Burned Matchsticks showing how chefs can avoid burnout

I’m on Facebook Groups and other social media outlets everyday, and everyday I see posts from chefs that make me, well, sad. 

These are chefs who’ve spent years in the industry, love cooking, are suffering from physical exhaustion, addictions, failed relationships, and are just simply finished with the culinary world. So many posts simply say “I’m done.” Or some version of “I’m out of here,” and “I got to leave this work because it’s killing me.”

Here are ten ways that Personal Chefs, Private Chefs, and Independent Chefs can avoid the burnout — primarily because they’ve chosen to achieve a level of freedom by working for themselves as a personal chef or private chef. 

Book Time for You

When you’re running your own business you spend time booking clients and booking gigs. You spend tons of time working — but have you booked any time for yourself?

An Example to follow: 

Chef Derek and his wife Jen (he cooks, she runs the office) live in my area, which is highly seasonal. They take advantage of working during Lake Tahoe’s super busy summer season and then fly to Hawaii to take their winters off. 

They worked hard (and smart) on their business plan, created an ideal client list, and have now found a work/life balance that fits both financially and emotionally/spiritually. They go with the seasons. 

They rejuvenate on the islands. Then come back to Tahoe, ready to work. And crush it. Then repeat. 

You may not be at the stage of your business like Derek and Jen, but you can still schedule time off. Even if it’s just one day a week, or something like ‘Monday mornings and Thursday evenings.’ 

In addition to time off from work, think about some ‘no electronics time.’ Disconnecting is rejuvenative, in and of itself.

Jack Toraance_s typewriter page from The Shining

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. (Don’t become Jack Torrance in The Shining.) Take some time for yourself — and your ‘work self’ will respond. It will. You will. 

Keep it Simple

Make it easy on yourself. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The rush of the busy season is not the time to try out new dishes or experimenting in the kitchen. It’s the time of year to do exactly what you do best, what you can do in your sleep, what you know works. 

Throw strikes. Don’t reinvent the wheel right now. Roll downhill using what you already know. For help on this and to save time and money, look over my post: 3 Strategies for Starting and Growing Your Chef Business

Try a New Coping Strategy

Examine the habits you use to numb out. Hint: They’re not saving you, and they just might be killing you:

  • That six-pack (plus a few shots?) at the end of the night
  • The constant stream of cigarettes 
  • ‘Packing the bowl’ again (and again)
  • Video games for hours on end
  • Scrolling social media without aim

Remember when you used to play guitar? Paint or draw? Sure, these take time too, but they use the creative part of your brain. And that’s rejuvenating. Creative activity gets you fresh for what life brings and requires of you. 

It stimulates areas of your brain that get you productive, creative, and centered. (Those are three things that will get you into a profitable business. Not Halo or Tick Tock.) 

A little yoga, replacing the alcohol with some tea, deep breathing, meditation (terrifying? it works), and other alternatives give your body and mind the best chance at efficient productivity.

Private Chef Grog Verbeck entering ice water for ice bath

My husband, Chef Grog, is a fan of Wim Hof — so he practices cold water therapy. He uses it for inflammation, for sore joints, and to combat exhaustion. 

For the last two+ years, he’s gone in the water everyday. (Yes, every day, and Lake Tahoe’s water temp ranges mostly from 43 to 55 degrees.) He uses the power of cold water to heal him. It gives him a rush (like the alcohol used to) but the only hangover is more energy, more vibrance, more productivity. 

Grog’s my fav local ‘celebrity’ for sure, but as far as ‘famous chefs,’ I know Gordon Ramsey is a runner, a long-distance guy. He runs and runs like Forrest Gump. You’d think that’s the last thing a chef wants to do after standing on his feet for 14 hours, but it works for Gordon. It keeps him sane, his runner’s high helping him flow. 

Know When to Ask for Help

Every year, chefs running their own business struggle because they try to do it all on their own. They’re making the reservations, cooking for clients, following up with marketing, and doing all the office work without any aide. 

The candle burnt at both ends consumes itself. If you’re trying to do it all on your own, I have a couple things to say to you:

First, you can’t. You can’t do it all. No one can. 

Second, many of the things you’re trying to take on, you’re not an expert at — and somebody else can do it twice as good in half the time. 

Third, there are resources you can access.

You just gotta ask for help, and then turn it over to them. 

Solutions:

  • Upwork — an American freelance platform where enterprises and individuals connect to get work done
  • Fivver — an App where you can buy or sell services for as little as $5. (It’s great.)

Acadiumthe place to hire anyone from the local college intern to the country’s leading expert to take the social media and marketing off your plate.

Adjust Your Thinking

This year, there are only three December Saturdays before Christmas. If you’re booked for those (maybe even the Fridays too), you’re probably already ready to drop. 

Take the Long View. Enjoy the ride. There will be an end to this crazy holiday season. 

It’s normal to want to crack when you’re at the peak of dizziness. Try to take a step back and gain perspective. The glass is either half-empty or half-full based on how you see it, how you think it. 

