Kitchen Confidential: Growing and learning

The Secret Chef reflects on finding growth away from the balance sheet

Growth is hard. Growth demands an acceptance that the current situation is unsatisfactory, deficient in some way, or that your current ability is below potential. All of us have endured the awkwardness of adolescence, when our bodies and minds perform painful acrobatics and challenging acts of self-sabotage, a public cocoon without the comfort of privacy afforded to the insect world.

Often we emerge from this secure of our place in the world, keen to avoid the indignities that plagued our formative years. Yet our condition is one that seeks discomfort. Inertia might be a powerful force when it comes to rolling subscription services but in a professional context, contentment is a rare commodity.

We yearn for betterment: a fixed notion that progress is required for fulfilment, a singular central hub around which our quest for self-improvement revolves. I’ve seen this consistently during my professional career, both in myself and in others. Barely 18 months into my own existence as a business owner, the twin forces of hubris and ambition propelled me headlong into an ill-advised expansion.

It’s easy to have 20/20 vision gazing into the rear-view mirror, however, it was probably obvious before it even opened that a mistake had been made. It stuttered into life, past deadline and over budget, then after just a few months, it collapsed, wheezing and leaden, into loss-making territory. I cut it loose after less than a year and watched it sink out of sight, taking with it well over $100,000. A painful, but necessary, professional adolescence that taught me far more than any award, customer review or profitable balance sheet.

Growth from inward reflection

If this fall was preceded by pride, its consequence was certainly humility. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. There’s nothing e like the triple whammy of pestilence, warfare and looming economic crisis to make you feel small. The confidence that the end of the pandemic would lead to a revitalized roaring Twenties seems to have receded as fast as mask mandates across much of the world.

So how is one meant to talk about growth in a world in which optimism is in such small supply? Rather than looking outward to traditional models of capitalist growth and accepted forms of success, inward reflection is the mode by which I’m looking at my own personal development. With rising costs, precariously high inflation and increasingly fragile global supply chains, there is only so much we can be expected to do before we find ourselves knee deep in rising water, railing ignominiously against the tides.

Instead, this is a time for growth to become personal and immeasurable to all but oneself. This isn’t the type of growth that can be calculated in profit and loss or share dividends. It’s not the growth that can be put into end-of-year reports or written about by fawning or yawning critics.

I’m not sure it can even be counted, codified or quantified, but that’s not to say it’s less important than that assessed by traditional metrics. In fact, now that the fragility of the systems that surround us has been fully exposed, the surest way to make certain we are strong in the face of those powerful externalities is to take the time to build our own defenses, be they physical, emotional or professional.

That way, when the time comes, and the tides begin to recede – as they surely will – we’ll be in the strongest possible position to take advantage of the calmer waters.

The Secret Chef

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