Watching For Athena

After I posted last (“My, My, What’s Next?”) I began preparing for a hiring event I had committed to, and a job interview. I had managed to stack these events on the same day, which was very smart from a financial perspective (one day off instead of two), but very stressful for obvious reasons.

An unlikely set of circumstances led me, as unlikely circumstances generally do, to be reading the 2010 St. John’s College Commencement Address given by Stag’s Leap Cellars founder and St. John’s alum, Warren Winiarski. In the speech Winiarski spoke of his history with wine which led him to leave academia for wine-making. He spoke of the practical difficulties involved in this change, which were largely financial, as practical difficulties often are, but he also framed his speech in the context of seeing: what is it you look for, and what is it you expect to see?

Winiarski recounted a story told by Robert Fitzgerald, the famous translator of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (the merits and demerits of various translations of these two pivotal books is a perpetual Johnny icebreaker) where Fitzgerald describes an unexpected visit from a stranger named Athena. This Athena was from Ohio, but Winiarski suggests that Fitzgerald, and, by extension, those of us listening to or reading Winiarski’s speech, could think of this visit from “Athena” as a symbol of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, and as an invitation to keep our eyes open to the possibilities around us.

Given my last post where the subtext was that possibilities are feeling in short supply around me, I found this quite fortifying. I also found the last paragraph of Winiarski’s speech so beautifully written that I was moved to share it. Leave it to a Johnny to inspire by talking of “habits of the soul” — credence to my belief that St. John’s students really are joined in spirit by a deep, abiding conviction that the principles of liberal education mean something more profound than any outcomes assessment, degree, or conventional benchmark of success can convey.

“Don’t worry too much.  Your education will be part of you.  You will have experienced the bright illuminations and the joy of learning and knowing. Remember these experiences and they will feed the desire for more of similar kind.  Do not forget the habits of the soul which brought you these illuminations and joys and ‘Keep your eyes open for Athena.’”  -Warren Winiarski

Click here for the full text of Warren Winiarski’s 2010 St. John’s College Commencement Address in Annapolis, MD.

My, my, what’s next?

I started this blog in 2012 to catalog the crazy adventures I was having in culinary school along with my food travels on the East Coast. The culinary program ended, I moved back to California, settled into my new digs in Sacramento, CA and have been trying, in various ways for the past few months, to answer the question “What’s next?”

What happens next when you try to switch careers? How do you break into a new industry? Clearly, I need a job, but what? And how?

Naturally, I had a plan. I always have a plan. Usually I have two plans, minimum. I can’t remember an instance where things ever actually went according to plan, which begs the question “Why bother having a plan?” but making a plan must be something like pregnancy; you forget the pain of having made the plan and having watched the plan disintegrate into a morass of Not-Planned-Things by the time it’s time to make another plan.

So, my plan was this: I thought it would make sense to keep plying my usual trade (teaching) while I worked part-time somewhere in the food industry (and I had plenty of ideas of ideal companies) to gain some relevant experience. I recognized that I would need to start on the front lines somewhere (and by this I mean retail) to make myself current. I didn’t mind this idea — in fact, I’ve always liked working with customers — since it was part of The Plan. This plan had a 6-8 month arc and by summer I would be ready to launch into my new full-time professional amazingness doing something behind the scenes concerning food products, product knowledge, promotions, training, special events, or programming.

So I made the substitute teaching happen, but I couldn’t make the part-time gig happen.Yet. (I’ve read that for every thing you haven’t been able to accomplish you’re supposed to add “yet” after the statement to keep metaphysical possibilities open). Could be the economy, could be the time of year, could be whatever planet is/has been/will be in retrograde, but ain’t no hiring happenin’ in these parts.

My plan has gone awry. The process has left me confused, confounded, alarmed, and sometimes abject. Add “Be Prepared To Feel Unqualified for Everything” to the list of Things I Wish I Had Known About Being A Career Changer.

Other useful things I wish I had known: every corporate job outside of IT or administrative seems to require either a sales or marketing degree.

Crazy things happen when things don’t go according to plan. You start wondering about definitional things: When does focus become limiting? When does being determined become stubbornness? When do admirable qualities become liabilities?

And the deeply uncomfortable question: am I the frog in the hot water? Or, when does faith become folly?

Here’s where I put in my favorite inspirational quotes. No, not the whole Helen Keller-one-door-closing-while-another-opens one, but others that I’ve always really liked:

“Success is the child of audacity.” – Benjamin Disraeli

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” –Chinese Proverb

And, my all-time favorite:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

I’m not any closer to knowing what comes next. I don’t know which moves are the right moves, which moves are stepping stones or just misfires, or where the boundaries between focus and folly are any more as I try to figure out who is next on my dance card.

I do believe it is possible to have a really cool, creative job in the food and hospitality industry suited to my particular brand of analytical and organizational skill sets. I just don’t know how to get from here to there.

When I know, you’ll know.