I was told a story when I was young: 

It was a story about two future astronauts who were sent out into space. When they returned a year later, they were asked about the planet they’d landed on. The first astronaut told of a lonely, barren place; the second of a beautiful, mysterious place. 

The two astronauts, of course, had been sent to the same planet. It was all in how they saw it.

Boost Your Mood

Coping fatigue is real. And healthy coping strategies will get you out of the anxiety spiral. As this pandemic goes on, it’s vital to get good at taking care of yourself — because you already work in a brutal profession. 

You’re not alone.

Try these:

  • Phone a friend. (It’s not just for game shows.) Talking helps. Playing ideas out to an actual ear on the other end of the line helps. 
  • Hug. I know, we’re in a pandemic. But if you can trust someone in your pod, touch is vital for boosting mood. A lot of us have been ‘touch deficient’ since Covid hit. Combat this by seeking out hugs and pats on the back. We are a social species who evolved with touch. We need it.
  • H.A.L.T.. What’s this? Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. When you feel any of these come on, halt what you’re doing and address them. Eat, calm yourself, talk to someone, or rest. You’ll feel better.  

Get the Gear

Gear Guides aren’t just for Outside Magazine or Professional Ski Bums. We humans are tool makers, and we all use and need them. From the wheel to the backhoe to the back-scratcher, they help us live more efficient and fruitful lives. 

Some of my favorites for taking care of myself are foot rollers, TENS units, and muscle massage sticks. I don’t consider them toys, they’re tools. And you can get a lot of good gear to take care of your body and mind on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, or eBay. Get one. Or seven.

Check back next week for my blog post on specific and detailed recommendations.

Focus On Your Relationships

personal chef hugging her spouse

I know you’re working hard, and you’re probably doing it in the name of your children or your spouse. But don’t forget they actually need you, not just your money. They need you present. 

Far too often I see chefs ‘sacrificing their relationships in the name of supporting them.’ An absentee parent or spouse who makes a lot of money is not as important as making enough money and being there. 

Make sure to get your face-to-face time. You’re not serving your family by falling into bed exhausted, after everyone else is already asleep, and missing your kids going off to school in the morning. 

You’re not a robot. You’re not a slave. Want to know what I really think about and envision for chefs? Check out my Chef’s Manifesto

Go Out (at least once) for REAL

Chef, actually go out to a party. 

I don’t mean to go cook for a party. I mean actually be a guest at a party and sit at a table.

And when you go, don’t hang out in the kitchen. Dress up and take a date or a friend. Stop working at every party. Stop being totally behind the scenes. 

I know a lot of people become chefs because they feel more comfortable being behind the scenes — it’s a way they still can participate and attend parties without feeling awkward socially. 

But after being the wife of a chef for so many years (missing out on ‘being on his arm’ at special events) I know how important it is for you to take off the apron, get out from behind the stove, and actually give yourself time off to celebrate with those you care about, and who care about you. 

Go out. At least once!

Treat Yourself

Have a prize at the finish line for yourself. Travel, anyone? 

Even if you can’t afford the time or money to take a trip, go explore. Go to your local Chinatown or Little Italy or Koreatown. Eat at a restaurant you haven’t. Experience new things. 

Have other people cook for you. And I’m not talking about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that you stuff down your gullet at two in the morning because you haven’t consumed enough calories to get through the day. I’m talking about showering and getting together with a friend to sit at a table in a restaurant. Let somebody serve you. And you may even get to say hello to the chef and talk food for a bit. That’s exploration. That’s what it’s all about.

Holly’s ‘Treat Yourself’ Story:

On my now 21-year-old son’s 13th birthday we had a big party and we wanted to fully enjoy the occasion and enjoy the guests who’d traveled long distances to attend. 

So, we had an ‘aha moment,’ and for the first time ever we used the services of our own company, HeyChef! 

It was awesome.

At the end of the night, when all of our guests had left and we looked around at the clean kitchen — realizing we didn’t have to stay up late to finish cleaning up or anything — we understood what a wise decision we had made. 

Yeah, it cost us a little bit of money. But it was so worth it. My husband and I looked at one another and said, “Wow, there’s really something to this. . . let’s never throw a party without professional help again.”

Yes, we are fully capable of throwing our own party. The event wasn’t about work, it was about being there, and we decided to treat ourselves!

How Chefs Maintain Balance

coffee bean balance ying yang

Just like Nicholson told us in The Shining: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” In no profession is this more true than in the culinary world.

Going Independent and becoming a Personal Chef or a Private Chef gives you instant power to find balance in your life. You become your own boss. You set your own schedule. So, make sure you take the time (and ideas from this post) to rejuvenate your body and mind so you can attack your business full-go. 

The Yin/Yang symbol has been a bestseller for a long darn time. Because it speaks truth, the truth of balance. The truth of flow. The truth of alignment. 

And when you are aligned as a chef and as a human being, you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.