Professional cooking is physical work. If you’re in it, you know full well what this means. If you are thinking about getting in to it, you have to understand this so you know what’s coming. Especially if you own your own place, you will be called on to perform duties that seem above and beyond your capabilities at the moment. I refer to times like these as The Push.
The push is that moment you realize you have a choice to either put your head down, plow forward and get it done, or just look for a way of escape and whine to anyone nearby who will hear you. Last week was a week full of push, starting Monday, when my baker called my cell phone at 5am saying he was violently ill and could not safely make it through his shift. Disruptions like this are not uncommon as a small business owner. I had two jobs to do that day; mine and his. But just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no crying in the kitchen. The only option is get up, get going, and get it figured out.
I prefer to create. I don’t like to repair. This is probably my biggest frustration as an entrepreneur. The two worst things you can say to me is, “We’re out of___” and “The ___ is broken.” Just fill in the blanks with any food item or piece of equipment, respectively, and you get the idea. It wears me out to constantly worry about the maintenance of the ship instead of being concerned with where the ship is headed. But I don’t get that luxury on my small dinghy. I plan for it to change and believe in time it will, but until then, it’s up to me to ensure I’ve done everything possible to keep the boat afloat. I’ve had to learn to push.
As an undergraduate major in Exercise Science, I studied the basic Principle of Overload, which states that if an athlete is ever going to improve in speed, strength or endurance, that athlete’s mind and body must be periodically subjected to bouts of exertion that exceeds what it perceives as normal. To put it simply, you will never run a marathon without conditioning yourself with hundreds of miles in trainings. You will never get faster without more sprint work. You will never increase your bench press without pumping more weight.
But it also applies outside of athletics, because the principle is transferable across the lines of discipline. You want to be smarter? Read more? You want to play guitar better? Do daily finger exercises and scales. You want to be a better cook? Cook more. End of story.
But during those times of overexertion, there will come a point you are not sure you can get it done, not going to make it, not going to cross the finish line. This is the moment you’ve got to push, take a deep breath, and push some more. Here’s what I tell myself during these challenges:
- I’ve done it before. I’ve run three marathons in my lifetime, none of which I would call easy. During two of them I developed a severe pain early in the race, one in my foot and the other in my gut. The common denominator was not my finishing time, but that I finished them all. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it and you can’t take that away from me. When I need a push, I mentally re-run one of those marathons.
- Others have it harder than me. When I burn myself on the stove or my feet are killing me from standing on them all day, I think of others who would wish for the ability to stand and walk. I think of our young soldiers at war, doing a job that risks their lives. It is then I am reminded that I don’t have it so bad.
- This, too, will pass. Every race has a finish line. Every day has a sunset. Every season has a turning. Do the hard work now. Reap the reward afterward.