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The Pursuit of Happiness: Loving the Life You Live & The Career You Choose (Part 2) | A Q&A with Lauren Brooks
"Dialosophy is pure inspiration. 2 Corinthians 12:9 speaks about finding power and strength in our weaknesses. When I picture powerful women, I think of those who have personally shared their darkest stories with me, yet live life out loud and achieve greatness despite obstacles. I think of people who own their choices in a way that produces joy, even in the midst of struggle. Dialosophy means embracing duality and rejecting cognitive dissidence. Practically, I believe strength is in one’s ability to share their stories, and lives, and ideas and trust that the truth of their struggles is worthy of being known."
- Lauren Brooks
Alright y'all...We're back. And we're back with Part 2 on what it means to love the life you live AND the career you choose. It's the new year and goal setting can be...overwhelming. You could be thinking, "Am I even going in the right direction?" You could be scared of making a switch into a new career, due to what others might think. In short...you could have all this "2020" vision...but how do you make the vision become clear? How...do you live out...your dreams? In Part 2, we meet Lauren, a Culinary Arts student in Atlanta, GA. Welcome, Lauren Brooks.
Q: What do you think makes a "dream job"?
A: A dream job is one in which you are able to grow and be stretched, you are valued, you make enough to support your lifestyle and you have enough flexibility to never miss a big moment in the lives of your loved ones. For me personally, my dream job isn’t exactly crystal clear in my mind’s eye, just yet. Everything I mentioned above is kind of a non-negotiable, but I think for me personally, being able to serve people and see firsthand how they enjoy their time is an ideal. The biggest pay off is when I work hard to arrange a bouquet, or marry unlikely flavors, or even just create a playlist and I notice a guest notices. Those small touches can really make a moment magical, so creating the small touch is so life giving for me. Honestly though, the best is when you can tell people are having a great time and can’t put their finger on why. That is when you know you have married everything perfectly- from décor to ambiance, to food, to conversation.
Q: Alright, well why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself? Tell us your story...and what you're doing now.
A: You know... I have honestly never been asked that question in such a pointed way. My story. That could easily go in a lifetime worth of directions. If this were a job interview though, I would mention that I am a culinary student finishing my last on-campus class. I am the Creative Director of Table of Influence, which is a private dinner party series curated by Chef Briana Riddock, who I met through school. I also just recently started working as a pastry cook at Lazy Betty, which is a new restaurant in Candler Park (Atlanta, GA). Lazy Betty is a tasting menu restaurant and Pastry Chef Lindsey Davis is a total Rockstar.
In my home life, I have the most amazing parents who live up in Ohio. My mother is a gem, and it has been so wonderful stepping into a friendship with her now that I am an adult. My father is a pastor and is literally always available to give a pep talk. I have a brother too, who is in Columbus. He constantly surprises me with the way he cares about my sister and me.
I moved down here with my sister in 2015. She is my favorite concert partner, festival goer, restaurant patron, and movie watching partner. She is such a loyal concert partner, that she even accompanied me to a Tobe Nwigwe concert the night after she found out she was pregnant. That was almost 9 months ago now. Currently, her townhome is the residence of three now. She just gave birth to the sweetest most perfect baby girl, Ava. I could not be a prouder aunt.
I’m so tempted to keep it cute and stop there. but in the spirit of letting my insecurity shine... I have to admit the road to these opportunities was not easy. I swept trauma-induced depression under the rug for years. It wasn’t until just over a year ago, I decided depression could not lay dormant in me any longer and it had to be fully removed. This led me to a doctor, a counselor, and a lot of honesty with myself. On the surface, the opportunities I’ve been blessed with seem amazing, and don’t get me wrong, they are. For me though, it was all terrifying. I found, and still find, myself doubting myself. What if I fall into another deep depression and let someone down because I just can’t get out of bed? What if my low vibrations are a burden to be around? What if I can’t perform? What if, what if, what if?
My story is definitely still being written, but so far, I have learned that confronting the ‘what if’s’ one day at a time are creating for me a life filled with opportunities and the dopest black women ever. So, I choose to have joy and peace and continue to let that negative voice loose authority over my life.
Q: When did you realize that food and cooking was your passion? What was the spark or big "AHA" moment for you?
A: Well, after attending Akron University for a semester...I realized I had a lot of memories and about a 1.0 GPA. I decided to move home and find a job. After working at a call center for about 3 years, I realized the monotony of a call center was having a toll on me. I prayed and pondered and wondered what I enjoyed about my life as is was. I realized that I found a lot of joy in growing the garden in my mother’s back yard and picking fresh vegetables to be served at the dinner table. At the same time, my sister was graduating from college at the Ohio State University. She wanted to continue school in Atlanta for Physical Therapy, and I chose to join her, wait for instate tuition and go to culinary school down here. So, I guess the "AHA" moment was when I fell in love with gardening. Actually, I am not gardening now. I think I need to get back into it.
