Thursday, February 10, 2011

To Cook or not To Cook

I don't like admitting defeat. For as often as I have had to, especially recently, failure really doesn't make me happy. I also know that I can be stubborn by nature and I sometimes can cling and insist on following through with things even when it is clearly a mistake to continue. That said, when I DO have to throw in the towel, I would much rather do it quickly and cleanly and move on. Lesson learned. Let's get on with life now.

I have been considering my choice in future education and career path. I love cooking and serving and I still think owning a cafe in our little down town would be totally cool. However, the reality of cooking school (as valuable as I recognize the information to be) is quite different than I imagined. When I started class back in November, I was so full of passion and determination. I finally felt like I had found an outlet for my pent-up passion for food and service to others. Just three weeks in, though, I was exhausted, in a lot pf physical pain, and failing. As much as I tried to anticipate what I would need and what I would have to do, I just didn't anticipate the amount of energy I would need to put out compared to the amount I actually had each day.

Eventually, Fibromyalgia got the best of me and I started missing class. Then, my family experienced a perfect storm, if you will, of financial hardships. We were struggling to get my husband back and forth to work and keep our bills paid. I couldn't justify spending the gas money to attend school (which happens to be 55 miles away.) I missed a lot of days back to back and then my request for a temporary leave of absence was denied. Basically, I failed my classes and got kicked out.

Some of you already know all this, but it helps me put things into perspective to put all down at once. I was lying in bed earlier this week, relishing the relief of Vicodin, when I started wondering if maybe I had pushed a little too hard, too fast for this school "thing." I've been out of work on and off for six years. Last year, I worked three solid months and a handful of evenings. Why I thought I could just jump, feet first, into five-day-a-week school, I don't know. I'm pretty sure it was a combination of denial and misjudgment. Aside from that, the passion to actually get up and go and learn was gone. I felt like my flame had been extinguished. I started doing some self analyzing. Was it the act of going to school or the school itself that was becoming a stumbling block for me? Perhaps it was something deeper, some underlying desire to fail and self-sabotage that was working here?

I thought of having to stay up late to go to class and I felt drained and exhausted. Night classes weren't as good an idea as I thought. I imagined getting into my uniform and going to class and I felt claustrophobic. In my minds eye, I look like Humpty Dumpty all squished into my chef's coat with my hair tucked into the little cap. Looking at the stacks and stacks of books, unopened, and thinking about the uniforms hanging in the closet gave me a sense of dread. That kind of hatred can't be good for my chance of future success. It seemed like my psyche was trying to tell me something. Perhaps, if I have failed so spectacularly, it is time to cut to the chase, nip it in the bud, move on with my life, cut my losses.

I considered the amount of money I have been charged, via student loans, and that made me feel guilty. Instead of trying to find a way to make it work, though, it caused me to look for ways to recoup my losses. I considered taking all the books back and trying to get some sort of a refund. At the very least, I could take them to text book store and get some cash out of them. The books from the first few classes were very informative and I would probably move them into the kitchen with the rest of my favorite cook books. I love the knives in my tool kit way too much to consider giving them up, and I would be happy to move them out of the carrying case and into my knife block so I can use them every day. I'll bet my dad would love the half aprons I have, I could easily use the pants as "around the house" wear (who doesn't LOVE black and white checkered clown pants?) I know the scarves would be just as comfy if I wore them as bandannas to hold my hair back. I could throw the rags in the towel closet and all I would have hanging around would be the coats. I bet I could donate them or maybe even set up a burn pile?

Then, I looked over and spied "The Shoes" and I felt fear and loathing more than for any other aspect of school. These shoes are the ones that were assigned to me and I have not been able to wear them more than 15 minutes at a time without severe pain. They are too small and too clunky and stiff, as well as being hideously ugly. I tried to trade them in for a better size after the first few days, but the adviser told me they wouldn't take them back. They could issue me new ones but they would cost $65 or more and it would be better (and cheaper) to go and find a pair on my own. Since I haven't had enough money to do ANYTHING since then I never went to get another pair. Unfortunately, in order to attend school, I had to have steel toed, black leather, non-skid shoes. I don't own another pair that meets these requirement so I chose to just deal with the discomfort and wear them anyway. Anyone who knows me (or nearly any other Pisces) will understand this is NOT a good thing. Wearing uncomfortable shoes is possibly the worst form of torture I can put myself through. (For more insight, read my posting on shoes...)

