January 20, 2017

The Bipolar Work Disorder

While the rest of our hard working staff was here at The Park on a busy weekend that included another packed Dress Hall event, I was in Joshua Tree on a camping trip with Jen, Emory and Ruth. Adding to my enjoyment of the magnificent surroundings was the fairly euphoric feeling of knowing the restaurant was in capable, experienced, caring hands both in the kitchen and the dining room.

It was a truly rare moment of self-congratulation, of recognizing how far we have come, how strong and deep our talent pool runs and it all washed over me as I hiked around Saturday night under the almost full moon. This moment of deep appreciation for our staff, customers and the general arc of this restaurant experience was possible because I had created distance, physically and mentally, between myself and the restaurant, which afforded me the possibility of perspective.

This is why vacation time is so productive and valuable and linked to renewed vigor at the workplace.

On Tuesday morning I was back to work and within a half hour I was in one of my worst moods in recent memory, which lasted on and off the entire shift. The euphoria, appreciation, satisfaction of the weekend was unavailable, not gone because I was looking for it, but inaccessible. It got me thinking about why this bipolar work disorder had come about and how to bridge the gap.

It has a lot to do with stress. In a non-stressful environment, like Joshua Tree, my mind has the space to luxuriate in happy thoughts. In a stressful environment, like The Park kitchen, my mind is focused partially on what is going right, but mostly on what is going wrong, what is missing, what can be better and what still needs to get done.

This is a form of small-mindedness, a singular focus on the work at hand at the expense of paying attention to relationships with staff and customers, and at the expense of maintaining a sense of positivity and well-being.

The interesting thing is that nothing external needs to change — the work still needs to get done, problems still need to be fixed, the show must always go on. The thing that needs to change is my perspective, a small but significant shift from stress creating anger and frustration to stress creating excitement and a welcome challenge.

A while ago, when we were cooking brunch, a former cook asked me in the middle of a rush, “ doesn’t it make you feel good that so many people want to eat in your restaurant?” Actually at the time he asked, it didn’t make me feel good. We had a line of tickets and were running out of prepped items and that cook was quite slow, truth be told, so I had to pick up some of his slack. It kind of pissed me off that his head was that far out of the game that he was even thinking about whether I was happy or not.

But, I got to admit, he had a point. That should make me happy and that does make me happy — in retrospect. But, the point of this meandering line of thinking is that it’s possible to hold that happy thought alongside the business thoughts, to allow the daily stress to live in the shadow of the larger more positive appreciative perspective.

Have a great weekend and hope to see you at The Park.

– Chef Josh

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