Food for the greater good?

With a slow-going job search on my hands, lately I’ve been having entrepreneurial thoughts. Given my family’s disastrous experiments with business initiatives (failed restaurants, lost money, strained familial ties, etc., etc.) I am rather hesitant to even consider starting my own business. And yet the thoughts (and accompanying doubts) persist. So, what to do?

Various ideas have been tossed around in my head and I have even said them aloud a few times… and to real people! One idea is to start a vacation planning business focused on families with young children. I could do all the research for airfare, car rentals, vacation home rentals, and even suggest itineraries for sightseeing and touring. Another idea is start a meal service for families with newborn babies. I’ve been cooking a lot for friends with newborns these past few months and have always been shown much gratitude. I’ve made wontons, meatballs, roast chicken, even vegan soups. Yet another idea is cooking lessons in people’s homes–either in groups or one-on-one. We would agree in advance on a meal and I would shop for all the ingredients ahead of time. Oh, and then there’s the scary idea of running a food truck–shiver!

And yet I hesitate. Aside from the obvious usual anxieties about starting a business from scratch (i.e. how do I do something that actual generates a profit?), my main concern has been how to address the nagging need to make a difference, to have some kind of social impact. I mean, well-fed people will surely be happier people, but what inroads would that make towards reducing poverty, stabilizing families or increasing social justice? One friend actually suggested that I could cook for single mothers once a week. Another suggested that I use cooking lessons as a way to promote collaboration and brainstorming for social initiatives. And yet. What if I can’t reach vulnerable groups? What if my only clients are picky and difficult? What if I begin to dislike planning and cooking? What if I don’t like working alone? What if I fail?

I just don’t know.

It’s hard to imagine myself actually taking on any of these ventures, and yet I am doing them (with the exception of the food truck) regularly. But there’s something about being self-employed that I just can’t wrap my head around. There’s another part of me that tells me that I need to be a part of something bigger–that there’s safety in numbers, both in terms of job security and performance towards goals. That same part of me also yearns for the more traditional forms of recognition: salary, title, and renowned employer. I can’t help it because on some level all of this does matter.

So, what to do? How have any of you dealt with competing professional goals?

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9 Responses to Food for the greater good?

  1. Two comments:

    1) Please don’t ever do anything that makes you dislike cooking! You know, for, um, your own sake…
    2) What is this Brain Training Games thing on this page?

    As for productive comments, I’m always happy to share them in person. When I pop in for some tea.

  2. Aaron Becker says:

    This is all well said. Here’s my 2 cents. I think all of your points and thoughts have their place and should be listened to. The fact that you are already doing these things (okay, sans food truck) and enjoying them tells me that you should stay put and not let them become larger, more stressful, or, disastrously, un-enjoyable. I tried to make a go of oil-painting the summer after I got laid off, and after a very short while, I realized that it didn’t pay well enough to make it worth the effort and I didn’t yearn to do it badly enough to push through the anxiety of uncertainty. I’m glad I still can do oil paintings as a hobby. Knowing you, in particular, I do think that you’d be better off in a larger organization where you have both security and a sense of being a part of something that has substantial impact. Usually, I’m the first person to tell people to quit their job and follow their dream, but let me tell you – after two and a half years of doing just that with my kids books, if a lucrative job position opened up, I’d take it and just try and do the books on the side vs. my fulltime gig. Raising a family is a big job and soon enough Lex and Emma will not want to hang out with you at all. Then you can take bigger risks with your own business. But for now, I would say, get some security and don’t feel bad that you’re not being an entrepreneur or “following your bliss”. From your list of interests, I would think the trip-planning one has the best potential because it’s something you can hire people/train people to do, where as food prep is labor intensive and very difficult to find people who can help you out. If it’s going to be profitable, it needs to be bigger than just “personal chef” or “personal travel assistant” – more like a company that offers travel packages for a larger pool of families (thus avoiding the annoyance of catering to only the wealthy AND reaching a larger audience).

    • Aaron, I know that reality can bite. Watching my family fail and bicker through it all made me swear I would never do anything like that. But I guess it must be in my blood! I think you’re right about not messing with what you love. Sigh. And I would never “follow my bliss” –that sounds too hokey for me! Thanks for your thoughts on this.

  3. Chloe says:

    We need a playdate soon! I would love to dream a little with you about this. I think you have the discipline, social skills, and persistence to make your own business work if that’s what you want. And I also think you would get lonely without co-workers and “making a difference.” The status hang-up could fade once you’ve hung it out to dry if you let it.

    There are all sorts of “food for the greater good” movements going on right now. Maybe it’s time to expand the job search? I know it is really really rough finding jobs in the non-profit world. You’re not the only one I know having a tough time. Let’s talk.

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