I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t immediately start snapping shots of the adorable little flowers that are blooming in the front yards on our street. I squealed when I realized that colorful things were already popping out of the ground – it’s always one of my favorite sights of the year. It means we’re moving forward.
As anyone who doesn’t live under a rock probably knows, much of the country has had stunning spring weather this week. God bless it. It is supposed to be 72 degrees here today, and it’s been in the high 60’s all week long. Kevin and I sat in the park yesterday morning chatting and bickering over coffee and breakfast sandwiches from the deli and I accidentally got a little sunburn on my shoulder and arm! Guess it’s time to break out the sunblock. I am so ready.
This past week has been one of the most interesting and influential weeks I’ve experienced since I quit my job, which was just over six months ago (!). Here’s what happened. I started freelance-baking (sure, that’s a thing) on Sunday morning with a fantastic little catering company in the West Village. Better Being has been around for over 15 years, is owned by two amazing women and run by a wonderful team of talented people, and they’ve carved out an interesting niche for themselves – they cater almost all the big name fashion photo shoots in the city and have been successfully doing so for as long as they’ve been in business. They’ve never even had to advertise – they’re beloved in their community.
They recently decided to open a little take-out lunch shop as an addition to their catering business. The shop, which they’ve built out right in front of their kitchen facility, will offer organic fair trade coffee, delicious paninis and sandwiches, soups made from scratch, hot lunches, salads, and, of course, desserts. And they use some incredibly fresh, high-quality ingredients. Mmm! They had a very soft opening of the new cafe this past Monday, meaning they just opened their doors to friends and family and tried to troubleshoot while learning what to put on the shelves and how to serve the customers before officially announcing anything.
And that’s where I came in. They’ve never exactly had a formal baking department, as a company, and when I met with one of the owners this past Sunday, she explained to me that they were really hoping for someone to take over their bakery and sort of build it from the ground up – to create some signature sweets for the place and to head up the operation. She wanted to know if I was her gal.
It was an unbelievable opportunity, to say the least. I couldn’t believe it had landed in my lap. As I stood in their facility, with an entire separate kitchen dedicated just to the bakery, I imagined the possibilities and was shocked at my good fortune. This could be a great experience, I thought. I’d already told her about my own bakery, in fact it’s what attracted her to me as a prospective employee – she’d been to our website and was impressed. I’d explained to her that if I were to take on the job, I’d also still be running my own bakery and would want her to be comfortable with that. She told me she would be. We agreed to give it a try for a few days. I’d stick around and help out with the soft launch, prepping various sweets and treats for their fashion shoot lunches and for the new cafe, and after a few days, we’d both tell each other how we were feeling and if we wanted to move forward with official employment.
I was excited, but also a little nervous. I knew I could complete almost any recipe you put in front of me, but not having had any formal baking training, I was worried about what I didn’t know that I didn’t know. For a few days at least, I was going to be running this whole bakery! It was all up to me! I crossed my fingers that my skills were up to the task and that I’d be able to learn what I couldn’t already do.
More than any of that, though, I was also worried about whether or not this was the right move for my LIFE, for my bakery, for what I want for my future and the things I can see happening for Fanny & Jane. Lots of bakers and bakery owners have second jobs consulting for other restaurants or cafes. It’s not unusual for someone to own or have created their own restaurant or bakery and to be helping out another one at the same time. In fact, when she asked me for my Red Velvet Cake Bite recipe, I told her I’d be happy to offer them to her as a Fanny & Jane wholesale account, but that those were our signature item and I wasn’t comfortable taking our name off the product. She understood and agreed.
The hours at this gig, although varied, would mostly be mornings (I’d show up sometime between 7am-10am) until early afternoons (we’d finish up sometime between 2pm-5pm) and it seemed like I might have plenty of free time left over to still work on Fanny & Jane stuff too. I knew that I’d know after just a few mornings of showing up for work as Head Baker at a successful NYC restaurant, if it was the right job for me.
Turns out, it wasn’t. And before I explain why, I’ll tell you that discovering I had the ability to recognize that it wasn’t, to make that decision, and to be honest with the owners about it was incredibly reaffirming.
The job itself wasn’t bad at all. The early mornings weren’t ideal, but I got by, and the people at Better Being were fantastic. They were kind, helpful, funny, relaxed, easy to work with and very good at their jobs. The facility itself was great too. It was very clean, very well organized, and ran like a well-oiled machine, despite the addition of the cafe, which had everyone a little on edge as they tried to navigate this brand new aspect of their business. And I absolutely LOVED doing the baking. I made a chocolate sour cream cake, an olive oil cake (that turned out perfectly, if I may brag for a moment), dozens of cookies, biscotti, a range of different fancy cupcakes – a key-lime cupcake with a meringue topping and a lime curd center, a Guinness cupcake with champagne frosting, which was rather complicated to make – I even learned how to use a blow torch, something I’d never done as a baker before. I learned a ton in a few short days and got to know a lovely group of people with whom I would have never otherwise come into contact.
