July 9, 2014

Facing Down Anxiety

By: Ryan Hodros, Culinary Arts Student

This past week, with our summer vacation behind us, my Culinary Arts class transitioned away from Chef Kelly and began working with Chef Kyle in regional cuisines.  This transition, for me at least, is a little greater than simply having another name at the bottom of my grade sheet.  I’d only met Chef Kyle in passing through the kitchens, and knew very little about him.  And while it might seem like a small matter to many who might read this, a number of you know what I’m about to mention.  It lives in your brains and your guts and it squeezes you whenever situations you’re afraid of come up.

Anxiety.

Meeting new people is such a challenge to people who have to contend with my flavor of anxiety.  But it’s not the first time I’ve wrestled with this enemy, and I managed to subdue it without a Herculean effort.  But we all wrestle with some form of anxiety or another—maybe you don’t like taking tests, maybe you don’t like giving speeches, maybe you don’t like making serious decisions.  We all have that one thing that makes the sweat creep onto our brows and the cold creep into our bellies.

“The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” –Nelson Mandela

 But I would argue that living a life without fear is to live a life without growth.  Comfort is great, for sure—slowly grinding out an existence day-to-day doing something you’re familiar with so that you can make ends meet and avoid making waves.  And while anxiety is nothing to thumb your nose at, it is something that helps you grow.  Anxiety is like an optional growing pain—you can avoid it and be comfortable, or you can confront it and learn something about yourself.

“Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.”  --Jim Morrison

I’m not a psychologist.  I’m not here to cast aspersions at people with irrational or legitimate fears.  I don’t know you personally.  What I am here to say is that the only way I overcame my social anxiety was to turn heel and face it down one step at a time.  And it’s always there, but it’s weak now.  I can feel it in my guts, but it’s a twinge not an ache, and it’s easy to ignore.  And only you can know whether your anxiety is worth challenging.  But how do you go about challenging it?

This is a hard question to answer, to be honest.  Everyone has different tools, some of which they don’t even know about.  For me, it was a friend who directed me to work for the YMCA summer camp program.  That simple gesture surrounded me with so many wonderful friends and so many eye-opening opportunities that suddenly my empty quiver was full of arrows I could use against the monsters of my imagination.

“Courage is found in unlikely places.”  --J.R.R. Tolkien

Suddenly I wasn’t a somewhat incompetent man-child coasting along praying that nobody would notice that I had no idea what I was doing.  Instead, I was an adventurer who knew what he was doing even when he didn’t.  I was surrounded by friends who were more confident in me than I was.  Suddenly, chatting up strangers wasn’t the crippling idea that it used to be.  Trying something new and untested was fun instead of frightening.  I had the energy of a hundred and there was no obstacle so great that I could not overcome it.

Management?  Being in charge of people.  But I don’t know what I’m doing.  “Screw it, I’ll figure it out!” was the response.  This lead me to overcoming the kinds of challenges I couldn’t even imagine.  The only real issue was that I didn’t know what direction I should take my newfound skills.  When you feel like you can overcome anything, what should you overcome.

“It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”  --Erma Bombeck

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the real crux of my life.  I lacked the courage to really commit myself to my dreams.  I dawdled about in the Navy doing my part and serving my country, all the while knowing that while it was noble work, it wasn’t what I wanted to do.  I could identify what I didn’t want to do, but not what direction I actually wanted my life to take.

It wasn’t until I opened up to my wife and shared my desire to be a writer that I began to realize  exactly what direction I wanted my life to go.  This is not an easy decision, and if you’re reading this blog hosted by a culinary arts school website, I’m guessing you’re on the fence about your own dreams.  You close your eyes at night and see yourself doing what you want to do, but it’s difficult to commit.  Maybe it’s not college.  Maybe it’s not the military.  Maybe it’s not what people usually do.  Maybe your dream is totally unique to you, and follows a path never travelled before by anyone ever.  Maybe you feel stupid just thinking about mentioning it to people.  But they’re your dreams.  Whatever they are, they are yours and you should never feel stupid for having them.

And if you dream of donning a toque and creating amazing food, Auguste Escoffier is the place for dreams like that to grow.  I’ve gotten motivation from them that I didn’t think possible, and I owe much of my current career to their faculty and staff.

If you might indulge a longer quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”  --Theodore Roosevelt