“Learn to focus, and you will get better.”
That was the advice a Michelin starred chef I worked under once told me. Being sidetracked can happen to all of us. I still think about my cooking class, where one of my teammates was so distracted by boys that she proceeded to burn herself and make black pesto in an hour (two separate incidents, with the burn happening in a latter lesson, just to clarify). She was not focused….at all. Which is why she did not wear oven mitts when I asked her to remove my oatmeal cookies (once she burned herself, she left the cookies in the oven and got passive aggressive with me for asking her to open the oven) or she spent an hour picking basil leaves and then presenting me with something I originally thought was tapenade before tasting it. Yeah. Sometimes, I just feel like people are really dumb. But it’s not that they are actually dumb. It’s that their minds are preoccupied with something else.
For me in my Michelin starred internship, I was too busy being star-struck (pun literally intended) because the chef I was working for, they were a Top Chef contestant. I will not disclose who. But I will say that chef, I am so sorry for how bad of an intern I was. I have since then improved, and if you are looking for a pastry intern, I can definitely deliver on that station 1000% better than I could as a garde manger. Bottom line, I was too busy freaking out about the fact that they were this big name chef that my head was not on straight. I would be off in lala-land, being so excited about working for them that I could not deliver on what I was there to do: cook. My knife cuts were crap, as the sous-chef pointed out, I would take a lot longer to do tasks, I basically got into a wrestling match with the oven, mostly because I could not open it. The list of mistakes, it was very long. And it got to me.
Each mis-step took me further and further away from being confident and trying to nail my tasks. Instead, I got more depressed and these thoughts about me being useless and that I am better off somewhere else because the bar was set too high for me really got to me. I wanted a way out. Eventually, I quit because I felt like I was being too much of a burden and not enough of a help. Wow. I just started to realize a pattern here with me and my self-esteem. Doubt builds when I don’t feel valued or know that I am doing as good as I should be, that leads to anxiety and depression, and then I try to remove myself from the equation. Okay, that’s going to be a realization post soon enough. Bottom line is that had I focused on doing the job and learning how to do it right, and not fret about how I was making mistakes, something perfectly acceptable as a beginner who was starting out at their first fine-dining establishment, then I’m positive that I would have done fine. But all it took was me not having focus for me to completely melt down and break apart.
To focus on something means to clear your mind of everything that does not directly pertain to the subject in mind. The easiest way to do something like that is to make the situation less about your problems and more about getting the job done. I know I talk a lot about making life all about you, but that’s for your personal life. When it comes to your professional life, you need to look at what it is that you are doing, and how it helps the company or organization you are working for. Rather than thinking that a task is beneath you, or that you have better things to be doing, just focus on doing the damn job, doing it well, and then if you really dislike what it is that you’re doing, then quit and find something more compatible. Ideally, you should be allowed to work a job you are passionate about, and if you are passionate about work, then you will be able to focus on work and nothing else; your work will be in a way, an escape from whatever responsibilities you have to think about.