Frank Chen

Frank Chen

continuing the work and professionalization

Interning at a 2 Michelin star kitchen - 🧵 for story number eight:

I guess I can't say "interning" anymore - there's been a couple of developments since my last story.

My internship concluded at the end of August and to my surprise, the chefs offered me several options for employment. In the culinary world, that generally means "we like you, you've been helpful, you're not an idiot, and we'd like you to stay and learn with us."

That was beyond cool, especially for someone who has never really touched the service industry in any way, save a couple of self-created experiences at home. I'm grateful they took a chance on me.

I've opted to continue working with them in a part-time capacity.

Aside from it being plain fun, one factor for continuing my work was regret minimization. Ten years ago, I let a similar opportunity pass me by. My reasoning then was I needed to finish college.

Now, I scenario-play in these instances. 30 years down the line, would I regret this instance of "what could've been", even if it didn't work out?

If there is even a hint of curiosity, then I have to find out, even if it puts me in a weird exploratory phase. Right now, I'm not 100% sure what my end goal is.

I know opening my own restaurant or becoming a life-long line cook isn't what I want. BUT, that doesn't mean I wouldn't enjoy or be proficient at the work along the journey.

My choice(s) ten years ago set me down a completely different path and opened up other opportunities that basically made me who I am today. I'm still curious about that path too, and I still have areas that I'd like to upskill in.

Which brings me to the point that professionalization and "careerism" can really harm the holistic view of a person.

I've always had trouble accepting that life is much more shades of grey than it is black and white. If I did something, it was always balls to the wall and I had to find some way to make it 100% of my life.

Almost always, I burned out. Somewhere along the way I lost the emphatic attitude of "I'm just a normal guy, doing shit that interests me" and picked up a role identification with what I was doing. "I'm an [x]", where x was some arbitrary role.

These types of role constraints are powerfully limiting. They can mislead you in the wrong direction if you're not careful.

If anything, working at the restaurant has helped me reanimate that attitude of "just being a normal guy, doing shit". It keeps things fun and it keeps my observations much more fluid.

My hypothesis is that this playfulness happens in new environments, because you're essentially coming in as a complete newbie, a white belt to the game.

The challenge is keeping that mentality as you pick up experience.

You can actively fight it by refusing to align to roles.

Instead of "chef", it's "I just do magical, scientific transformations with food, taste stuff, and occasionally end up doing some boring but necessary shit." Inelegant, but white belt.

It's kind of the same thing with "roles" I've held in the past and now. Data scientist, lead analyst, product manager. Like, what the fuck are these things? Speak human.

"I tell stories with numbers", or "I'm here to truly understand the problems you're facing."

Part of the "normal guy doing shit" attitude is akin to remaining a constant white belt, and in a way, purposefully remaining on the outer edges of role definition. I prefer simple and direct language as to what I'm really doing.

It offers the advantage of constantly developing the skills that I do care about, regardless of "roles", and keeping any kind of ego in check. Skills transcend roles. Nothing is below you, and that's when you start making really interesting connections.

All of this is just a really long-winded way to share the direction my thinking is moving in. It seems appropriate that I continue using the term "interning" in this case because despite proceeding in a more semi-permanent fashion - I'm just a regular guy, doing shit.