What is the saying? “We make plans and God laughs”, I think that’s how it goes. Maybe you have felt this at some point in your life. I know I have. A number of times actually.
I was raised immersed in our family bakery so food is kind of in my DNA. As I reached college age, however, the urge to strike out on my own and follow my own callings and passions was strong and I entered college for advertising and design at Art Center College of Design in sunny southern California.
Oh! How I loved it! The combination of raw creativity, structure, wit, vision and intelligence needed to elicit great solutions to solve a problem or serve a tangible goal was delicious to me. To be around other creatives and spur one another past our perceived limitations. I reveled in the challenge.
After college, I thrived working in that world for a good decade in a number of capacities. I learned tons and did well. When the opportunity arose for taking over the family business, however, a choice had to be made. For better or worse, family can tend to carry a lot of pull in one’s life and so I chose. Back into the food industry I went.
Another decade, a couple business plans, incalculable kitchen hours and a pastry degree later, we built the business, sold it, my mom was able to retire and I moved into pastry chef positions in Montréal, at various high-end resorts in New England and even got to travel the world on a cruise ship. It was an amazing experience and there was much to love. Just one thing though…the never-ending stress and physical toll was also wearing me down.
Then life took a turn in an economic direction that forced my hand. I had a chance to take my beloved design skills off the shelf, dust them off and bring them into the 21st century. A few serendipitous turns of fate sealed that direction. And while I will always adore all things food (I mean – bacon – hello!), not having to spend 10-14 hours a day on one’s feet in a hot, loud kitchen sounded pretty damn nice. The reality gradually became clear: I was burnt out with kitchen work.
The more I got back into design, got my chops back and explored new technology I began to realize something. I was loving my work again. I mean really loving it. Like a little kid. I felt like my passion was reawakened. Like I’d come home to myself in a way. I still feel that way today, if not more so, and it just keeps getting better.
As you read this you may be saying to yourself, “but Veronica, what the hell does pastry have to do with graphic and web design?!” Hey. I totally get it. It does sound crazy right? Two completely different vocations…but actually I’ve found a lot of common ground in these two experiences.
Allow me to elaborate.
In both lines of work, I found certain personality traits are key:
Trust Your Gut
Instinct is a renegade and one of the most valuable skills I know. Although I believe wholeheartedly we all have it, I refer to it as a skill because it can take work and patience to hone. It’s what tells you what road to take, what will work, what to avoid and what to go after, and it always tells the truth. If you’ll listen.
It chums around with Creativity and whispers in it’s ear while thumbing its nose at Logic and Rationale.
Call it determination, endurance, cajones. In both the kitchen and the board room, you’ve got to be able to stick with it, see things through and stay strong in yourself. Precisely when things get challenging, when you may want to throw in the towel or walk away, that’s when you’ve got to trust your gut and stand by your convictions and trust in your abilities. You’ve got to know you can rock the heck out of this, even when no one else can see how you’re going to pull it off.
You’ve got to be able to take criticism, be it constructive and otherwise, and not crumble or get defensive. Though I will admit to at least one time to crying in the ladies room after a particularly rough dinner service, criticism, I have learned is great tool. Want to know exactly where to improve your work? Listen to the complaints. They will teach you.
Cool As A Cucumber
Both métiers require one to be able to meet deadlines with impeccable quality. Inherent in that is being able to deal well with stress and being under pressure. This has been a tough one for me. I’m by nature an emotional and passionate person, and it’s easy for me to over-react sometimes when my back is at the wall. But I worked on that. A lot. Eventually, stress taught me to focus no matter what and keep the end goal in mind. The rest is just noise.
Plan, plan, plan. The better you plan and get your ducks in a row, the more room you have for creative solutions during the process.
In the kitchen I would first come up with a dessert or new menu, then make a detailed production list and prepare my mise en place so by the time service came, everything was set and ready for action. I didn’t have to think where my raspberry coulis was or scramble to find my candied lemon zest.
In my studio, rough concept sketches for a new design become a site map, wireframes, and detailed comps. A marketing plan gets broken down into specific stages and tasks on a project calendar and punch list. The specifics may be different, but the concept is the same. You create a map so you know exactly where you’re going and how you’ll get there.
More detail up front means:
- everyone involved is on the same page
- time is better spent
- you are more efficient and effective
- there is less need for damage control down the road
- if something unexpected does happen (count on it) you have the resources to deal with it well
- there is more room for better inspiration and creative ideas to flow because you’re not running around unnecessarily dealing with last minute stuff.
Everyone has brilliance. That means YOU. Nurture it relentlessly. Your job is to figure out what environment and circumstances yours thrives in and create that for yourself as much as you can.
Put your fear aside and for Pete’s sake, get your logical brain out of the way for this one. I had to learn that the hard way. Stop second guessing your creative process. Give it room to explore, find unusual connections, flashes of inspiration. Understand the rules. Then be willing to break them.
The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude. ― Julia Child
Don’t stop learning. Ever. Be curious and constantly stoke the flames of your passion for what you do. As Susan Sontag said, “Stay eager”.
In both pastry and design, the more I expand my knowledge and explore my interest, the more passion I have for it. There is nothing as energizing or inspiring as having a deep love for the task at hand. That’s what fuels innovation and fresh creativity. Great ideas come when one is ignited.
Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It’s all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager. – Susan Sontag
Keep learning and expand your knowledge. Invest in yourself, make time to feed your passion and creative fires. Efforts here will pay you back in aces.
Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it. ― Julia Child
The End Game
Burnt custard? Database crashed? You can’t waver now – your client is counting on you. Recall how determined you are to over-deliver and delight them. Remember that feeling when your customer smiles big and says they’re absolutely thrilled? That’s why you’re here, doing what you do, you fabulous thing you. Breathe. You’ve got this.
In the end, I find those that love what they do are delighted to serve. Providing value and great service feeds both the recipient and the provider. Make it good, really good. And then make it great.
But that’s a piece of cake for you. After all, YOU are brilliant!