Should I leave a job I hate to become a chef?

April 5th, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 24 comments

I am 33 years old, married, no children yet, but probably soon. My wife works as a school teacher and I work a low level office job. I am considering switching careers to go after a dream of being a professional chef. 

I am struggling with the potential financial ramifications, feeling I am being “irresponsible,” and feeling money will always be a problem if I go down this path. My wife is very supportive and wants me to go after this dream instead of staying in a job I dislike. We already live on her income alone so money will be tight, but we will not starve. 

Am I being selfish if I make this change and putting my family under unnecessary stress? I am so conflicted! I appreciate your advice. Thanks.

David

Answer: 

Dear David,

Please accept our compliments for facing reality and asking the tough questions.  While we don’t want to sound harsh, it sounds to us like you are being irresponsible by remaining in a low level office job at your stage of life. You mention that you and your wife hope to have children soon, but that you are dependent on her salary as a teacher for your basic expenses. That sounds like trouble is simmering on the horizon.

We want to praise your wife for supporting your dream while also carrying a heavy load.  It is clear to us, and obviously also to you, that a  change is needed.  We are pretty sure that your wife’s support for your idea of becoming a chef is partially her profound  hope that you will do something to accept responsibility for improving your financial situation.

Knowing what question to ask is often the first step on the pathway to wisdom.  We suggest you rephrase your question.  The issue is not whether to stay in a job you dislike or to step on the uncertain path of becoming a chef.

No, David, the question is what change you are now going to make in order to increase your income.

Unless you urgently become proactive, we fear that these are the years the locusts will have eaten.  We strongly encourage you to probe with brutal honesty and searing self-knowledge to analyze why you are currently in a low level job. Unless there is an obvious reason (illness, recent immigration…) these are years that should see you actively pursuing advancement.

In our view, you should immediately and aggressively look for ways to increase your income either by advancement in your current place of employment, taking a second job, or by looking elsewhere for a new job.

Meanwhile, do all you can in your free time to get a realistic understanding of becoming a chef.  Maybe you should be  moonlighting on weekends and evenings in the restaurant field or taking courses. You should only think of moving full time into the chef track once you have a well-grounded, educated understanding of your chances in that field as well as a realistic assessment of your ability to support your family should that not work out. A financial savings cushion would be a great idea as well.

You are getting somewhat of a late start. It is time to grasp your future with both hands. Now!

May you be blessed both at home and at work,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

 

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24 comments

paul alpert says:

i would suggest you read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. He writes about his life as a chef. Incredibly arduous, demanding, and crazy.

Susan Lapin says:

We love seeing readers reach out with helpful advice. Thank you, Paul.

Steve Ramsey says:

In fact I did exactly as David desired, although at a later age of 43, after being laid of from my job.
While I did enjoy it, and was good at professional cooking, David must understand that it is a very mentally and physically demanding profession. Brutal at times. You either perform, or you are out. The wages are low unless you are at the very pinnacle of the profession, and benefits scarce to none. You may often have trouble even getting 40 hours a week in as a cook. As a sous chef or executive chef on salary, you may work on upwards of sixty to seventy hours a week, driving your real hourly wage below that of some of your subordinates.

Employers in this line of work are fickle, and in many cases in constant financial stress. You are going to be told to cut costs or else. You just aren’t going to be able at most times to practice your craft as you would want.

I survived and moved up via sheer ability to endure, where others broke down and quit. Not talent or creativity.

I gave it everything I had. Six years later, between cooking jobs, my former employer called me back, for much higher wages and benefits. I looked at myself in the mirror and said to myself, “I’ve given it my best, I’ll burn out before I hit the top,I need to be serious now”. My own endurance was flagging at age 49.

I have no particular love for the manufacturing job I returned to. But my wife and I are provided for in every way. I get good healthcare and decent retirement benefits. I loved being a chef. But I had to let it go. It’s been the right thing to do.

I advise David to think this over very carefully. Sometimes dreams can be true, but your dreams and the reality may be different from what you think.

My advice is to get a job as a dishwasher on the weekends so you can observe what life in a professional kitchen is really like. And don’t feel bad about it. Any REAL chef will tell you that a good dishwasher is worth their weight in gold. If you are game, reliable, and teachable, the Chef might even let you work the line. Many careers have started this way. But do it on the weekends, and save your prime earning years for better paying work that benefits you and your family.

Susan Lapin says:

Thanks for expanding on your experience, Steve. While we are all individuals, we can learn a lot from each other’s stories.

Mike W says:

I was once in this situation and the fear of change kept me in a low-level job way too long. I eventually worked up the courage to seek out better opportunities and found a much better job that led to a new career and later to owning a business that employs over 60 people! Taking those first steps to pursuing a better income will give you a tremendous feeling of confidence. I think our Rabbi, Daniel Lapin, will be proud if I mention Nahshon who stepped into the Red Sea during Israel’s Exodus from Egypt and waded in up to his nose until the sea parted! Take the first couple of steps and you will be a new man.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you for speaking from the trenches, Mike. Sounds like you made a scary change and reaped the reward. Very apt to mention Nachshon this time of year right before Passover. He is given the credit for being the leader who moved forward into the Red Sea in faith.

Jenna says:

Will be praying for you. Good advice to get a job in a restaurant (on the side first) to get some understanding. I worked in many. All varied, but similar.

