Oil and Vinegar

I’ve been working on a different blog lately, but a thought struck me last night, and I want to give it the attention I think it deserves before it moves on to the next hungry mind.

Is anything worth doing if your ultimate goal is someone else’s approval? What gives them this supreme power over you? And how may your overall experience suffer if your gauge for success is someone else’s opinion?

This epiphany literally shot me out of bed last night. I was suddenly and forcibly struck with the realization that I may be allowing other people to control my life by giving them the power to define what my success is. In order to do that, I have to rely on their happiness to allow my happiness. I do not want to make someone else’s approval my responsibility anymore, and I will not burden myself with their disapproval. I can learn and grow, but I cannot be in charge of other people’s feelings. It’s my job to create and their job to judge. The two must coexist. They can support and influence each other, but do not have to work against each other. My customer forming an opinion is necessary to complete the full effect of my action. It’s what makes my work relevant. But…. Dare I say…. In the end it is just food…

Now grant it I work in a customer service industry. Ideally, it is my job to make people happy. The customer is always right, right? But I may be setting myself up for certain failure if peoples’ opinions are my true scale for success, because not everyone is always going to be happy with me. Sometimes, people are especially unhappy with me when I have to do things that are in the best interest of my business. So what I do must matter to achieve success in terms of profit and job security. But, what I do must not always be considered in the evaluation of my personal happiness and sanity. Is this possible?

I think it’s first important for me to deeply consider what I do, before I consider why I do it. Whew, this is some heady shit. But, the unexamined life is not worth living, said Socrates, right before he was sentenced to death… If it’s okay with you I’d like to ponder my life a little sooner!

I work in an unnecessary industry. It’s frivolous. It’s for fun. The world would not collapse if all restaurants closed. Sure, unemployment would sky rocket and life would be less tasty and fun, but the world would keep spinning. Lives would continue. I think it’s important for me to admit this. On one hand it’s depressing to realize that what I work so hard at is unnecessary. But, on the other hand, it kind of makes me feel special. I get to do what I want simply because I want to do it. I am living a blessed creative life. Perhaps daily life would be easier if I remember this. I chose this mountain!

Ok, so what if a customer does not love what I create? It doesn’t diminish me as a person or even my experience. It can, inevitably, help me grow? Good and bad living in harmony? I’m not talking about perspective here. I’m saying that, perhaps, the bad, if properly processed, can help good grow better.

I do believe there is a life lesson somewhere in here, and I do believe we are getting close to it. Do you feel it?

As a young person I always had trouble accepting criticism. I hid that fear under a disguise of stubborn defiance. I’m certain that over the years it has appeared that other people’s opinions didn’t matter to me, but truthfully their opinions mattered too much.  I gauged my success as a human being on someone else’s approval of me, hell, everyone else’s approval. Without realizing the enormity of the power that I had bestowed upon my friends, family, colleagues and mentors, the very people that mattered to me unintentionally crushed me. I allowed them to crush me. Every relationship and every aspect of my life was burdened by this constant need for approval. And what did I do? I kicked it all up a notch. I immersed myself in a profession that thrives on the approval of others. Somehow, perhaps carried by my innate endurance, I survived. But often times that’s all I did. I made it from one day to the next. Time carried me. I felt little control, and eventually I surrendered to chaos. I let life happen to me… until I got pregnant.

This was not the kind of life I want for my daughter. So in order to teach her how to control her life I needed to take control of my own. While I was pregnant I made the bold decision to stop reading my restaurant’s reviews. It’s not that those opinions were suddenly not important, they just weren’t as important as keeping my stress level low for my growing baby. I moved the apps to the back pages of my phone, and eventually removed the apps all together. My nightly ritual of skimming over the positive reviews and stewing over the negative ones was replaced with reading about the miracle growing inside of me. I can tell you sleep came much quicker through pregnancy, and though some of it was due to the pure exhaustion that takes over your body, I also credit much of my new sleep success to a mind free from the toxic feelings of failure and embarrassment that I was always left with after a negative review. I’m ashamed to admit it, but even the most ridiculous and completely unwarranted reviews disturbed me. That’s an unhealthy level of control that I allowed someone else to take from me.  I allowed someone else to hurt me. No, I didn’t just allow it, I sought it out, invited it in and made it cookies.

Now, I must admit that reviews are necessary to the success of a business like mine. The good reviews attract new customers. Without word of mouth we wouldn’t have been in business long. I’m not mad at the reviews, or even the reviewers. As I said before, customer’s reactions are a necessary part of my business. Without their opinion my work is pointless. What I needed to learn was how to make reviews, both good and bad, work for me. And that’s what I am trying to do.

If 10 reviewers complain about the same thing, it would be irresponsible of me to not consider changing that thing. If in the end I do make a change, those “bad” reviews have resulted in a “good” result, and future reviews will probably reflect the positive effect. On the flip side, I do need to give the positive reviews the attention they too deserve to reassure me that certain areas of my business are going well.  These are not comments about me as a person, the reviews become more like little helpful nudges. Oh those sound so less scary when I think of it that way. Cute, little, idea snuggles. That I can live with!

Now not all reviews need to result in any change at all. Consider their idea, process it, and then either take action or politely and gratefully let it go. But I would argue that every idea deserves at least the slightest consideration. I often hear suggestions to make my food taste better. I admit to you right now that there are countless ways to make my menu “better.” There are endless possibilities to add on to current menu items, and countless ideas for new menu items that would complement my current selection. Creativity is wild and unpredictable. When my customers or even my staff or myself are struck with creativity we blurt it out. That’s awesome. It would be devastating to deny creativity this opportunity. While it is the polite thing to consider the new idea, it is not imperative that we implement the new idea. This is what ultimately sets my hobby apart from my job. It is my JOB to pick and choose which ideas are feasible with the space and equipment that I have, our budget, and many other considerations. I know this. It’s my job to know this. It isn’t my customer’s job to know this. So when they judge my work, it is important for me to keep in mind that my ultimate goal is to create something people can enjoy within the realm of what is possible in my life. I will take what I can from people’s opinions, and I will politely pass on what I cannot. I will not let this be a sign of my success or failure, only a passing possibility. And the ideas that I allow to pass by, I must truly let them go. They are just ideas and thoughts that didn’t make the cut. They are not an assessment of me. They are not part of me, and I will not give them the power to control me.

Consider the possibility of allowing people to affect you without giving them the power to or not to accept you. The only person that truly needs to accept you is you, and I have to believe that if you live your life in a way that you can truthfully and consciously accept then I suspect you will automatically earn approval from the people around you. But, if you do not allow others to initiate thought and potential growth, then I would also suspect that you are cheating yourself out of a richer more rewarding experience.  I know I do the best that I can, right now. But if I remain open to feedback from my guests, perhaps I can do even better. If I truly want to live my life to the fullest I think I have to welcome new ideas and possibilities. I think I have to be courageous enough to admit that while I am doing my best, I am not the best. As long as I stay open and grateful for the opportunity to grow, I think can live with that! Now that I’ve learned how to process negative feedback, perhaps I can learn how to accept a compliment!

Maybe!

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