August 10, 2016

I Believe In Learning

At one point in the late 90’s I was living in a bit of a dump in SOMA in San Francisco. It was a house on an alley called Natoma off sixth street, a few blocks south of Market. Sixth street at the time, and I assume even now, was filled with bars, pornography shops, homeless people and trash. I once saw a man do a #2 in the gutter at 11am on a Tuesday. It was cheap so we lived there. It somehow made me feel Bukowskian, which was necessary at the age of 25.

I was bussing tables at Planet Hollywood, which if you don’t know is a kind of Clockwork Orangesque torture. The money was okay, but I was tired of watching the servers make all the money, while I busted my hump for a fraction of their tips. I wanted to be a server. My time as the dish clearer was over. Problem was I didn’t have much (any) experience.

One day I saw an ad for a waiter job at Kulletos. A trendy touristy Italian place on Powell street in Union Square. At the time I thought it was a pretty fancy place. They had entrees priced in the $20 range and all the waiters wore ties and white coats. Although I had little to no waiting experience and knew little to nothing about food or wine, I decided to get my resume together and go down for an interview. I can’t recall now what I said or how I convinced the manager to give me the job, but she did and within a few days I started.

I was a fish out of water. But I learned quickly. I watched and listened and eventually I got pretty good at waiting tables. I found mentors and learned from people like Jim, Ken and Wayne. Within a few months I was picking up dinner shifts, then Friday and Saturday nights and within the year I had a veteran's schedule. I was training people and by the end of my run at the restaurant, I even had a few floor manager shifts.

I took this experience with me to NYC and got a job at a top fine dining restaurant called Aquavit. It was not uncommon for a couple to drop $2000 at this place. It was run by Marcus Samuelsson, an up-and-coming chef back then, who is now a bit of a celebrity.

What’s my point? Why am I telling you this story at this time? Because I feel like I my new role as Head of Grade might be a bit like my first few weeks at Kullettos. I interviewed well and I am in the position, but I feel like a fish out of water.

But here’s the thing- I love it. I love the feeling of gathering confidence and jumping right in. I love the feeling of just doing it until you get it right. Even back then, even though I didn’t know about wine, I knew I could learn. I understood I would have to learn how to talk to tables. I knew that I would figure it out. I have always believed in myself enough to know that there is nothing that I can’t learn on the job.

I believe in learning.

I have faith not just in myself, but in my ability to work hard and achieve success. There are many other times when I have just thrown in my hat into an application process assuming I would learn as I go. Because I believe in learning.

While some people might wait until they are 100% qualified or confident, I prefer to grab what I want and apply the pressure and learn things by doing them.

Today was hard. This week has been overwhelming. My mindset is very different to what it was at the start of last year, when my biggest concern was getting my class set-up. I have stepped back and I see so many other moving parts, and to be honest I am not sure how to deal with them all.

When should I make an executive decision? When should I ask for clarification? When should I take charge? When should I listen and build consensus? When should I stay up and get that first week slide show done? When should I rest and allow myself to get to it tomorrow?

I love it. There is a vibrancy that comes from sink or swim. There is a spark that comes from jumping into the unknown and having enough faith in learning to know that although you might not know the difference between a Pinot and a Merlot, you will learn. And although you might feel a bit nervous running a meeting, you will lead many more and the people will respond.

This bravado should not be mistaken for arrogance. There is a beauty to a humble confidence. But every once in a while, it needs to be let out to spread its wings and strut about a bit. Take the mic and spit some rhymes. Every once in a while you need to look in the mirror and tell yourself, “you got this. You will learn as you go."

No comments:

Post a Comment