3 Ideas to Embrace for Less Chef Stress – Part 3
A Three Part Series
“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.” ~ Epictetus
Colin Devlin, Homaro Cantu, Joe Cerniglia, Rachel Brown, Josh Marks, Bernard Loiseau, Stephan Stolze and Benoit Violier were all chefs who took their own life outright, just in the last three years. There is another, much longer list of culinary professionals who have died, much too young, after a lifetime of accumulated stress, debt, alcohol, illicit or prescribed drugs; a death often of their own making.
Suicides of apathy, neglect or resignation.
Chances are that while your name may not ever appear in the first list, if you are emotionally attached to your identity as a ‘chef’, you’ll end up in the second list.
Here in the United States, for the first time ever, more people are dying by suicide than by car wrecks. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicides among those aged 35 to 64 have risen by 28 percent since 1999. This trend is mirrored in other English speaking countries as well; Ireland, United Kingdom & Scotland.
To those in the health care industry, this is not news. The reporting agencies have just started to catch up to what therapists and psychologists have long known; that suicide has become a viable solution to one’s problems to those that see little option.
In Benoit Violier’s case, it came to light that he had been a victim of a £1M wine fraud, Homaro Cantu’s partner was taking him to court; Colin Devlin left behind a wife and child that night when he drove to the Chestnut Hill Cemetery depressed about his finances.
It seems to this chef that the price of honor has now become too high; when did it get so costly to make a mistake of failing to recognize the fox in the hen house before too much is lost?
Is the ancient Japanese practice of Seppuku now the only acceptable response to financial troubles?
Is there supposed to be some sort of nobility in falling on one’s sword?
Tell that to the children left behind, without fathers or mothers or to the spouses left without partners to help clean up the mess of someone else’s devastating version of morality.
Give up Making It Mean Anything About You
We all know that one guy, or young lady who shows up at the bar after shift, still wearing their chef coat. Not because they don’t have anything else to wear but because they quietly yearn to be recognized as one of the fraternity of culinary professionals; as if being a chef or chef in training is who they are.
It’s about time someone stood up and said the unthinkable, “I am defined by more than what I do for a living; being a chef is not who I am, it’s simply what I choose to do for a living”
Does that make me any less committed to my craft? Does it make me any less a chef if I admit and embrace the fact that there are other things in my life just as important? My children, for example.
My kids don’t care what type of jacket I wear at work, they only care whether I am present for them, or not.
Does saying it encourage others to declare the same for their lives? I hope so.
Giving up the notion that what we do is not the defining factor of who we are as a person opens up some space for grace.
Grace, and forgiveness when things don’t go according to plan, compassion for oneself when something unforeseen crosses our horizon; allowing permission for tenderness and kindness for our own limited understanding or capacity to see all things, be all things anticipate all things.
Having grace for yourself is the single most radical act of self-love one can aspire to; completely contrary to the harshness that our society and culture demands of us as professionals.
Somewhere along the way we have gotten, or been given the notion that being a good professional means that you hang tough, be impervious to stress, trouble or strife and become rigid and strong.
That which does not bend, will surely break; the only question is, “When?”
I don’t know about you but I have had a belly full of being a good soldier, of standing tall before the mast, of bearing all in silence without the benefit, and salvation, that comes from comrades, trusted associates and mentors or friends who I yearn to tell of that which weighs heavy on my heart. Without the benefit of communion with those that might understand or offer the absolution of a kind word or silent hug, my heart would have already broken into a thousand pieces.
It’s not that they had any answers or solutions for me, it was enough that I was heard by someone; my burden having been lightened somewhat by the admission of my own frailty and the understanding that the only way to healing is through the wound.
Such has been the darkness that has overtaken me at times in my life, and my career; much like I imagine it must have been for those that have gone before me or maybe even some of you reading this now.
I could not have made it this far into my life without the ability, some would call it weakness, to summon the courage to speak my darkest thoughts to those that would listen. Without that compassion I would not have matured enough to know that nothing is as important as my relationships, my loved ones, my children, my friends or even my ‘enemies’, in whom I have seen myself mirrored more often than not.
Nothing; not glory, success, title, profit, accolades or position is as important as those I love, and those that have chosen to love me.
Stress sucks. The great news is you have a choice, right here – right now. You can choose to eat it, swallow it whole and let it poison you from the inside out. Or, you can choose to know that what happens to you is always and ever an opportunity; a chance, a gift to find out more than you did today and that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about YOU.
The only reason any of us got into this craft was because we enjoyed it. How many of us are actually having fun right now? How many of us are connected to the joy that our lives are supposed to be, irrespective of any challenges that we may be facing?
Embrace the idea that what you choose to do is not the sum of who you are.
Embrace the idea that the problem is never the problem, the fact that you think it is, is the problem.
Embrace the idea that it is in relationship with one another, as professionals – and people, that our greatest strength can be found; it’s proof against any storm and medicine against any ill.
As we do on every episode of Brigade Radio, let me end by saying:
“Consider, finally that it’s just some stuff on a plate, none of it really matters. It doesn’t define you as a person or make you any more special, or less than anyone else. This is just the dance that we’re engaged in so we might as well laugh and enjoy every bit of it, even the crappy parts, while we’re doing it”