New Year, New Me – A Few Steps at a Time

2019 has brought a lot of change and moments of reflections, deep soul searching and has given me chance to look out at the world and people around me and question where my place is.

At the start of the year I decided to make a big change, and that was leaving my job with Firebird Hope at YES. I realised over the month of December that I was unhappy working there; after taking a Christmas holiday did not make me feel refreshed, I knew it was the right decision for me to leave. It was hard choice to make, leaving YES made me feel like I was giving up on the dream of working with food that I thought was so perfect for me (I would come to realise later that a dream is very difficult to shake once it’s taken roots, but more on that later).

I loved the people that I got to work with at YES and the product we made was great – fast and tasty for the customers, but unfortunately not very creatively fulfilling for me. There was nothing like the adrenaline rush of working a busy Friday night when the tab grabber was two deep and I was making pizza at a rate of about 20 an hour; but there was also nothing like the crash that would come the next day, when I’d feel so tired that I would be able to get on with my life. It was a shock for my sense of self to go from university where all of my work relied solely on the power of my mind to go to a job that demanded so much of my body, I’d have back pain from bending over the dough all day, and my voice would be hoarse after a busy evening shift on the till.

After leaving YES, February turned into the ‘meandering’ month, I interviewed for various office jobs, teaching jobs, online based jobs, proofreading, receptionist, recruiting, you name it, I applied for it and possibly got a phone call back. The odds were stacked against me and my lack of real office experience, it made me feel as though the degree I’d worked so hard for now didn’t actually count for much at all. If I couldn’t even get an entry level proofreading job what did being able to read fast and analytically matter? It was during this month of constantly talking about my degree as if I chose it for the ‘written communication skills’ it would offer or the ability ‘to train my analytical mind’ (*vom*) that I finally fell back in love with reading. Whilst I was constantly insulting the memory of why I chose my degree simply on the basis of loving books my heart was telling me to read, and to fall in love, once again.

I had now gone from a job where I talked to people all day, to interviewing for jobs that in my heart I didn’t want, and my most interaction with a person between the hours of 8 and 5 was through my fake interview persona or through the pages of book. Towards the end of February I was getting more and more disheartened by the idea of doing an office job, yes it would offer me stability and routine, but I couldn’t help but feel like a fraud in every interview and it made me wonder whether the people interviewing me felt truly real in that situation either.

There is a quote for T.S. Eliot that summarises perfectly I felt going into every single phone call, interview, and cover letter writing session:

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet

– T.S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

Towards the end of February I decided to take some CVs into some of my favourite places in Manchester, the very act of handing out CVs made me feel more real and connected with the jobs I was applying for, and at least I’d feel really engaged in the job if it turned out that any of these places had positions available. It was when visiting the Manchester Buddhist Centre that I saw the small cafe bar next door was hiring, I almost walked by completely, determined after my last experience in the professional kitchen that I wasn’t going to go back into food. But something about it drew me back. Maybe it was it’s placement next to one of the most peaceful places in the city, or its cosy looking interior, or maybe it was the simple fact that I knew handing in a CV wasn’t a definite choice to go back to food – I might not even get a call back, and even if I did I could choose to decline.

About half an hour later I was able to meet the owner of ‘La Boca’. I felt a genuineness from Donna that I had felt from not one person that had interviewed me that month, it felt as if she had not prepared a ‘face’ to meet me and thus I felt confident speaking my truth. The next day we met for a lunch interview and I felt the passion that I had once felt for my dream working with food return, I saw potential in her ideas for a new menu and for the venue. The love of Spanish food and culture that ‘La Boca’ embodies brought my soul back to one of the happiest times in my life which was my 20th birthday in Barcelona, and I knew that this connection with a treasured part of my life must mean something.

I’ve now been working there for a whole month and in that time we’ve launched a new menu, had an amazing event with a local artist, and been able to grow the Instagram to over 1,000 followers. Every customer leaves happy, and with a sense that ‘La Boca’ is part of their community and that it cares about them. This, to me, is the most important part of working with food, the passion and love that is put into it. From the ingredients which are authentically sourced and handled with respect, to the service that is done with a genuine smile and an interest in the customers as people, not numbers.

Since starting at ‘La Boca’ I’ve been able to make a routine in my life and reconnect with my love of cooking outside of work, I’ve continued to read more, to pick up new hobbies, to talk to my friends more, and to most importantly always have happy days off with my boyfriend rather than feeling too tired to do activities out of the house.

I realise now that the path of working with food was never the wrong path for me, it’s just that I had to travel it by a different method, and I could not let it swamp my life outside of work which much travel peacefully by it’s side. I think this work/life balance is an issue that everyone struggles with, especially young people who are asked to do so much – to start a job, a life, to make friends often in a new city after finishing University. Sometimes my journey since leaving University has felt like being fed to the lions, harder than any moment I had whilst I was there, but right now I feel like I’ve found a path that I can follow and it feels as if that path is supporting me.

With only a quarter of the year gone, 2019 has seen a lot of great change and big decisions, it’s certainly lived up to my dream as my year that I would attempt to truly start the path to the rest of my life.

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