Last night I had another of my frequent, (I guess you’d call them nightmares), about cooking. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I have these nightmares quite often. I am usually cooking homefries, and I can never make enough in time to fill all of the orders that I have. Last night was no different, but it was also tinged with breakfast and lunch orders intermingled, something that short order cooks do not like. I was cooking and cooking, and I couldn’t catch up. Then the dishes started to pile up, and I didn’t have time to do them either. Of course no one would help me. They just let me struggle in my imaginary anguish. When I wake in the morning from these nightmares, I am literally exhausted because I feel as though I have been working all night, but what’s really strange is that I want to continue sleeping because I want to try to catch up with the orders. (Not likely to happen in a nightmare, but a girl can dream, right, no pun intended). This job is so ingrained in my soul.
It has been six and a half years since I sold my restaurant and still I have these dreams. It was not that I did not enjoy my business, quite the opposite really, but it was a very stressful time. Owning a business is the American Dream. Many people have the aspiration to be their own boss. What they don’t quite understand until they are catapulted into that coveted position is that once you are your own boss, there is no one left to pawn your problems off to if you want them dealt with properly. That was the position that I was in at my restaurant. I was the boss, but I was also a short order cook. I couldn’t afford to pay several employees to do the job that I had. I would have made no money at all, so instead I just dealt with the stress of the overwhelming breakfast and lunch crowd (which was a good thing for the $$, but whew! for me). During breakfast I assumed the roles of cook, dishwasher, takeout counter server, and cashier, while still being the boss and manager. Like I mentioned in an earlier blog, the business owner wears many hats. I didn’t make that up. When I think about it now, I can’t believe that I really did all of that.
But don’t let me scare you, present or future small business owners. The rewards far outweighed the lingering nightmares from my experience as a small business owner. I entered the business as a naïve twenty-two year old girl. I exited a thirty-nine year old woman who had experienced many things in those pivotal seventeen years. If my life were a sandwich cookie, one side would be a young wafer, the other side would be an older, tougher cookie, and the cream in the middle would be the maturity that I developed as my own boss and business owner. Nothing makes you grow up or learn new things like being plunged into a world where all the decisions are yours, all the problems are yours, but all the rewards are yours too. It was very rewarding to operate a busy and successful restaurant for all of those years. It felt great at the end of a busy day that flowed smoothly. The sense of accomplishment was grand. Even now after all of these years I encounter people who tell me how much they enjoyed coming into my restaurant. That is still satisfying to hear because it validates all of the hard work that I put into it.
I matured immensely in those seventeen years. You argue that I would have matured anyway, and you would be right; but I matured quicker in the ways of responsibility which cannot be taught in a book. I worked harder than I have ever worked before or after in my life, a kind of work that people don’t understand until they do it. I spent nights and weekends dedicated to the needs of my business. I would recommend that you allow yourself more free time than I allowed for myself, but the work needed to be done, that I can’t deny. I took care of incidents, acting as bouncer and peacekeeper of the establishment, I was accountable for paying all the bills, and I also had the pleasure of taking out the garbage and cleaning the greasy equipment. Some of these tasks I could have done without, but they are all factors that made me who I am today.
Even though I still have “nightmares” about not being able to catch up with cooking my food orders, the dream of owning my own business and realizing that dream with the accomplishments that I gained from it far outweigh any negative subconscious distress that I may encounter. The American Dream offers so many intangible rewards and learning moments. I’m fortunate to have been able to have that experience, and that experience will serve any entrepreneur well if they allow themselves to dream.