But it wasn’t long before I realized this was not the right fit. I was glad that the owners and I agreed to take it one day at at time before either of us committed formally. Already, after just a few days of working for someone else, I felt stifled, like I wasn’t able to do things creatively that were exciting to me, like there were certain rules I needed to follow and certain tasks I had to perform that weren’t what I wanted to be doing with my skills. And there was a lot of pressure to succeed the first time, every time.
Listen, I know that’s how having a JOB works. And I know that we don’t always get to love everything we do all the time. And, I certainly don’t want to sound ungrateful – a job opportunity is a blessing . But I don’t NEED this job in order to get by right now. And I really don’t want to settle with something like this. I wanted to see if it would be the right fit for me and for my current lifestyle, which happens to include owning and running my own bakery. And it turns out that it wasn’t. I left there every day completely exhausted and feeling almost incapable of spending more time baking for Fanny & Jane. I didn’t want to talk to anyone or do anything once I got home, and what’s worse is that I’d missed whole days of beautiful spring weather, the time of year I’ve been waiting for and daydreaming about since I left my desk job in the fall. Of course, there are days when I don’t get to do exactly what I want because I’m busy with my own work too, but in that situation, I’m my own boss, so if I decide an hour-long walk in the park will be good for productivity, that’s what I do. Understandably, working for someone else doesn’t exactly allow me that. Not to mention, I was missing working all day long on my OWN thing, creating stuff for my success and my future, rather than for someone else’s dream. On paper, this opportunity could have been the perfect fit for me right now, but in practice, it wasn’t what I was looking for.
And rather than be disappointed in myself that I didn’t love it, rather than be disappointed in fact that the experience didn’t match my pre-conceived idea of the experience, I decided to take the cues my body and brain were giving me and to tell the owners, “I’ve loved working here for the last few days, but this isn’t a long term fit.”
They were incredibly understanding and sweet about it and I left there on very good terms. One of the owners kept thanking me for being honest about what I was feeling, and for communicating it to her. The good news is, Fanny & Jane landed a wholesale account of the whole shebang because she loves our Red Velvet Cake Bites and wants to keep them as an item on their shelves. Hooray!
And speaking of Red Velvet, here are some cupcakes I made for their soft launch on Monday. They were pretty delicious, if I may say so.
I cannot tell you how rewarding it was to communicate my true and honest feelings to those people, and to not be ashamed of having those feelings! I was 100% myself at this job from the moment I walked in the door, which is not something I can say about every job I’ve ever had. I was honest with them about who I am and what my skills are, what I’m looking for and what I thought I could contribute. And my skills were certainly stretched. (I had to make something called a Pate A Bombe one day, a term I’d never heard before, which has something to do with how fast and at what temperature you whisk a sugar syrup into an egg mixture. Not that hard to do, but I definitely had to google it to find out.)
More importantly, I was honest with myself. The first moment I started to feel like this wasn’t the right move for the next year of my life, I spoke up. I don’t intend to quit every job I have from now until forever (although I am getting pretty good at giving the speech – har har), but I think I’m learning about myself that being my own boss is right up my alley. I’m also re-learning that I refuse to settle.
I could not stop myself from thinking, while winding down my last few hours at Better Being, You know, I spent a whole year writing a blog about trying to quit my desk job, trying to find the courage and the means to do so. I felt stifled and uncreative there. So I cannot get myself right back into another full time job if it’s not what I want for myself, just because it’s a little bit more aligned with my interests. A little bit more aligned does not a happy career make, necessarily. If I’m not happy right now, if this is not the right fit, I need to get out now. I don’t need to start another blog a year from now about getting up the guts to quit THIS job. (Can you tell I’ve had to give myself a lot of pep talks throughout this experience?)
Don’t get me wrong, the whole thing was fantastic, overall. I loved the people I met and worked with and I’m thrilled to supply F&J sweets to their little shop. I will definitely be going back there for coffee and lunch because every single thing I sampled was absolutely delicious.
And oh my gosh, did I ever feel like I was walkin’ on sunshine, with a huge grin spread across my face, the moment I stepped off the subway to head home on Wednesday afternoon. I’d clocked out for the last time at Better Being, just a few short days after I clocked in. And I was headed back to my fully self-employed lifestyle, to my own bakery, to my own palette and my own creative designs and to being my own boss.
We learn new stuff about ourselves and the world all the time. And this week I learned a boatload of new stuff. The most monumental of which is that I’m right where I belong.