On Making Food and Life Plans
March 24, 2011, 1:03 pm
Filed under: gastronomy, when I grow up

Sometimes I read things where people say they either don’t cook or don’t like to cook and even though I know people are different from one another it sort of baffles. I get not being motivated to cook when it’s freezing and you have no groceries/you live alone/you work too much and the idea of not being able to eat as soon as you get home or the dishes that will result from preparing a meal are deflating. But… to never see something and wonder if you could make it? To never look at beautiful ingredients and imagine how they would look and taste combined? Can. Not. Process.

Martha Stewart was on Oprah a couple of weeks ago. She’s not well known here, I’m not sure the show ever aired. She looks, well, older than she did ten years ago when I used to watch her between high school classes. I tried to explain to LG the impact Martha Stewart had on my life, her North American empire. It’s been years since reading a copy of her magazine or seeing the show, but Martha Stewart was responsible for introducing me to the idea that food preparation was just a series of learnable, simple techniques and a little creativity. The woman instructed on eggs and pastry, and introduced me to the idea of herbs and spices. Not the fifteen-year-old dried out bottles of flavorless dust that my English heritage had bestowed upon me, standing guard upstairs in the cupboards, but living flavours. Martha is not the be all end all, I no longer feel a need to own a library of her instructions, but she was very important in developing my love for food in all ways.

And now for something less sunshine and rainbows. I have been done work for over six months now, almost seven. While leaving my job it was hard to really discuss the pros and cons objectively, it was sort of a loaded issue. The good: I learned a lot, both in terms of skills and I got the inside look at the business side of the organization that I was hoping for; I got to put my skills to work and prove that I had what it took to deliver results, so there will never be any question in my mind about whether I could do it; and I was able to make myself financially solvent enough to close that chapter of my life if necessary. I would not take back pursuing a similar opportunity, and the one I had was made bearable by coworkers my age that I more or less liked and respected. I specifically chose that job because of the smart women who worked there and I was not disappointed, I think of them fondly and many still make me feel lazy.

But I’ve never really listed what I don’t miss about the job, specifically, or the line of work more broadly. Not even for my own purposes. I think it was difficult to criticise because doing so made it seem like I had made a mistake, or that I regretted something, which would be untrue. I needed to be where I was to get what I wanted, and it wasn’t just money. For some reason, today, I really feel like quantifying the cons.


1) Having support staff. My first version of support staff was well managed and I only had one member that I really clashed with, they were known for not getting along with anyone anyways. The second set of support staff was like HR gone wild, the problem actually stemmed from the top of management and trickled all the way down, incompetent all the way. The stories are funny now, but seriously sucked at the time.

2) My mentor. My mentor was ethically vacant and I still wonder if I owed a duty to report them professionally. Now that I have distance from the situation it actually makes me feel a little ill to know what was going on. Worse, the same mentor had pressured me to do something incredibly unethical and it was only by happening to leave my job that I escaped being in a very real problem that could have found me in a lot of trouble.

3) People being jerks. It is true that a lot of people were fine to deal with, but it was shocking how many people were not. I don’t miss clients who were jerks (who were almost 100% ‘given’ to me by my mentor), I don’t miss people outside my organization that I had to deal with who were also jerks. It was totally unnecessary and, as far as I can tell, is caused by overwhelming life-hating that spills over into chronic behavior problems. I do miss my good clients and hope they are doing well.

4) Office buildings. Not for the obvious reason. Having an office was sort of sweet, but our building was contaminated with something that I’m pretty sure made a lot of my coworkers sick. People had all kinds of crazy symptoms, from hair loss to severe allergies. My allergies went to new levels and I developed what I’m now pretty sure was a little bit of asthma, in addition to all kinds of weird immune system symptoms that got worse when the building air needed to circulate more (i.e. the heat was higher or lower). In general, my health has always declined in large buildings like apartments and offices where there is a central air exchange and improved in smaller ones. It’s like a divine sign that I was not cut out for big corporate sky scrapers.

5) The high pressure to do and produce more that eats into evenings and weekends, that constant weighing on my mind. Part of this is, honestly, self-created by not setting boundaries and finding motivation. Another part is created by the fear of screwing up and being caught doing it, making some small mistake, leaving a stone unturned. This is the burden of the modern professional, computer-like perfectionism and consistency that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Not to me, anyways.

6) A general apathy towards certain kinds of work. Looking back on the two years I spent working, I am struck by a lack of motivation and productivity that I saw at the time which only created more distress. I checked my email, the news, anything, obsessively to avoid having to go back to what I was doing. To try and create deadlines and pressure so I would get the energy to produce. Part of this is because I was not fully invested in either job during a time of personal choices and goals that overwhelmingly sidetracked me. Another part, though, is that I was never suited to what people were inclined to assign me to do because of certain natural aptitudes. To be blunt, what I am naturally the best at is not actually something I enjoy doing for more than a couple of hours per day. At some point, it had become really joyless.

7) Overmanagement and undermentoring. I didn’t like my mentor, in particular, but more broadly I found generally that almost no one I worked for during my tenure bothered to teach me anything. This was, by far, the most surprising outcome of the expiriment. Our relationships were unilateral – I was expected to produce and benefit them, to solve problems they didn’t have time to solve. While this is the nature of the corporate machine, from which all of my managers descended and upon which most of them still depended, the orientation of extreme self-interest was disheartening. It isn’t what I expected because it is not what I would do. It’s also not universal, it was just a luck of the draw thing. Many of my peers have stories of advice over lunches, of lifelong mentors and instructors. I just didn’t really find anyone in the working world yet. In some ways, it’s probably a good thing because it would have been hard to make the choices I have now made with the oversight of a dedicated mentor; I would have feared being a disappointment. At the same time, while I wasn’t being mentored, in my second year of work I was being overmanaged by progress reports and the annoying surveillance of those from above.

That’s really it. This is why I can see myself doing the job that I was doing, but with better knowledge of what is expected and on my own terms. As soon as you can decouple status and money from work, I want to believe the options get broader.


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