I had a couple really interesting conversations with 22-year-old men yesterday that I’m still mulling over.
My brother-in-law, who works as a line cook, took a leave of absence from his undergraduate work to think about what he wants to do with his life. He took the cooking job as a way to make money in the meantime.
The way he described his job fascinated me. He explained how he knows he thinks very differently than the other people he works with, and he’s made many small changes in the kitchen to increase its efficiency. All day as he works, he thinks about how to be more efficient, how to make the food taste better, how to make it look better, how to make the jobs of everyone in the kitchen easier.
He described feeling like one part of a well-oiled machine. Every person in the restaurant has a unique skill set and unique personality that make them suited to their job. They depend on each other, but within their own stations they also have control over their own work.
What struck me in his description was that unlike graduate school, which seems to gradually tear people down, make them question their worth, and feel irrelevant and ignorant–working in the kitchen was actually building my brother-in-law up: it was making him realize his own skills and learn how he’s different from other people in a good way. He offers the workplace his gifts, and he sees their tangible effects on other people.
When I talked to my own brother later, I told him about the restaurant conversation. My brother told me that all the things my brother-in-law desribed were the exact reason he spends so many hours playing World of Warcraft. He hasn’t found another situation where he can work as part of a team, get a lot of praise for his actions, and feel confident about his unique skills.
I’ve always considered myself someone who doesn’t work well with others, who would prefer to be doing my own project. But my brother-in-law is very introverted, and he said he was suprised by how satisfying it is to be part of the kitchen.
Universities are anything but well-oiled machines. So I’m trying to figure out how to get this experience of a job that builds esteem. If you have ideas, dear readers, I’d love to hear them.