Q: Culinary arts could be looked at as a...narrow field. Like, if I told my parents I wanted to be a chef, they’d look at me like I was crazy as hell. So, did you face any roadblocks or negativity along the way in pursuit of your career...from family or friends? If so, how did you overcome this?
A: Great question! Honestly, I never received anything but positive feedback. People always request to be guinea pigs. My parents have always supported independence and allowed each of us [my brother, sister and I] to make our own way. They were excited...because I was. As I mentioned before, I masked a lot of my negative, low vibration emotions...so from any outside perspective, it would be hard to be critical when I seemed so sure. Especially coming from a sense of being burnt out at a call center. I think everyone around me was proud of me for making the decision to move and start over. I had a great savings at the time.
Q: So, let me segway into this...because I can guarantee the first thing people would think about is "I won't make enough money doing this..." Was money ever a consideration in this for you, and how you'd make a living?
A: I’ll never forget the recruiter from the Art Institute who was completely honest with me. He showed me the cost of tuition next to the average income of their recent graduates. Most weren’t even making half of the tuition- we are talking less than $30,000 a year. That was honestly the only warning I received on my path to find a culinary program that worked for me. Aside from the AI recruiter showing me the numbers, I honestly didn’t think much about what that would look like for my finances or personal life. Culinary School was about proving to myself that I could leave a comfortable life to live a passionate one. Every roadblock I encountered wasn’t really examined- instead I just saw the roadblocks as a necessary part of leaving the workforce in pursuit of education. I had plenty of money when I moved down here, but that quickly dried up and I got into debt. Like a lot of debt. But culinary has taught me that I have to have the mindset of an entrepreneur. Working with Briana to create Table of Influence is one way I have gotten creative with my culinary approach. We are able to capture an experience and give that to the public. It hasn’t made us a lot of money, yet, but it has the potential. I’ve heard that when you start a business you have to expect that you won’t make a profit for 2 years. With that in mind I have been able to shift perspective and focus on creating an undeniably great experience and trust that the money will come. In the meantime, we are able to address any kinks and make the dinner parties worth it for the guests. In that way, we can feel good about it when we can do this full time. It’s all about trusting the process, especially when the process doesn’t seem all that trustworthy. As far as bills, I am using student loans, driving for lyft, and getting a little from Lazy Betty [even if the big take away from Lazy Betty is the experience].
Q: Did you, yourself, ever feel insecure...like you weren't capable of chasing this dream? How did you feel, and how did you get through it? Invite us in, and tell us about that.
A: ALL. THE. TIME. The school I chose was cost effective, but it didn’t do much for me in the sense of building my confidence. So, things that I may have felt comfortable being unsure about in another environment...ended up having me feeling completely incompetent. Our teachers were reluctant to give praise and I just couldn’t read them. I listened to what they asked of me and gave up on my own intuition. That led to me using only salt and lemon to season. If you are making salmon, that is fine, but it is not what my gut would have me do. My family is Jamaican, so I love working with curry, jerk, nutmeg, cayenne, and lot and lots of herbs. I lost that for a while...trying to force relationships with professors who weren’t interested. Now that I am out and able to use my passion for culinary where it is well received, I am relearning to trust my instincts and plant myself where I can flourish.
Q: Who has had the most impact in your life in pushing you towards your dream and why?
A: Briana Riddock, hands down. I met her when I was halfway through my culinary journey. I was at such a low point when I met her. When I met Briana, I finally found someone who understood what it was like to be in my culinary program as a black woman. Briana had vision, talent, and a carefree attitude. She understood when I finally opened up about my feelings of inadequacy and told me it wasn’t me; it was those who were overlooking me. She was blunt, defiant, and so sure. It made me believe she was right. It was like being seen for the first time. I was enamored by the fact that she didn’t allow anyone, no matter what the authority level, to get her down. She was and is a manifestor. I love watching her bring her visions to life and having unwavering confidence in herself. Plus, she allowed me to be a part of her vision. It made me realize that culinary isn’t really so much my passion as it is helping others manifest their passions. Not only that, she has given me opportunities and introduced me to amazing people.
Q: As a black woman, what has your experience been like in culinary arts? I'm completely ignorant to this industry. So, are you a majority? A minority? In between? Have you felt supported along the way?
