Our Own Cause and Effect

Somebody recently shared a picture of me from back in my days as a cook for a family restaurant—a job I had for eight years (and a company I worked for for over fifteen).  I was astounded by how long it had been since I had spent any amount of time remembering  that job, that kitchen.  Eight years is a long time, but it’s interesting how easily even eight years of your life can be compartmentalized, filed away under PAST and visited only briefly and periodically henceforth.


My eight year tenure as a line cook saw sea changes within myself that dwarf even the largest of the recent growth I’ve undergone.  I literally evolved into the basic version of the man I am now over the course of that job.  Thinking back to who I was the day I started there—that guy is unrecognizable now.  I wonder how I would have ended up if I had gotten a different job?


I knew every inch of that kitchen.  Every contour of stainless steel, every equipment wheel, every floor tile—I had a history with it.  I knew where the problem areas were, where grease pooled and mops didn’t reach.  I knew which reach-in doors closed too slowly and which hood baffles would cut you.  I had a physical and emotional relationship with the kitchen.  Of course I had an even larger and more complex relationship with the restaurant and company itself, but it is this relationship of minutiae with the kitchen that my memory is most apt to gloss over.


My personal evolution in the kitchen itself seems more significant the more I ponder it.  My first day in cook training (I had spent my first few months with the company as a dishwasher) I was timid, clueless and constantly intimidated.  Although I had worked (in the kitchen) of a fast food restaurant for three years prior, I know now this could hardly be said to be experience with food—it is basically putting Legos together.  And while foodies would say this job cooking for a family restaurant is much of the same—that may be true, but the Legos are much more complicated.  My first few hours in the kitchen, I was hard-pressed to remember how to make the toast.  Literally.  Eight years later I was the unabashed, brash, dare-I-say courageous acknowledged leader of the kitchen staff, making decisions with store management about things that would affect the operations of the restaurant.  My evolution within the kitchen lead me to a career in management, first with the company I had cooked for, then leaving the nest and essentially never looking back.


Over the past five years, since leaving the original company I cooked for, I have worked for two organizations, both times as a store manager.  Granted, I’m not a Five-Star General leading troops into battle, but I do lead people, every day.  I’m responsible for entire buildings, and everything that happens in them.  This is what I do for a living, and it is a reflection of who I am.  While I am the last person alive to define themselves by their profession, I can’t deny that part of who I am inside as a person is why I’ve ended up in this career.


What I can’t seem to figure out is how I became that person.  Was that kitchen the exact right place for me to evolve the way I was meant to?  Or did I evolve the way I did because I was in that kitchen?  It’s kind of a nature vs. nurture question.


Time and experience have conspired to make me lose sight of that kitchen, and who I was then and how I changed (I think you’ll find time and experience have done similar things to you).  Now, I come into work every day, take it for granted I am in charge of everybody and everything, start making decisions with a well-used decision muscle, delicately maneuvering my operation to where I want it to go.  This from a guy who was once intimidated by toast.


Once we start pondering our own cause-and-effect (how we got where, what motivated us, what propelled us) the only natural thing to dwell on then is the now.  What forces are acting on me now?  Where is my current situation leading me?  Our human minds naturally think, at every moment, we are currently and finally the finished version of ourselves, but ask: how am I changing, now?

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