Years ago when I was in college at Johnson & Wales Culinary University, as like most college students, it was a high-pressure and hectic period in my life. Our school was very disciplined, and had specific guidelines as to how things must be done. The discipline & guidelines were taught not only for our safety in an ever changing environment, like a kitchen, but also to instruct us how to deliberately turn on our focus and be at the ready.
Johnson& Wales was nothing short of a military culinary school. We had chefs from all over the world. In my oriental class, Chef Lipa was our Asian instructor. When we entered his kitchen, we had to stand in line at attention as he would inspect our uniforms, our knife kits, everything.
One day in Chef Lipa’s kitchen, I hadn’t groomed my nails, and they were too long. HE THREW ME OUT OF CLASS!! This just happened to be the last day of his class, and I had to take my final exam. Our classes were either a six or a twelve day course. If you failed, you had to start all over again with that class. When he kicked me out, he told me to tend to my nails, but he didn’t tell me to come back.
This was a pretty serious situation that I had gotten myself into, and I knew that I needed to figure out a way to get back into his kitchen. While standing there in the hallway, panicked and embarrassed, I bit off all of my nails, opened the door to his kitchen and walked quietly back in. Chef Lipa ignored me for about ten minutes, while I stood there not knowing what to do. Finally, he came over and examined my hands. He saw what I had done and proceeded to walk over to his desk, came back and handed me the written portion of my final exam. It was all written in Chinese! His exact words were “You either pass it or fail it.”
Now I am thinking to myself, I don’t read or speak Chinese, so I looked at him and started laughing! He then said ‘OK, you can either do this test OR you can take the other one.’ Since I knew I fail the written one, I opted for the “other”test.
Our refrigerator doors in the kitchen had three hinges, top, middle, and bottom. He opened one of the doors and told me to stick my fingers through the crack above the middle hinge on the door, and then he walked to the other side of the door and laid an egg in my outstretched fingers. ‘Get the egg into your other hand without breaking it. You drop it; you fail.’
Now you see I couldn’t reach around the door because it was too wide. I couldn’t reach under or over the door because it was too far. So…I flipped the egg in the air, ran around the door and caught it. I passed!
This exercise taught me how to turn on my focus in many ways. The first was preparation, I knew from that day forward that I needed to turn my focus switch on before I ever set foot inside of the kitchen or coaching with a client. Determination was another; I learned to switch on my focus when being faced with a task that requires all of my creativity and attention. Information was a third way that I learned to turn on my focus – by going through the process of focusing on active listening, my mind is attuned to digging deeper and asking questions to reach goals.
The recipe for focus I learned that day in Chef Lipa’s class while in culinary school included the key ingredients of preparation, determination, and information.This recipe has helped me to create a successful business as a wellness chef and health coach and I hope this recipe can also help you somehow on your journey.
In our current world, we are bombarded by tasks, concerns, and challenges that demand our attention. Learning how to gain and maintain focus has guided me to be more effective, more successful and satisfied with my own performance both in my personal and professional lives.