Susan Lapin says:

Working in a restaurant (or fast food place) at some point is probably an experience many people share, Jenna. A great place to learn about real life and, sadly, one that will has been disappearing as minimum wage is forced up leading to replacing humans with machines.

Susan Rueger says:

Another resource for David or anyone wishing to learn more about an occupation is the U.S. Labor Department’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. It is available on the internet. The site provides much good data on the selected occupation plus similar jobs that may suit the reader better.

Susan Lapin says:

Great idea, Susan. We often ignore easy to access resources.

Roy says:

All a man’s ways are pure in his own view,
  but Adonai weighs the spirit.
If you entrust all you do to Adonai,
  your plans will achieve success.
Proverbs 16:2,3

Susan Lapin says:

That’s certainly a component, Roy, but man has to do his part. Trust without action is not what King David is advocating.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Well said, Susan!
Love
your devoted husband.

Rob Prince says:

I too was in a similar position at age 33, but married with 2 children and was considering whether I should study for a qualification. I spoke to my manager about my concerns using age as an excuse and said: “When I finish in 4 years I will be 37, I think I’m too old to start”
His reply, with the wisdom of age was: “And if you don’t what will you be in 4 years?”
The Rabbi gives you good advice, please take note of it.

Susan Lapin says:

So true, Rob. However, there should be proof that the qualification (or other choice) will lead to an improvement.

Matt says:

David,

I strongly suggest that you try it out (being a chef) on a part-time basis first, for example, as a caterer. Or take some cooking classes so you can talk with the teacher about the reality of being a chef. Keep your regular full-time job while doing this. I gave this advice to a friend of mine. She ultimately decided not to become a chef.

Follow your dreams as a hobby so that you really understand what being a chef means, then do it full time if you can afford to.

I would also suggest that you start looking for another office job with more pay, or more possibly of advancement. Perhaps a class or two in one area might position you for something more interesting. I majored in chemistry in college but ended up working as an actuary (insurance mathematician.) I looked in the newspaper classifieds and just stumbled onto some math jobs. I didn’t get any of those jobs but did get one a little later.

Susan Lapin says:

All good points, Matt. That is quite a path from chemistry to actuarial work. It’s funny how life takes us on different plans than we expected. Our son majored in physics, planning to go to business school and became a doctor instead.

I’d love to add that these days, there are multiple ways to monetize a passion for cooking.

Being hired at a restaurant is only one way. You could also launch your own restaurant at some point, though that would be VERY time consuming.

Another alternative would be to create an online presence through a blog and a YouTube channel or daily videos on facebook live. And there are multiple ways to monetize that.

What’s neat about that is that you could conceivably stay with your current job while building up your business online over time, using those nights and a weekend day to really push hard to get the knowledge and experience to build that online presence at the same time as you are increasing your cooking skills.

These days, we don’t have to wait for someone else to pick us. We can choose ourselves!

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

What I like about your advice, Stevie,
Is that you are seizing the initiative and not viewing yourself or our questioner as a tennis ball floating down the gutter of life. The fantastic thing about the Internet is that whereas once, only people walking past your place of business saw your shingle, nowadays, even if only 1% of 1% of people might be your customers or clients, you can access large numbers of them. Starting a sort of food/cooking channel like many already up there, is a great idea and one I hadn’t thought of. This way, if it all goes well, he could show the videos to a future potential employer.
Thanks for giving this some thought and chiming in.
Cordially,
RDL

Ishmael says:

David, thanks for sharing. While you do what the good Rabbi suggests, if you have a car in good shape, clean it up some and become an Uber driver during your free time. You can make money on your way to work and back when you carry people. You can drive for a few hours before bed and during weekends. You will meet interesting people and just may come across veterans in the Restaurant business. I have met some resourceful people and contacts just by talking with drivers. While you try to understand what it means to be a chef, the extra income from being a driver can help. You could sacrifice a few night hours to make some extra income with your Uber until you get a leg up. You will do good David.

In the words of our Rabbi, “I wish you nothing but good health and prosperity. May the Good Lord bless you.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Absolutely fabulous idea, Ishmael,
Good thinking! God bless Uber for making it possible for so many of us to convert spare time into needed dollars with no barriers to entry. Not to mention for providing prompt transportation to the harried traveler. And God bless you for writing with such a fine plan for our questioner.
Cordially
RDL

Dallas says:

Getting stuck at a lower earning point is something I endured also. Since reading the 2 Financial Books–Thou Shalt Prosper and Business Secrets, my income jumped dramatically seeing the morality of making money which was quite freeing. It was not however until I learned to quit sabotaging myself through procrastination did I make a complete change. After listening to and applying the principles from the Day of Atonement lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation and the Journal tool from the Let Me Go.

Prayers for courage to confront your shortcomings as I have and am confronting mine,

Susan Lapin says:

It means so much to us when we hear from people who benefited from the resources that we pour our hearts and souls into. I’m so glad that you have moved onto a new financial ladder and I’m sure that your words and prayer will serve as an inspiration and source of strength to others.

craig glowen says:

Our now 42 year old son, went through this same issue at this age. He was an I.T. manager at a major hospital, and bored to death! With His Wife’s blessing, He went through Chef School. 1. Finished 1st in His class. 2.Landed a job immediately; and, now is the co-owner of 2 restaurants in Evanston Illinois! His Wife, 3 children, and
the rest of our Family, all made it through, Thank God! Go, do it, you’ll be better for the growth and the experiences you will be led through!

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