Are You Playing Restaurant?

Playing Restaurant
Playing Restaurant

When I was about eleven, I learned how to make my favorite cheese sandwich: white bread, mayonnaise, American cheese. Yes, I grew up in the midwest. Shortly after I learned this special skill, I developed a fun game to pass the time: I would play “restaurant.”

More precisely, I would play short order cook. I would pretend I was a cook at a diner, with lots of orders coming in. Only thing was, everyone ordered the one thing I could make — an American cheese sandwich. So I would make sandwich after sandwich, as fast as I could, pretending I was a cook deep in the weeds during a big rush.

I got to thinking about this the other day as I reflected on my own career arc, current strategy, and future plans. I wondered, “Am I playing ‘restaurant?'”

Treading Water

A lot of my friends are solopreneurs — lone people plying their trade on a project-by-project basis. I have been working independently since 2003, and proudly so. But sometimes, I see other friends who are happily ensconced in organizations, managing, meeting, memo-ing. Then I look at my own workstyle, in which I write from about 6:30 am until 10:30 am, have a stretch of less productive time, and then come back hard from about 2:00 pm on. Sometimes I go deep into the night.

The things that rarely occupy this time are the things that routinely occupy my office-working friends’ lives. I have few meetings, the phone rarely rings (almost everything is email, txt, Twitter, and IM). There is zero office politics. The way things are right now, I can get a ton of stuff done. It leaves room for lots of possibilities.

But, sometimes, I worry. Should I be doing more? Am I just going through the motions of “working?” Am I treading water? Am I pretending?

I think these kinds of questions are ones that other solopreneurs also face. Twitter has given many of us a window into some water cooler cultures that we are not part of. I see lots of my friends “going into meetings,” or “having conversation with the boss,” and “talking to HR.” If I don’t do these things, am I just, in the end, making a bunch of cheese sandwiches and pretending I am the real deal?

Having Direction

I think the key lies in whether I have a direction or not. What’s my path? Having few in-the-flesh coworkers means I can get a lot of strategizing done. It also means I can succumb to one of two temptations. I can not write down any of my plans, in which case they are just dreams. Or, I can spend so much time on my planning, developing fancy slide decks for no one but myself, that I can fool myslef into thinking I am already GE. There’s a happy medium to be struck.

But I need to have plans, a direction. And they need to be written down. Otherwise it’s just cheese sandwiches.

Sometimes this planning can raise self doubts about how far I have come, or not come, but that’s OK. As solopreneurs, we are still writing the rules and for now — we are where we are.

Maybe you can tell I’ve been thinking about my own direction these days. There are some exciting things in store. But I always need to remind myself to keep it real. Don’t pretend I’m bigger than I am.

Nor should I pretend I’m smaller than I am: Maybe, I will look down and notice that those aren’t cheese sandiwches I’m making, but whole meals. A sub. A steak. Mashed potatoes.

Maybe I’ve been feeding people all along.

4 thoughts on “Are You Playing Restaurant?”

  1. Look at your bank account. Is there money in there? There are four ways money will appear in your account:

    1. Big inheritance

    2. The Lottery

    3. Someone paid you

    4. Elves

    It’s easy to figure out which one is going on. First, call all your relatives and ask if they are alive. If they are, you have not received a big inheritance. (Be diplomatic, or you won’t get an inheritance in the future.)

    Next, look at the website of your local TV news. Look at nightly broadcasts from the last few days. Do you see yourself on there holding a really big check? If not, you did not win the lottery.

    Finally, go to your bank’s website and look at the checks you have recently deposited. There should be images of them. If they say something like: To: “Brad Rourke” Memo: “For writing stuff”, you know that someone has paid you for your services, and you therefore are not just pretending to work. You did actual work at home and got paid for it, just like the people who do actual work in offices. (Keep in mind that people can make cheese sandwiches in offices and still get paid for it. The inability to do that is a disadvantage of working for yourself.)

    I do not know how to check for elves.

  2. Speaking of playing restaurant, I vividly recall you showing up in our kitchen in late March of 2002 to whip up a tasty meal to celebrate the birth of Rufus. That was shortly before ya’ll swang off on another vine. Thank you for that meal and this post – R

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