It occurred to me that perhaps the vehemence I felt for these black leather torture devices had put a dark cloud over my entire school experience. When I thought long and hard about it, the biggest reason I didn't want to go back to school was because of how uncomfortable the uniforms were. Besides the shoes that don't fit, the books are heavy, the tool kit is unwieldy, and the jacket and scarves make me feel like I am being choked. Was I really letting something like a uniform to prevent me from continuing down the path that I had chosen? Actually, yes. I was. And I felt pretty silly about it.

I bounced some ideas of DH and he has some interesting viewpoints. It turns out he actually thinks I am capable of doing this whole chef thing and being successful. He didn't berate me for quitting, like I thought he would. He didn't tell me I had failed. Instead he asked me if there was a way to overcome the obstacles. Was there something I could do to overcome these hurdles? Duh! Sometimes I need that man's sanity and clarity so much it is embarrassing.

As for the schedule, I can take day classes, I can even take afternoon classes if I need to. Since I stopped attending class, I have managed to increase my energy level and decrease my pain level significantly. Pain and fatigue should be handle-able issues now. So it really just comes down to what I have to wear and bring to class. Yes, there are other shoes in the world that will be acceptable for school. As long as they meet the requirements, I can get any type shoe I want!  There are better back packs that are more comfortable and distribute the weight of books better than the hand-me-down ones I have been using. The tool kit is heavy, but I don't need every tool for every class. There are smaller knife cases that can be bought so I can carry only what I need for each class. I am able to tailor my uniforms to fit me better, if I need to, so that I don't feel like I am swimming in them OR being choked by them. Another way to make them more comfortable would be to change out the regular "Hanes" t-shirts for something a little more high tech - underarmor or another type cloth that keeps you cool and dry. You see? There are a lot of options that I wasn't considering.

What stopped me from making this epiphany sooner? Money. I didn't have enough to do the bare minimum and so I couldn't even consider things that would be for comfort instead of utility. I wanted to be brave, and work hard, and make do when I had to. By denying my own discomfort and negating the importance of it, though, I was making my pile of obstacles to overcome higher and higher. Sure, some people can deal with tight shoes and make it through the day just fine. I'm not that person, though. I have a million awesome things that are just me, and only me. I also have some weaknesses and faults. Some of these I can work on. Others, I have come to understand, are not negotiable. By acknowledging what I am and am not able to overcome, I am facing my own limitations head on. It is not weak to admit you are not a Superwoman. It is not pessimistic to realize there are things I simply can not handle. I CAN accomplish lots of things in life, I just need to make sure that certain needs are met before I can go forward.

So, what does this mean? It means I really DO want to go to school and I am not a complete failure. There are some things that need to be fixed before I can return and be successful, but those things are all possible. For starters, I have started looking for the next Perfect Pair of Shoes, and I have found many more options than I thought there were. Did you know that Converse makes steel toed skate-style sneakers? (I am in love.) I totally forgot that my favorite brand of shoes, Dr Martins, has a huge variety of shoes that will fit my need (as well as looking cool AND being comfy.)

Is any of this really an option, though? Actually, yes. Every year about this time, I have the joyous experience of filing my taxes. Some people enjoy this less than getting a tooth pulled without Novocaine. I however, have come to enjoy and even anticipate it. The reason for this? I have always gotten a sizable tax return. I know that financially it seems a little backwards, but I have reasons for what I do. There have been years when one of our employers have screwed up a little and have not taken out enough from our paycheck to cover the income taxes. Sometimes I end up working as a contractor or for commission and I don't always have the luxury of having taxes taken out. It just makes sense for us (because we have been historically horrible at saving and planning for the future) to have as much taken out of our paycheck as possible, so that if one of us has a deficit, the other one can cover it. (One of the many bonuses of filing jointly.)

In any case, there will be a tax return coming and it will be pretty significant. This gives me the opportunity to get caught up on a few bills as well as make certain purchases that I otherwise would not have been able to. Because of this annual windfall, I will actually be able to find some shoes that fit and feel as wonderful as I need them to. I can also look into getting the knife case, back pack, other things that will make my return to school much easier than my first attempt.

Today I have started looking at all the plans that need to be made in order to get back to school and be successful. My hope is that someone else out there will be inspired to sit down and take a look at the obstacles standing in THEIR way, too. I may not succeed at everything I want to. But, if I am going to fail, I will surely go down fighting.

The only thing I hate worse than failing is regretting that I could have worked harder.


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