Ask Merly: The Countertalk Problem Page 29.06.21

A couple of years ago I moved back to the UK from a country I loved, but a job I wasn’t so hot on, in order to follow my passion and figure out a career in food. I wasn’t back for long before the pandemic hit, although I managed a couple of stages in the brief periods things were open and spent the little money I had on a month of culinary school.


At the start of this year when opportunities were really thin, I got a job as a private chef. I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do long term but figured it was a good way to earn back some money I’d lost last year while learning on the job. I ended up really hating it – the person I work for is super critical and difficult, and the constant picking up on things I’ve done wrong (sometimes weeks after I’d actually made the mistake!), without ever being told what’s gone right (and I know there are things I am good at) has reduced my confidence to rubble. I realise I’m brand new at this and obviously have a to learn, and I’m totally open to constructive feedback, but to only ever get criticism has broken me and the anxiety I feel about work has had a huge effect on my physical and mental health.


I’ve now been dismissed from my position (not for performance-related reasons, but try telling my brain that!) and have no idea what to do next. I’m so scared of the idea of looking for a new job – I’m struggling to remember what it was that drew me to food in the first place or what I’m even good at, and the idea of starting a new job and hating it, and realising that I gave up everything and failed, is completely paralysing.


I am sorry to learn how this experience has left you feeling so paralysed and fearful. I really admire your drive which led you do your stages and investing what money you had at the time in culinary school and landed you your first job. That’s impressive! For many of us in the industry, hospitality isn’t just a job but a passion project, so I can utterly appreciate how such a negative, first-time experience can be so scarring. Especially when you gave up a lot to try something new and had such bad experience. From what you have described, it sounds to me like you came in to contact with a boss who unfortunately had poor management and communication skills and that isn’t your fault, it’s theirs. Sadly, you probably won’t be the first or last person to have had been treated in this way by this particular person. It’s no surprise to me that this has affected you mentally and physically, as this has been clearly overwhelming and may take time for you to put you it behind you. And that’s absolutely okay.


Ask anyone in hospitality who’s had an adverse treatment in their career and has impacted their confidence (pretty much most people) and I would put money on the fact that they would all say that it takes a while to get over it. It may not feel like it now but I promise you that it is possible to come back stronger and wiser than you were before. It’s an old cliché thing but time is a healer.


Naturally anyone in your position would be afraid of the future and leave you stuck between replaying the memories of what has happened and predicting how bad it might be in the future and how it is all your fault… but it really isn’t. And I think a reset is needed here…


Take a step back to take a step forward.


If possible, I strongly recommend that you take some time to take a step back and collect your thoughts and allow yourself to be distracted by other things. Sounds counterproductive but believe it or not, this may be the best thing you can do for yourself and return to it with a refreshed head and thoughts. Sometimes we can get too close to a situation and our emotions can overrule our rational mind and reality. It sounds like you have essentially been emotionally burnt out by this and it’s not just the mind that absorbs this experience, but also the body. So, take some time to get some distance from this, look after yourself physically and rest.


It’s a very positive sign that you have reached out to us at CT to discuss and I do hope that you are also able to talk to close friends/ family about what you have been through? An essential part of moving on from a bad job experience is similar to moving away from a bad relationship; work through your negative feelings around the experience, allow yourself to feel whatever you feel… whether it be anger, resentment, hurt (and the rest). Talk it out with those who will really listen and talk it out some more. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this with someone you know then some private sessions with a counsellor/ therapist could really help in these situations. Discussing the finer details of what happened may be really useful to gain closure and perspective.


Who were you?


Remind yourself of who you were before this. Who were you before you took on this position and your confidence took such a beating? Your old self doesn’t have to be a stranger, you can retrace your steps back to the old you before you took the job and had the drive and passion. Remember yourself as you were and give yourself the chance to become that person again. Cook the things that got you interested in food in the first place, eat in establishments that inspire you, talk with fellow chefs in the industry or hook up with people you went to culinary school with. Don’t let that one job and one boss who lacked skills to nurture your talent ruin all your hard work and ambition. See it as a life lesson. Not a life sentence of punishment.


There is no failure only feedback.


There is a saying in psychotherapy which goes ‘there is no failure only feedback’. So, take a moment to think about what useful feedback/ learnings you can take from this. I am sure it has given you something valuable and maybe revealed to you a part of yourself that needs some work. Many successful people have failed many times and come cross paths with undesirable people who can make life hell but there is always something useful to take from it.


When you’re ready, get back on the horse.


I know looking for a new job can be super draining and scary, especially when this experience has taken so much from you and the fear has set in, but a new job may be the answer to closure and moving on. It may sound strange but actually being in an environment that is pleasant to work, a place where the job itself is enjoyable and among decent folk, this could very well be the most beneficial way to rebuild your faith in yourself and the industry. Every time you exert mental energy finding a job, make sure you put time aside to give yourself a little something back by doing something nice for yourself to compensate for the drain.  If it’s all way too overwhelming but you need to find a job then it’s okay to take a stop-gap job or a role that is more of a side step than a step up, if it means that it will help to get you back on the horse and get your motivation going again. I promise you, there are some decent places and bosses out there.


All the best xxx




Hi Counteralk community,


You know that we’ve got you right? When you’re dealing with those big issues, you want someone who really gets it. Merly is an ex-chef, therapist, stress reduction coach and founder of @me_myself_inmind, which provides workshops, one-to-one therapy and group therapy for you incredible, hard-working, hard-caring people in the hospitality industry. Their mission is built around educating others on stress reduction techniques, mental health awareness and the importance of learning coping skills, emotional resilience and self awareness. Maybe you are working right now, or maybe you are at home learning to adjust. Those skills are still sorely needed to boost our wellbeing whatever we are up to.


Each week Merly is on hand to answer some of our community’s problems. If you would like to submit a problem, please email askmerly@countertalk.co.uk. All questions are completely confidential and kept 100% anonymous, now and always.


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