(With your edits from yesterday, and also the following changes…)
Changed this: This was just before I lost all my money day-trading the forex markets, and had to find a job.
To this: This was just before I lost all my money day-trading the forex markets. I had to find a job. Pronto.
Changed this: The restaurant was in a trendy spot in the theater district that served dinner until 9 and turned into a club after that.
To this: The restaurant was in a trendy spot in the theater district. We served dinner til 9. After that, it turned into a club.
Changed this: The place was constantly packed and the clientele was demanding.
To this: The place was constantly packed. The clientele demanding.
Changed this: Having never done anything like this before, I was clueless and struggled to keep up.
To this: I’d never done anything like this before. I was clueless. I struggled to keep up.
Changed this: But I was focused and had my sights set on becoming a server ASAP.
To this: But I was focused. My sights were set on becoming a server. Stat.
Changed this: His bloodshot eyes stared intensely into mine as he put a firm hand on my shoulder and said in a direct but soft tone…
To this: His bloodshot eyes gazed intensely into mine. He set a firm hand on my shoulder. In a direct but soft tone, he said…
Changed this: My work jumped to a whole new level and I became one of the fastest SA’s in the house.
To this: My work jumped to a whole new level. I became one of the fastest SA’s in the house.
I’m not a big fan of labels. But recently I’ve been playing with mine and have assigned myself two — copywriter and content chef.
You might think I’m trying to be cheeky. But the title of chef has a powerful context for me. The word is an anchor to a meaningful event that altered my work forever.
I think this little story might help you if you make your living selling ideas, as most of us do.
In 2008, I got married, moved to Chicago from a small town in Nevada while my wife finished up at Northwestern University. This was just before I lost all my money day-trading the forex markets. I had to find a job. Pronto.
I didn’t have a college degree or anything lined up professionally. So I did what many people, including Harvard grads, were doing at the time…
I waited tables.
For accuracy sake, I was a server-assistant (SA for short) – which was basically a glorified name for bus boy.
The restaurant was in a trendy spot in the theater district. We served dinner til 9. After that, it turned into a club.
The place was constantly packed. The clientele demanding.
Many of who I worked with had been doing this their whole working lives. I’d never done anything like this before. I was clueless. I struggled to keep up.
If I was slow (which I was), the server suffered. Since my tips depended on theirs, my inefficiencies took money out of both our pockets.
Not a good recipe for a happy working relationship.
I saw other SA’s clear tables — some with six or seven people — plates, glassware, and silverware, by themselves, with no cart, in under 30 seconds.
I’d struggle with a four top, even with help.
But I was focused. My sights were set on becoming a server. Stat. Servers in Chicago made $60,000 — $70,000. Not too shabby.
I made progress. I’d madly practice clearing plates before and after work in the break room. I’d stack them from bottom to top starting with large, to small, and silverware on top.
I went out of the way to help other servers. This made me step out of my comfort zone and get better.
My feet bled as I ran up and down the flight of eighteen stairs (yes, I counted) from dining room to kitchen 30-40 times a night.
I was improving. But I still lacked confidence. In my mind, I was still a newbie.
And then, one night, the chef, who I’d never spoke to before, pulled me aside…
He was a burly man. He donned two sleeves of tattoos and looked like an over-stressed construction worker.
I thought I was screwed. He was gonna lay into me, for sure. I was slowing things down and it was bogging down the speed and workflow of his line.
He paused for an uncomfortable amount of time while looking me dead in the eye like he was going to damn my soul. His bloodshot eyes gazed intensely into mine. He set a firm hand on my shoulder. In a direct but soft tone, he said…
“Jonas. You know what you’re doing. You just don’t know that you know what you’re doing.”
That was all he said before he turned and got back to the line shouting out orders to his troops. Like a general, he worked with a calm but stern and assertive confidence.
Hmmm. That’s how it was done. He knows that he knows what he’s doing.
He nailed it. I knew what I was doing. I just didn’t realize it.
I had to take a few moments to recover. To let those words process.
My work jumped to a whole new level. I became one of the fastest SA’s in the house. Waiters would request me (usually, if you were a server, an SA was randomly assigned to you) because they knew that my speed and efficiency increased their bottom line (and, in turn, mine).
The chef spoke the truth.
If you’re in the business of selling ideas, it helps to realize this.
Even though I’ve long been out of the restaurant business, as a copywriter and content marketer, I think of this often.
Often times clients, committees, shareholders, bosses, teachers, and peanut galleries will try to stump you. They’ll try to kill your ideas.
It’s hard to blame them. For some of them, it’s their ass if your ideas don’t work. It’s food on their family’s table. Your mistakes directly affect their livelihood.
For others, they’re just trying to justify their existence by shutting you down.
Either way, you can’t let them stop you. You want to ignore the latter type anyways. As for the former — the stakeholders — it’s in their best interest that your ideas live.
Because you know what you’re doing. You’ve put in the work. You’ve studied your craft. You’ve put yourself out there. They hired you because you know something they don’t and they need you.
As soon as you know that you know what you’re doing, things change.
This puts you in a place of power. From there, you can save them.
That said, you have to pick your battles. Sometimes, it’s best to yield to their commands. But they need your confidence. They need to know you know what you’re doing. They’ll only realize this if you know you know (have I worn this concept out yet?).
This kind of confidence will give you the awareness to know when to stand by your idea till the death and when to yield. You’ll know when it’s worth it to fight for your idea, or if doing that would just be defending your ego out of insecurity.
Know you know.