A: I am definitely a minority. Most black women are on the "garde manger" side, which does the salads and cold items or in the pastry kitchen. Currently, I am a part of that statistic, because I work as a pastry cook. The industry loves white males, but culinary is all about intention so finding the places that value diversity is key. Lazy Betty is such a place where synergy is realized. Our executive chef, Ron, is Chinese American. I will never forget when he came back to the pastry kitchen on my first shift and commented on how he was bullied as a child and sees the significance in a diverse staff. He ended the conversation by going in for a high five and saying, “but look around, two black women and a Chinese chef are the ones in the room today”.
Q: How significant has mentorship and networking been on your journey? How have you gone about "putting yourself out there"?
A: Mentorship has been critical to every step of my journey. I had been longing for a mentor for a while, and so I began to pray regularly for one. A few months later, Briana and I met. I also intentionally signed up for a mentorship program through my church to have a spiritual mentor. I think having someone who is a few steps ahead of you is always beneficial. They help you to keep hope alive and bounce ideas off of. Briana and Lindsey, my culinary mentors, have helped me because they are both strong, skilled, confident black women. My mentor from church, Jill, has been such an unexpected mentor. She doesn’t think like me or look like me [she is an empty nesting white woman], she is well established and just as sweet as can be. She has been so integral to my life, because she came in around the same time as Lindsey and Briana. Her mentorship has reminded me that while my healing and confidence are linked to the black community, I am able to find love and belonging among all types of people. I think, for me, I was near a point where I felt my blackness was my number one identity. I was ready to exclude myself from the American dream and embrace my black and proud self and the whole of my being, because I was tired of longing for mentors and being rejected by authority in various organizations. I could have taken it as confirmation when I began seeing doors open at the hands of black women. Instead, because of my relationship with Jill coming at just the time I was working on myself, I feel, now, I have a deep kinship to the black community who have shared in my experiences of being overlooked. I choose to heal in a way that allows me to recharge where I am understood to shine for the world, and the whole of it.
Q: Can you describe a time where you were put in a situation where you had to take a risk, regarding your career...when you just had to GO FOR IT-and not be afraid about failure or what was going to happen next?
A: Going for it is a way of life in the catering world. At the dinner parties I help with, we are creating a dinner party "experience". We cook the food to order in front of a crowd, so there is PLENTY of room for error. I can remember a few months ago when I placed one of our most popular dishes [jerk steak] in the oven. I didn’t seal the foil well and it began to drip into the oven. Before long, the oven began to smoke, and the fire alarms went off. There was no way I should have been asked to come back. But you know what, confidence. I simply opened the window, apologized, cleaned out the oven and kept going. Internally, I was freaking out but on the outside, I decided to simply go for it with my head high. It wasn’t a complete fail, because I had an amazing team around me, and the speaker was able to keep the conversation going.
Q: So, what's next for you? What are some of the things you're hoping to accomplish is 2020, if you don't mind sharing?
A: I am a lifelong learner. I cannot wait to keep learning and growing at my job at Lazy Betty. Stop in, when you’re feeling fancy! I look forward to 2020 Table of Influence. You can get in the loop by following @seasoningbottle or @tableofinfluence on Instagram. I will be starting event planning classes in the Spring, to help me with creative directing. I’m working on being content, not knowing what is next and just being present in the moment. I plan to accomplish more joy, more connections, and more financial freedom. I think this happens by being present and focusing on the good.
Q: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? 10 years from now?
A: I honestly don’t know. When I think about my future, all that pops into my mind is my smile. I don’t know where that smile will be living or why it will be so wide, but I know that my future if filled with that smile. And really good food.
Q: If there is anyone interested in walking down this path, can you map it out for us? What's schooling like? Where should they be looking to go? Who do they need to be trying to meet, etc etc.?
A: I wish there was a path. There really is not. For every person that goes to school, there are about three that will say to just work your way up. The best thing you can do is to find people to talk to and network with. Ask to stag [work for free] and bring your A game. Buy a great chef’s knife and practice your knife cuts. Never let anyone discourage you, but listen to yourself if you see yourself losing your passion. This field is late nights, long days, and is ONLY for those who are truly passionate. Find people who love what they do and mesh well with your personality. Be fair with people and always plate as if you were plating for your grandmother- better than good.
Q: If anyone is in the Atlanta or Georgia area, are you available for booking…or should I say “catering” *wink wink*? J
A: YES! My email is email@example.com .
Q: If you could tell little Lauren something right now....what would it be?
A: Keep your head up and start the healing now! It takes longer then you think but it is so worth it.
Q: For the readers....if there is anyone out there "stuck" or scared of living out their true dreams or living life fully....what do you say to them right now?
A: Take the leap but expect to fail. Get excited about learning how not to do it. Then do it better the next time. You will fail, but you are strong and capable and failing at an opportunity gives you a better shot at more opportunities then never accepting in the first place- so just go for it. Oh, and be intentional about the people who believe in you. Keep up with those relationships.