Think Twice Before Chasing Your Dreams

Three short, albeit long feeling, months ago, I quit my job as an accountant to work full time in a kitchen. For the first six weeks, I worked without pay, which was required by my culinary school program in order to complete my school credits. In that time, I cried more than I had in a year, I slept continuously but restlessly, I questioned and doubted and blamed. I avoided all social contact as the inevitable question always came:

“Is it amazing? Do you love it?”

Clearly, the closest most of my peers had ever come to a kitchen was a night watching Chef’s Table on Netflix. That question, that simple question from well meaning friends and family, kept me shuttered within myself for two and a half months. It made me want to fly off the handle: I DON’T love it; in fact, I hate it. I don’t fit in, I’m exhausted, I’m not fast enough, I’m constantly anxious, I’m always in the way, I keep burning myself even though I work on the SALAD station, which is in an entirely different ROOM from anything that even has a temperature dial. I anguished over not thinking this through, over wasting an advanced education, over allowing my CPA certification to lapse, over not having health insurance, over having no answer to what my end game may be.

To be honest, I think I succumbed to the privileged disease of being a millenial who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I suffered from acute, white, upper middle-classitis. I was told I could be who I wanted, what I wanted, when I wanted. Those were powerful tools for getting me into and through college as well as passing the CPA exam and landing a job, but when I found out that being an adult was creating a day to day routine that kept you content, maybe not entirely fulfilled, but happy enough, I hit the panic button almost immediately. This wasn’t who I wanted to be or what I wanted to be; I didn’t want to be an accountant in Milwaukee! What the fuck was this nonsense of jury duty and how the hell does internet cost that much? Regular oil changes, retaining receipts for tax purposes, and comparing the value of gym memberships made me self combust. A little less than two years into relative adulthood, I broke up with a long-term boyfriend, quit a good job with corner office potential, and moved to incur (a stupid amount of) debt for schooling that would barely qualify me to hold a minimum wage job.

I, as a 24 year old encountering annoyingly first world problems, did not understand the value of the flexibility a stable job provides. Paid time off, health insurance, an HR department (note to restaurant industry: these are useful), and a 401(k) are luxuries not afforded to people working multiple part time jobs, or even one full-time job at most restaurants. The ability to wish yourself a TGIF, kick your feet up, and have two days off every week is not an option when one job doesn’t make you enough money to pay rent. It is impossible to assign a monetary or emotional value to the difference between the stability of working a “good enough” job versus grasping in the dark at things that feel vaguely like the idea of something you’d be proud of, however, this mystery value was something I did not consider in full prior to my 180 degree turn into the kitchen. It isn’t discussed in many of the posts about following your dreams, “making the jump”, or sticking it to the man. It’s real and at the very least, I like to think it would have given me pause had I taken a bit more time to consider the ramifications of such a decision.

How would I have done things differently? Maybe saved more money, maybe worked longer and developed a skill set that I could do in a freelance capacity in order to support myself on the side while I chased after this blurry, grey area dream. Maybe I would have had a more solid end goal. Maybe I would have done it in a less expensive city or at least not lived in an apartment that costs me 3/4 of a month of income in my new line of work. Every day, I wish I would have planned better. I wish I were older with a little bit more perspective and a little less credit card debt. However, now that the damage is done, there hasn’t been a day when I’ve answered yes to the question, and I ask myself every day, “Would you go back now?”. I may have made the road ahead far more difficult for myself by not planning for a nontraditional career path, but even amidst the depression and anxiety and doubt, I have yet to regret.

While I hope that everyone is able to answer the question “What would you do if money weren’t an object” and in a small or big way follow through with that answer, I more so hope that people of all ages and generations and upbringings understand that money, emotional health, time, and long term planning are very real objects.

Have dreams, chase them, follow them, scrounge around in the dark for all of the shapes and sizes your dreams may come in, but keep your head firmly out of the clouds because someone has to remember where those receipts are when tax return time comes around.