Living beyond our comfort zone
For most of my life, I built buffers and carved out life from a daily routine and certainty from a permanent job. This was my comfort zone.
To discover new worlds, you have to first leave the safety of familiar shores and doing so is seldom an easy decision.
Sometimes, it requires not letting that loud voice of discouragement stop you. That voice is none other than one’s own self-doubt. Just as moving along monkey bars, you can only move forward by first letting go of one bar as you grasp another.
All of which requires a leap of faith. The magnitude of one’s leap varies depending on what is at stake. The greater the leap, the greater the faith needed. In my case, the leap was phenomenal.
For over a decade, I have worked hard at developing my career at Bank Negara.
I had an extremely rewarding career that brought me immeasurable experiences, wonderful colleagues who became great friends and the privilege of working with inspirational leaders.
Why then would I leave all this behind for the unknown?
The tussle in me
Of course, I myself was constantly plagued with the tussle of whether I was making the right decision to change careers. I was going through a difficult period personally and wondered if that was the real reason.
I was aware that making decisions based on situational factors could be regretted once the situation changes.
Talking to people also brought mixed results. For every person I spoke to, I would get a polar response. Some were extremely encouraging, while others refused to condone my decision to change careers. Some wanted to see me develop in new areas that I was inclined towards, while others did not want me to lose what I had built.
Ultimately, the decision came down to who I was and what I felt was the best for me. As new age-y as it sounds, I needed to find the centre of my being. That centre came from my fondest memories of childhood – growing up in the kitchen, watching and helping my mother.
Or rather, I was the human kitchen aid! I specialised in whisking and mixing with the ultimate reward of being able to eat the excess food left on the mixing spoon.
I felt most secure in the kitchen and cooking was my way of sharing my love and fondness with those around me.
Being a hopeless romantic, I believed that following your heart would be easy. However, it was not.
A new journey begins
Upon completing my schooling at the Le Cordon Bleu, I managed to gain a six-month placement at Quay, in Sydney, one of the world’s top restaurants for my industrial programme module. I am no stranger to hard work, but I worked harder than I ever did in my life during those few short months.
Kitchen life is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding and I entered it at an age where most would opt for less physically demanding roles.
The average shift is about 15 to 16 hours, all of which is spent standing, and if you are able to take a 15 to 30 minute break, it is at about 5pm to have your dinner. If you still need to prepare for dinner service, that break is foregone. There was not a single part of my body that was not in pain from utter exhaustion.
Do not even mention the cuts, bruises and burns. And I was at least 20 years older than everyone in that kitchen. But years have commodity even when it’s a young man’s game. This is where I used my age to my advantage. Having more maturity allowed me to tap into my inner strength.
When it got too tough, I reminded myself to focus and would also recite William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus:
“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”
Regardless of the odds, I have never been happier. I do miss my previous life at the bank, but I am at peace now. Even though it can be complete chaos around me, and stress is everywhere, I still feel a sense of peace. That to me is an indicator that I made the right decision.
Although I have traded the pen for the pan, I brought my experience and what I learned at the central bank to help me deal with new challenges, such as interpersonal skills and communication, time management, striving for excellence and self-motivation, self-confidence, perseverance and mental fortitude.
I am constantly in awe and wonder from being able to learn from every second spent in the kitchen, watching people cook, be it in the professional kitchen or at the humble stove of someone’s home. Everyone and every experience is my teacher.
Keep going forward
Living beyond one’s comfort zone is never easy, but it’s a decision worth making as life ultimately is made up of different experiences and new meanings. The support from close friends and family has also been instrumental in helping me get to where I am now, and to keep going forward.
I am able to not only be myself, but also share my innermost feelings with everyone around me no matter where I am with our most basic of needs, food. The unknown now does not seem as scary as when I first started on this journey. At the crossroads of my life, I did turn back to take that long abandoned route. Just as Robert Frost took the road not taken, I decided to walk back and start again and it has made all the difference for me.
A former central banker, Zoe Rai served at Bank Negara Malaysia for 13 years before switching professions to become a chef. Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Adelaide, Zoe is currently gaining experience at various restaurants throughout Australia. To connect with him, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Career Advice articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 4 April 2015