Sharp knives, roaring fires and edible extravagance, the long coveted dream of my childhood…..to be come a professional chef/restaurateur. At the tender age of 17, I started working in a professional kitchen of a small English-American bistro. My first thoughts were ”wow , I get paid to do this!” Everything was fresh and new. Excitement, learning, fast paced action and no waking up at 6:00am, what a sweet deal….or so I thought.
After graduating Johnson & Wales university, I scored a job in Amsterdam, Holland with a 3-star Michelin chef. I wrote to Le Gavroche, and was told their London establishment had a 1.5 year waiting list just to get in the door, but I could start in their Netherlands location, the Grand Amsterdam Hotel.
After many months of grueling 18 hour days getting screamed at in French, I’d hobble down cobblestone roads back to my red light district apartment and crawl across the floor because my feet were too painful to use and sleep for 6 hours before starting again. After the possibility of becoming a permanent cripple from an unknown bone-deformity which became apparent from standing on my feet way too many hours, I came back the states for a lovely ankle fusion surgery, and many months of immobility and pharmaceuticals.
Still determined after recovery, I worked my way through several world renowned restaurants through the years , tirelessly giving my last drop of blood towards an ideal. Look at those 9 – 5 suckers I thought, having to be locked in an sterile office, getting up at 6:00am, and here I get to do something cool and artistic. Eventually the “coolness” wore off.
After quitting a high stress position for an unnamed, but well known TV personality chef, I worked on opening my own restaurant via an investor that propositioned me. Excited beyond belief, I drew up kitchen diagrams, menus and more…all on my own dime. The construction site was picked out for a new building, in a planned community which would have a captive audience. Everything seemed great while I risked my mounting bills for a chance at a dream.
One day the investor I was working with became increasing hard to get a hold off. Finally, I got the email……with the cryptic message “I am no longer interested in this project. It would not be prudent for me to divide my time any further!”
CRASH! Broken dreams.
Close to ten years of blood, sweat and tears had been in vain. Hours of my life I “freely” gave to employers coming in early, staying late on my own time seemed worthless now at 27 years old.
Something inside me changed. This was the first real blow of career disappointment , a new direction was in order. Never had I met anyone as determined as myself to succeed in this field, yet my motivation for this was now gone. A literal storehouse of youthful energy had been expended, never to return.
Was this feeling really such a bad thing?
Suddenly, I contemplated becoming one of those office drone 9 – 5 suckers.How bad could it be? Sit in a chair all day instead of standing up, have an actual lunch break, instead of shoving food in my mouth in 5 minute increments while crouching down on the floor. Have nights , weekends and holidays off, instead of staggered week days of avoiding the inevitable phone calls of “we need you to come in today….just for a few hours to help out.”
With nothing but cooking skills, I scoured the newspapers for a new, unknown direction. Answering an ad for a well known large telecom company, I aced my three step interview process and began my new office life. Sitting in a cubicle day in/day out getting paid way more then ever didn’t seem so bad. During this time I was also attending full time college on the weekends for a degree in programming (which later I ended abruptly). I quickly vied for the next position up, with a much higher base salary in the IT technical sales department.
Face to face with the regional director, I heard “Jeff, you are ready for this next step. When your direct manager is back from vacation next week, we will get this moving“. The following week, this same director , looks me in the eye and says ”Jeff, sorry – you are not ready for this yet.”
My first taste of corporate back-handedness . Soon after , the sales center was supposedly closing down. One day they pulled me into an office with some “infringement” of speech they didn’t like on my recorded phone call, and promptly had security walk me out the door.
From then on, over the next 8 years I worked a whole mess of technical type sales jobs, mostly B2B, and some direct to “consumer”. Sometimes two jobs at a time, trying to make ends meet.
One dishonest situation after the next. Everything from Telecom sales, to in-home water treatment sales. Most of these were indoor cubicle jobs, yet some were outside suit wearing canvassing in the hot Florida sun.
Let’s not forget the insane “boiler room” type situation. While I was dead broke and only making the ” $400 weekly draw against commission”, others around me were getting checks for $10,000 – even $40,000 in ONE MONTH. How frustrating. The local bank would call on Fridays and say all our employees had to visit different branches, because they didn’t have enough money in house to cover our checks.
I’d make more phone calls than anyone else. What I lacked was the willingness to lie. I also lacked the common bonds others were able to discuss on the phone like sports, wives/children and TV…none of which I had any interest. Thus, I learned people buy from others they know, like and trust. For an introspective, artistic type, sales is the wrong place to be, but was a necessary evil to maintain survival for many years.
In 2004 I got the idea to start a niche online retail shop, focused on stuff I personally like, as a way to escape the rat race. Over the years while working full time, I’ve sank about $15,000+ of my own funds into software, inventory, trade show setup, outsourced help and intense learning. This money came from any extra money I saved, and selling personal stuff. Yet, to this day I also still work a regular job full time at the same time. While my initial venture may not at this point provide a full time income, my experience has been vast and now proving to be valuable in the marketplace in ways not originally foreseen.
Several years ago, (after 2 years of prospecting for a job in this field), I started working with a web design/SEO firm, based on my past experience. Finally a break from sales and doing something I enjoy that’s in demand and utilizes location independent skills.
Based on my “hard knocks” acquired digital skills, childless, pet-less and single status, a nomadic life is screaming out to me at FULL VOLUME!
The one thing I’ve wanted most in life, is to travel……yet it’s what I’ve done the least! Very rarely have I had a vacation, nor even a job long enough to get the standard 1 – 2 weeks off.
Now at 37, It’s time for a change.
The years of living paycheck to paycheck, work, sleep, repeat end now. The massive downsizing of stuff in my one bedroom apartment has begun and every assumption about what stuff is essential for survival is being questioned.
To quote the movie Shawshank Redemption, it’s time to “get busy living or get busy dying.”
While this quote may seem drastic, the years creep up faster than expected and everyday wasted is a missed opportunity for a richer human experience.
When did you first decide the traditional 9 to 5 lifestyle was not for you?