Thinking About Leaving Your Kitchen? 3 Steps to Prevent Culinary Career Suicide

“Chef, I’ve been offered a new position at a very prestigious restaurant. It involves less money but it comes with it the potential to make a name for myself. Do you have any advice?”

If you’re just starting to claw your way up the ranks of culinary greatness or are a seasoned veteran who’s earned the right of career self-determination, you’re bound to come up against this conundrum.

Now, with almost daily blog, magazine, and newspaper posts about the critical lack of qualified cooks and chefs, it is almost certain that you’ll be fielding a lot of potential job opportunities from competitors, recruiters, or friends looking to shore up their lean brigades.

If you haven’t, you soon will be.

The average American worker stays in a position for 4.4 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. For Millennials, it’s half of that, with an average of 15-20 positions over the course of their working lives.

The inherent risk of leaving a job too soon — job hopping — is almost as great of a risk as staying in a job too long. “Golden handcuffs” can make a career irrelevant and unmarketable to most employers looking for talent, maturity, and mobility. Rightly or wrongly, tenure over 5 years can sometimes be interpreted by some recruiters as “complacent” or “not aggressive enough” for today’s marketplace.

That’s not to say that you should leave a great gig just to see your name up in lights; beware of believing your own press clippings.

3 Things to Consider Before Quitting

To avoid taking your career off track by making a poor career move, allow me to suggest the following three steps:

[Please note that these suggestions do not apply if you’re a victim of workplace harassment, sexual innuendo, or slave labor practices. Under those conditions, run — do not walk — for the door. Life is too short and you are too valuable a human being and professional to put up with that kind of crap!]

Step 1: Be where you’re at, have what you have.

Be present.

Easier said than done, I understand. It’s natural for one’s mind to wander, and wonder about other possibilities while slicing 1,200 slider buns, or baking off 40 trays of cookies. Our world is made up of a million small tasks, each layering upon the other and most of them mundane, unheralded but necessary. 

Like happiness, enthusiasm and a willingness to do a good job should be irrespective of circumstance, position or task.

That will never happen as long as you’re collecting evidence about why this job, supervisor or chef sucks.

There’s a Zen proverb that states, “Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water.”

Combining the student’s fascination and wonderment with the adept’s mastery of the task at hand is where the greatest joy can be found, and don’t we all just want to enjoy our work?

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Step 2: Stop looking for your next job.

Let go of the need to search job boards, post resumes or reply to emails that start with, “Maybe you know someone who is ready for this exciting opportunity.” This can, and usually does, provide a convenient distraction from where your mind and heart should be — in your work. This type of distraction will keep you from being present in your job and alert you to the possibilities that may be there, right under your nose. The knowledge and experience gained in any position is like money in the bank and you carry that with you always, enriching your value as an employee and future employer.

A chef I know, convinced that there was nothing left for him to accomplish at his current position, spent three months traveling, interviewing, doing cooking demos, and ultimately being passed over for new positions at several large resorts, all while trying to handle the day-to-day responsibilities of running a complex organization.

He was frustrated, tired and unsure of himself in light of his recent rejections.

With little left to lose, he refocused his efforts, where he was at, and found that there was still lots to do. He initiated some pretty amazing projects, putting his attention on his current crew, dedicating the time he had previously spent looking for other work into his operation.

Rejuvenated from his new perspective, he has gone on to be very successful.

Step 3: Seek the most fluid path.

Fluidity is quite simply doing what presents from a position of neutrality. 

Let’s say that you have a job, yet seek employment elsewhere. Your ego may want to get the hell out of there for any of many reasons, but no one is knocking at your door offering you the job of a lifetime. The most fluid thing to do at that point is to refocus and recommit to your present position and mine the experience for all the knowledge that you can get.

Making a career move coming from fear or desperation is rarely a recipe for success.

So the question then becomes, “From a position of neutrality, what is there to do?”

Maybe it’s a conversation clarifying roles and goals, it could be making a phone call to a mentor, it might be taking a long look in the mirror and understanding that there might be something more to learn at your present job — or not. 

How do you know when it’s time to go? Because the whole process will be fluid — a call will come in out of the blue when you least expect it, the application process will be easy, the background check comes back in a day when it usually takes a week, you’re on property, cleared for duty and dressed for success before your feet even hit the ground.

It can all be that easy when you’re doing what presents, coming from neutrality.

We, as chefs, are trained to be present and mindful when we prep our mise or plate our meals; planning, precision and order become our mantras.

What we are not taught is that being present and mindful in each moment can also produce nonlinear results, when coming from neutrality such as the right job, at the right time.

Not sure? Great! Put it to the test and let us know how it goes. Being present, just like anything else we do, sometimes takes a little practice.