On knowing that you know what you’re doing

Image: John Legrand

I was once a waiter — well, I was a ‘server assistant’, which was more like a glorified busser — at a very nice restaurant in Chicago while my wife was going to school.

I was 29. I was newly married and had just lost everything in the crash of 2008 (it’s a long story). Let’s just say, I felt depressed, emasculated and in over my head. I’d worked in hospitality for many years as a club pro in the golf industry but food was a new thing.

I dreaded every time I walked up to a table that had to be cleared. Everyone else was so good. One guy could clear a table of five or six (I don’t remember exactly how many — but a lot) all by himself. Plates, glassware, silverware, and linen, all scooped up in one fell swoop. It took me several trips to clear a table that big.

Sometimes, I’d bring dishes to a table and I’d get them wrong. Which meant I’d have to go back to the line and tell them. This never went well. If you’ve ever had to explain to an overworked line of angry chefs that you messed up, you know how life-threatening this is and how delicately one must tread to not… die.

I slowed the whole train down. Regularly. And it wasn’t pretty.

I got better after some time — as we all do — but I was still hesitant. My confidence was hanging on by a thread. I still felt out of my league.

One day, Kirk, the head chef — a bald, stoutly fellow with the aura of a construction foreman — pulled me aside. As many head chefs, Kirk was not a delicate soul. I was in for it.

“Let me tell you something, Jonas,” he said…

His gaze was all-encompassing. This man was quiet — he didn’t yell much — but he had a powerful presence. His stare could paralyze. Each word carried a punch so heavy, you felt it land with a thud somewhere deep in your soul when he was hashing out a ‘learning moment.’

He continued…

“You know what you’re doing. I’ve been watching you, and I see this. The problem is, you don’t know that you know what you’re doing.”

And that was it.

I stood there under the weight of those words and something forever shifted in me. This didn’t just happen in the kitchen. Kirk exposed something I’d subconsciously been dealing with my entire life (and still do to this day, in fact).

I don’t know you personally, but if I had to guess, I’d say this might ring true for you too.

Do you know that you know what you’re doing?

There are a few things that a certain part of you knows you’re good at, but another part of you just can’t buy in to it.

If you’re like me, you’re in your own way. You know what you’re doing. You just don’t know that you know.

Do you?

Another worthy question for your weekend…

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