What to do when you doubt

“In the meantime, cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, not to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases.” — Seneca

As a man, husband, father, chef and entrepreneur I have had my fair share of setbacks, failures and disappointments. I remember all too well the several dishes I was so proud of which didn’t sell or the restaurant I took over in Marblehead Massachusetts that six months later was shuttered because the original owner had a tax debt that couldn’t be renegotiated or wished away.

Often the memories when I, my team or my operation have come up short are more real, visceral and annoyingly present than the successes we’ve enjoyed. Is there ever a time when you think about what you could have done differently to change the outcome of ‘X’? Maybe it was a stage, an interview, a job change or a business that you started? My failures can sometimes be quite mesmerizing, haunting my actions and forming my perceptions in the now; causing me to mutter a mantra like, ‘this time I’m gonna get it right’.

I consider myself essentially an optimist; what other label could apply to someone who has been married and divorced three times? If I am honest with myself I must also admit that there are times when I doubt. Sometimes that doubt can turn into an impediment to progress; it can stay my hand and have me questioning my decisions.

Nothing is so dangerous as doubt if it has us second guessing our essential mission. If that is true, then it must also be true that doubt can also serve as a catalyst for change and evolution, forcing us to reconsider the mechanism for our vision. The trick is not to get stuck in the doubt and let it become a mental circle jerk, undermining the ‘why’ of what we do.

In moments when I doubt, I take heart in the realization that certainty is for fools and wisdom comes from a consistent evaluation of goals and the path with which we achieve them. There may be many trails up the mountain but the summit remains the destination.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

Doubt can be humbling. It can also predispose us to a thoughtful approach to our vision; assisting us to gingerly step through the mine field of success when certainty would have us charging ahead, ignorant or uncaring of the possibility of losing a limb or livelihood.

It can also be paralyzing, catalyzing depression and despair.

At a low point in my life, I called my mother when everything seemed to fall apart. I had questions. My mother, fearing that my spirit was headed down a dangerous hole, chided me to ‘pull myself up by my bootstraps’. She was scared for me, and what that would mean about her as a mother. She told me what she thought I needed to hear in the moment to jump start my motivation. While that may have been good advice, all I really wanted her to tell me was that everything was going to be okay.

Questioning is not the same thing as doubt. At that time, I wasn’t doubting who I was, I was questioning my ‘why’. A fine distinction, but one worth making.

“When success begins to slip from your fingers—for whatever reason—the response isn’t to grip and claw so hard that you shatter it to pieces. It’s to understand that you must work yourself back to the aspirational phase. You must get back to first principles and best practices.” ― Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy

As men there is nothing as important as our ‘why’. As professionals, we’re painfully familiar with the cartoon cut out of the youngling in our kitchens, offices or shops who is there because they want to be the next David Chang, Grant Achatz or Eddie Huang. We roll our eyes at their naivete and hubris when we learn that their motivation is fame, notoriety or money. We remember that those reasons didn’t work out so well for Homaru Cantu, Joseph Cerniglia or Josh Marks.

Instinctively we know, that to be successful in this business, one needs more compelling reasons than those.

A similar crisis of confidence was heavy on my heart that day I called my mother. What I came away with was a commitment to discover just what had motivated me to get into this business in the first place as well as a burning desire to determine what my bigger reasons going forward would be; those that were larger than myself, those that I could anchor myself to, allowing me to stay resolute and immutable during stormy periods of doubt.

I found out that my motivation, my mission – my why – had been there all along, just below the surface of my desire to be a great chef. I realized that what I really wanted, what my Mission was, was to bring people together. What better way than to do that around a table of great cooking?

During my second divorce, at court ordered mediation, the attorney had a cold cut buffet prepared on a side table. When my wife angrily asked why, the attorney said simply, ‘I have found it very difficult for people to be mad with food in their mouths’. I agreed, wolfing down a corned beef on rye sandwich, my heart softening immediately.

Armed with my ‘why’, I may now question the path I’m taking, but never my destination.

What’s your ‘why’?

Sometimes I lose sight of my ‘why’, maybe you do too. When circumstance lays a 2X4 up against your head, stunning you with momentary doubt, might I suggest:

  • Connect with Your Why

It’s incredibly important to regularly reconnect with your ‘why’. If it’s big enough it will provide fuel for your fire when nothing else will. If you haven’t quite figured it out yet, get some assistance in discovering it, then pin it to your computer desktop or refrigerator. Leave sticky notes all over the house. I once painted my ‘why’ on the kitchen wall leading to the dining room so I, and everyone in the operation, could connect to it constantly, never losing sight of why we were there.

  • Immediately Make a Call

I have become less intrigued by why I doubt and more focused on getting on with my mission. When I doubt I now immediately call someone who sees me completely and gets what I’m up to. It may help to know that those who see you, and get what you’re up to, may not necessarily be the ones closest to you. Parents and lovers initially, may not completely understand or appreciate why you’re going out on your own. They may have their own hang ups about success or safety. They may be too preoccupied with immediate concerns and as such, unable to see the long-term vision in your head. I have 2 friends, one in the business, one outside the grind who are unflinching champions for me. When I’m in the shit, and need to shift, they are who I call to get some perspective. It works every time.

  • Practice Compassion & Grace

I’m not sure where I got the idea that I had to have all the answers or that I had to do it all alone, but I can tell you that it is complete bullshit. I have spent my life connecting with, and assisting others. Why wouldn’t I now ask for, and accept assistance from others? I don’t know about you but I can sometimes be my own worst critic, instantly judging myself incapable or unwilling to do what needs to be done to be successful. If it were someone else, I would be compassionate, empathetic and graceful in my encouragement. Why then shouldn’t I be just as worthy of my own graciousness? Self-nurture takes all forms, none more important than to cut yourself some slack’ be understanding, patient and kind to yourself. You, and your mission is well worth it.

When all else fails and you need a quick reminder, check out this video on Ryan Holiday’s Top Ten Rules for Success

Here’s to your continued success

 

 

 

 

A version of this article was previously published on

Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine

 

 

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