get so caught up in this world, that we forget to have a life along the way. If there is one piece of advice I can offer you it is this: commit to something other than your career. Wholeheartedly. Maybe you join a kickball club that meets twice a week. Or join a gym. Or you could just commit to getting a pedicure once a week. Anything is fine as long as you commit to it.
Even though it was “no big deal” for me to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it took a huge toll on my life and caused my career to suffer, too. The times I would have been at home felt depressing because I was too tired to do anything, and I didn’t even know who I was anymore. My job was who I was; that’s it. I remember people asking me what I like to do in my free time and I’d be thinking in my head, “sleep and count the minutes until I could go back to work.”
Once I got Nellie, we would go to the dog park everyday. I took her to training classes on Tuesday nights, and I started making friends outside of work. I began dating again. And I was actually killing it at my job. I was excited to go to work and inspired every day to do better and better.
I became a very effective leader, and I knew if I put my team up against anyone they would run circles around them. All because I was happy in my own life too. I didn’t have a reason to feel resentment because I realized I was in control of my life and it was up to me to live it to the fullest.
If you’re feeling stuck just as I was, let me help you get unstuck. Life is too short. You can choose to enjoy both a rewarding career and life.
Schedule a free 50 minute discovery call with me, and let’s dive into the ways you can break free from the burnout.