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Food Professionals: Invest in Yourself

Taking time to learn new information, a novel skill or even a fresh way of working may unlock what more you can offer to the world.

Time to level up and sharpen your skill set. Whether you're in a food manufacturing facility; corn field; grocery store; hospital food service; restaurant and beyond in the food industry, invest in yourself--continue to learn by doing, listening, reading, thinking and seeing. To take on the opportunities of the future, I discovered the importance of improving my work skills to better lead and serve others.

From elementary through the end of high school, my best friend had better grades than me and we each held major leadership positions. We matched each other's work ethic. Then, we went our separate ways to earn college degrees. From there, I acquired additional education, attained a professional health credential, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer and employed in different food sectors. And, my best friend has worked the same job for decades. When we talk, I some times hear my friend's wish between the lines for greater intellectual challenges and overall opportunities. In this scenario, and although a risk of time and money, I invested heavily in myself -- education and experience. As a result, I've had many more choices in my life than if I wouldn't have invested in myself. Whatever your situation, position yourself to choose and make decisions to have more choices over time.

“As you invest in yourself, expect to feel inspired to continue evolving yourself and your contributions to others.”

Lifelong Learning is an Investment in Yourself

Continuous learning may help you become more productive and prosperous. For one, you may feel more trusted and valued by your colleagues and employer. Then, you may experience greater job satisfaction, more positive relationships in the workplace and enhanced productivity. This adds up to more success for you, your colleagues, employer and your customers. Learning should enrich your life, not limit it. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to develop our strengths and talents to serve others.

Five Ways to Invest in Yourself Again and Again

1. Set a simple, doable goal.

To experience satisfaction and a taste of success, I emphasize having a simple and doable goal that's time bound. Otherwise, it may be put off for tomorrow and perhaps, never get done. Read for fifteen minutes on your topic. Brainstorm, writing ideas about your interest for five minutes. Watch a three-minute about your favorite subject. Make sure it contributes to your dreams and expands who you are for others. A series of repeated successes gets you to where you want to go.

2. Take a risk. Experience failing successfully.

Most of the successful people I know across the food industry, whether in the food sectors of academia, business and healthcare, have taken calculated career and job risks. They raised their hand for the task no one wanted to do; volunteered for a job when they didn't necessarily have all the education or experience required or helped someone solve a big problem. Some risks have a big payoff--promotion, increase in pay or great self-satisfaction leading to more self-confidence. Other times, taking on a risk may result in an epic failure. Remembering back to my first days of college, I was on a big campus with lots of smart people. Academically, I felt under-prepared. I was taking a risk. For my first college exam, I studied hard and thought I understood the course material. I received a letter grade of “D”. Obviously, I was devastated and wasn’t sure what to do except approach the professor who thoughtfully helped me understand how to approach studying and applying course theories to real life situations. Not wanting to fail out of college, I took the guidance to heart and earned an “A” in the course. Unforgettable, rewarding experiences come with risk taking and finding the opportunity for growth from the failure.

3. Make the mundane a moment for learning.

In our instant gratification society, laden with social media and streaming, we're led to believe most everything is automatic, instant success. People, both who are new to the food industry and been involved with it a while, tell me they feel discouraged. The opportunities to excel, promotions and pay raises either aren’t happening or as quickly as they had expected. My advice? It's always the same. Persistence and perseverance pay off. Even when you're not into it, show up, do the work and grind it out.

My job path and career may look like streak of successes one after the other. In truth, between those streaks were years of monotony, repetitiveness and sameness, you name it. Some days, I felt like a robot. Commands given: get up early and to go to first job to see patients at the clinic or hospital; then go to or teach a class, a second job and go to third job as a food server. Consider the tedious irony: In one day, I might teach patients how to choose small portions of food for weight loss and, later serve customers sizeable meals. Instead of just going through the motions of the job, I learned to listen carefully about the reasons behind people's food choices in different hospital and restaurant settings. Regardless of the demographics and locations, the jobs offered a social commentary about the food and nutrition science I learned in college. No matter your goal (or your customer's!), commitment, dedication and a 'keep it moving' mindset make a difference. During those years, and today, I saw and understood the sacrifice as an investment in myself and my future.

4. Add to your address book. Nurture your contacts.

As you're plowing through your career job path, help and support others. Staying in the food sector long enough, you can expect to see the same people. An associate is promoted from stocking shelves in a grocery store to serving as a general manager in the same retail chain. A food director in an industry association rises to a vice-president of research and development for a packaged foods company. The teaching assistant is awarded a tenure-track position at a major university. A bartender / banquet server becomes a hotel CEO. As our careers evolve we learn, via coaching and mentoring, from each other. When one succeeds, it's a win for everyone.

With more than a decade of employment in the food industry, I have met people from all walks of life. Reaching out and connecting on a regular basis to either catch up and/or swap work strategies has meant many acquaintances and friends to turn to for advice and insights. In turn, and unsolicited, if I noticed an article, intro I could make or a video, I'd share information without expecting anything in return. Behaving in this way consistently builds one's credibility and trustworthiness.

5. Ask questions.

In a filtered world where people look confident and smiling without worries, it may be intimidating to ask someone for help or their opinion. Remember, you see their successes and not their struggles. When it comes to anything related to food--how to buy it, prepare it, eat it and sell it, people love to provide their opinion. For the most part, eating and enjoying food is universal. That makes asking a question easy.

Ask thoughtful questions to ensure you and the recipient gain from the conversation. If you pretend to have all the answers, you’re limiting learning opportunities. If you're too scared to ask, please ask and be unapologetic about it. Consider asking questions that convey you want to add value, offer help and/or provide a service. Consider question such as, "How might we...?"; What has been your experience and success with...?"; "What are other options and the advantages/challenges of each?" And, the most powerful question is, "Why...?". Asking questions may change careers, your or relationships, or even your health. During my early job experience and different careers in food, I had many ideas and questions I wanted to run by people with experience. Countless conversations, centered on questions, charter a better informed path. When people observe you want to listen and learn from them, they’ll welcome your curiosity. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by asking questions.

Think about what and how you might want to invest in yourself. How can it inform where you want to go?

  • Why do you want to invest yourself?

  • What single, doable step can you do repeatedly to learn?

  • How can you take what you love to do and turn it into something bigger?

GROW an investment in you!


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