Hard work is not always its own reward...

When I was younger, I worked as a cook. I started out in high school washing dishes and kept at it until I was making salads and desserts, then I was on the line. I eventually went to cooking school after high school and continued in that line of work until I had a health issue that prevented me from continuing. The job let me live in and explore some beautiful places but most of the time I was just working hard for long hours.
 
This is the first of what I think could be a series of blog posts based on the things I learned doing that job. It stands out in my mind because I was very excited about the culinary world when I was young and I wanted that to be my career, eventually leading to my own restaurant or perhaps working as an executive chef of a large hotel. I made it to sous-chef of a small restaurant by the time my journey ended. A lot of people glamorize the profession due to way its portrayed in the media. Watch The Bear for an honest look at the reality of the job.
 
The lesson this post concerns is "hard work isn't always rewarding". 
 
We are taught, growing up, that hard work is its own reward. This can be true. It feels really good to work very hard on something and see it through. Persistence and exertion can get you through a lot of difficult situations. Studying a new skill can lead to employment, working hard on fitness can increase your quality of life, and learning an instrument can be satisfying for you and entertaining for your friends and family. 

But sometimes, hard work isn't rewarding, it's just hard. I learned this lesson the hard way. I worked in a busy kitchens that had high standards and expectations both around the food and around the cooks. We worked long hours, often without breaks, and had to deal with constant pressure, criticism, and complaints. I thought that if I worked hard enough, I would be rewarded with recognition, promotion, or a raise. Those things did happen but not to the degree that you would think. Other than some time I spent working at a hotel in Switzerland, the most money I made in North America was $10 an hour. It's hard to live on that.

The lesson I learned was that if hard work that has no real reward is not good for you. It's stressful, it wears you down, it makes you angry and frustrated. For this low reward scenario, you really have to love what you are doing for it to make sense. There has to be some altruistic component. 

If you find yourself in a situation where work is drudgery but you have no way out of the job, the only way you are going to enjoy life is if you find comradeship there. That was often the case in kitchens. We shared a bond forged through hard work and being there for each other. While I don't miss being broke, living in rundown apartments, and have no social life because I worked when other people were out having fun, I do miss the comradeship and how good an ice cold beer tasted after a long night. But, at the end of the day, I could not build a life that way. I had no real future. I am lucky that I was forced out of that life as it let me grow as a person and discover that I was capable of doing other things, things I find more rewarding. 
 
Do I still work hard? Of course. But it's not as hard as cooking. It's different. I find the intellectual challenges of my job to be stimulating and there's compensation that allows me to live securely and safely with my family. That's the real reward.


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