Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Self Reflection

A couple of days ago, I was getting my haircut at a barber in downtown Philadelphia. Both the establishment and barber were new to me, so the standard questions came up. Where do you live? How long have you been in Philly? How on earth can you like the Mets? These I had heard before and had my standard quick responses ready. I also asked him of his life, and he told me his son, Joey, was a smart kid but confused about his future. He said Joey had decided to take a semester off from college and was living at home and working at a nightclub to his father's chagrin. His father had warned him that many kids taking off time from school often never went back. Joey's response was, "Dad, I just don't know what I want to do! I don't want to waste my time and your money." What a thoughtful kid.

The fact is, everyone makes decisions in life that seem brilliant at the time, but often come to a quick end and one moves on to other things. In a way, my entire professional career has followed this path. I worked hard in high school and went to Hotchkiss, one of the top prep schools in the country. Afterwards, I went to Kenyon spending vacations working internships in Chicago on foreign exchange trading desks. After graduation, I was offered a full time job from the same company and I headed there. I got tired of the work, and decided to go to the culinary school that I passed on my commute every day (lucky I rode the Ravenswood Line, huh?) After getting laid off a few months later, I used my growing skill to get into the professional kitchen which brought me to New York and then, eventually to Africa: an experience that has rearranged my life and put me on a new path. This path has me questioning my spiritual future and my faith. During my time in Africa, I also began communicating with my best friend from Hotchkiss whom I hadn't spoke to in years. So I moved to Philadelphia, and eventually asked her to be my wife.

I have heard, "why did you need to go to an expensive boarding school and a 4 year liberal arts college to become a chef? Wasn't that a big waste of time." Absolutely not. My life has led me through amazing situations, jobs, adventures and decisions. I regret not a single one. I am living the dream. Following what makes me happy and doing what I think is right. In fact, now I am in the process of writing a book with Judy Block, a friend of my mother's, but now I can say, a very close personal friend of mine too. You see? All of these decisions mean something.

So maybe Joey goes back to school and becomes a doctor. Maybe he doesn't and it leads him to something else. It sounds cliche, but following one's dreams is a very personal adventure, and one hardly ever understood fully by others. If you are following dreams, push on through. If you care for someone who is, give them a boost. As long as you move forward with positivity and love, your life will be the greatest adventure ever told.

Now let's see if a publisher agrees....



  1. Charlie,

    This one made me cry because it is so wise. I couldn't agree more.

    So many kids go to college because they are supposed to, and they are under pressure to follow a traditional path. A case in point: When the son of my home improvement contractor was a sophomore in high school, his teachers asked him what he wanted to do. (Implication: You're a bright kid, are you applying to the Ivy League?) His response: "I want to be a plumber." They gasped and tried to dissuade him from wasting his talent. Fortunately, he had the support of parents who knew what really mattered.

    I urge everyone to read a relatively recent book that deals with these choices - "Shop Class as Soul Craft" Although the author, Matthew Crawford, has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, he decided to follow his heart and is now a motorcycle repairman.

    Thank you, Charlie, for this beautiful blog and for being my friend.


  2. Okay, so this will be where the "judy's" make a comment. I agree with both you and Judy. I have four children, three of them teenagers or older. I've always told them that although their dad and I are both college graduates, we didn't necessarily expect them to follow that path. I saw too many of my own classmates get college degrees, only to make less money (and be less fullfilled)than our friends who became plumbers or other tradesmen.

    I have one who might be quitting school after his junior year of high school, getting his GED, and moving on to his dream - trainig to be an EMT/Fire Fighter. High school core classes at a top high school in our area was not the path that was working for him.

    It is hard for one's ego to suck it up and tell friends and family that your child is not following traditional paths. But knowing that's the perfect pass for MY child, makes it all worthwhile. Thanks for putting the message out there so beautifully.

    Judy (the other Judy)