4 Career Lessons From Inside the Kitchen
I have an embarrassing secret: I used to have a fear of cooking. I know I’m supposed to be the Fearless Foodie, but I didn’t learn how to cook until relatively late in life, spending most of my 20s and early 30s subsisting on take-out. (Well, every once in a while, I would get fancy and make something that involved boiling water or opening a can.)
When I finally learned how to cook, I realized it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I had expected it to be. In fact, it was empowering: I no longer had to passively accept what was on the take-out menu, and I could make myself whatever I wanted.
But something else surprising happened, too: I realized that many of the things I was learning about food preparation could also apply to managing my career (and I don’t even work with food!). Whether you’re kicking off your first job search or thinking about making a change, read on for some surprising cooking lessons that you can apply to your professional life.
1. Small Mistakes Are Not Disastrous
When I first started cooking, I would get frustrated—branding myself a culinary failure if I messed up the recipe or let something cook too long. Eventually (and thankfully), I realized that I was creating unnecessary stress for myself by taking the whole process too seriously. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure that the world has never ended because someone made a chocolate pudding that was too thin.
I think the same is true for mistakes at work. While a typo in a report or missing a deadline can feel like the end of the world—a small bump in the road isn’t worth freaking out over. Spend your energy, instead, figuring out how to move forward and learning from your mistakes. By analyzing what went wrong and what you can do differently, you can take steps to make sure everything goes right the next time.
2. More Heat is Not Necessarily Better
One of the common cooking mistakes beginners make is using too much heat, believing that the food will cook faster. Instead, they just wind up with a steak that’s burned on the outside and raw inside and have to re-cook their steak (or give up and order a pizza). Eventually, you'll learn that lowering the heat will cook the food more evenly and efficiently.
At work, it's easy to work a ton of hours in your quest to get ahead. But, just as too much intensity can lead to a burned steak, working too many hours can lead to a burned-out employee. It's important to work hard—but it's even more important to work smart and make sure that you're not frittering away your energy unproductively. In fact, by putting in more hours, you actually run the risk of becoming less productive, since being overworked can hinder your creativity and productivity.
3. Tinkering With the Process is OK
In the beginning of my learning process, I viewed recipes as iron-clad rules and avoided straying from them for fear of a kitchen disaster. As I grew more confident and started learning which flavors complemented each other, I started to experiment with the recipes, adding a little more paprika here or substituting ginger for cinnamon. Recipes are usually wonderful guides, but everybody's tastes are different—and I eventually realized that tailoring a recipe to my personal taste was pretty fun.
When it comes to your career, there’s no one surefire blueprint that will guarantee success. Just as you can learn from a recipe, learning from the career paths of others is a great way to explore options that might work for you. But don't be afraid to experiment and forge your own path, finding your own unique recipe for career success. If everyone you know is trying to climb the corporate career ladder, for example, and you know that's not what you want, don't be afraid to change things up by starting your own business or going a more creative route. Following your instincts and daring to try something unconventional can lead you down an incredibly satisfying path.
4. It’s Never Too Late
Every cook, at some point, learns from the legendary Julia Child. And what many people are surprised to find out is that Julia didn't learn how to cook until she was in her 30s. She worked in advertising and the armed services, and didn’t discover her passion for cooking until she was married and living in Paris years later. But once she realized this interest, she threw herself into it and learned everything she could, ultimately garnering great success as one of the most well-known chefs of all time.
This the perfect reminder that it's never too late to follow new passions, go back to school, change careers, or start a business. If you realize you don’t like your job or feel like you majored in the wrong subject in school, don’t be afraid to switch gears and pursue something you’re passionate about. Throw yourself into it and, if you really care about it, you’ll have a successful, fulfilling career.
Tell us! What other cooking lessons can apply to your career? Any unexpected places you’ve found career inspiration?
Photo of woman cooking courtesy of Shutterstock.
Nina Tamburello is a freelance writer and communications assistant. When she’s not reading about food, following food trucks or trying out new restaurants, you can find her traveling, learning French, or watching cheesy ‘80s crime dramas and plotting her escape from Boston’s brutal winters.More from this Author