When I first opened Blooming Beets Kitchen, I didn’t know that becoming a restaurateur would lead me on a journey of self-discovery and learning what it meant to be an authentic leader. I want to share with you some of that journey and the leadership lessons I’ve learned along the way.
We all have an inner voice which offers unsolicited advice on our actions and decisions. Mine, for one, enjoys telling me that I am in over my head, like it did in the summer of 2014, when I first opened Blooming Beets Kitchen.
It's a warm day in early summer. I'm in the dining room, surrounded by freshly painted walls and rustic whitewashed decoration. It's quiet. I have spent the final hours worrying over the last details and finding out about all the basics that have been forgotten. I pause in the quiet. I look around. I should really be enjoying this. We have made it this far. I'm about to flip the open sign for the very first time. We will be the first full-service paleo restaurant in Colorado.
I walk over to the door, flip the sign, and I can feel my hands sweating. What if nobody comes? What if everyone thinks this is a big joke and I'm just a girl playing kitchen? I have no restaurant experience, but I like the food I put on the menu. But what if they hate it? What if we screw it up and become the latest laughing stock on the restaurant scene?
Finally, a few people entered, in groups. A lesbian couple orders the sweet potato bacon cakes. They look at them, poke around, and leave them half eaten. I watch one of them and where her fork is going. I so desperately want their approval, but their faces say it all. It's a no-pass.
Then I see a customer getting up and walking over to me. What does he want? Is it bad? Does he want a refund?
“Are you the owner? I have some feedback.”
“Of course,” I replied, somewhat hesitantly, giving him the "go easy on me" look. I don't like his condescending posture or tone of voice. In general, I don't really like people telling me what to do, but there's one thing I hate more: rejection.
He pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and goes on to explain that he is somewhat important in the industry and has worked with Dave Query, a hot-shot restaurant owner in town, and watched people succeed over and over. And without learning things pretty fast, I won't, apparently. He starts going through the list.
“You shouldn't even be open,” he says. “You don't seem ready.”
I sigh; aside from him being a total jerk, he could be right, we shouldn't be. We aren't ready and nothing is perfect. Of course, what he doesn't know is that a mere 24 hours ago there weren't even any tables at the restaurant, the place was full of dust, and we didn't sleep to make it all come together.
“This place is a mess. You have random stuff on the counter. And the bathroom shouldn't have a plunger. You need to put it away. There's literally a piece of poop on the plunger.”
My stomach clenches tightly and I feel myself shrinking down to a six-year-old being told off by her parents who is about to throw a fit about it. Seriously, right now, all I need is some damn approval. Should I feel hurt? Angry? Should I explain?
I go for "saving face" mode. I thank him graciously for his feedback and muster as much graciousness as I can in the moment, really just wanting the awkward exchange to end.
For the next hour or so, my thoughts spin. How doesn't he understand we literally just opened an hour ago? How dare he have no encouragement? This is so not fair!
When in pain, we tend to do anything to free ourselves from the immediate hurt. I have my own set of very effective tools I use to not feel pain. Jump from shame straight to anger, blame, and (my favorite cup of tea), self-righteousness. And then, in my full self-righteousness, I start "shoulding" everything and everyone around me. People should think this and do this, and shouldn't think that. “He should have better social skills for delivering his smart-ass feedback,” says the voice in my head.
But could I know, for sure, that he shouldn't criticize me or the restaurant?
Well, here is what I actually know now, for sure. There are no accidents in the universe (at least not in the universe that seems to run my life). Every time I have been up to something, my circumstances, god, universe, whatever your version of it is (mine is yet to be defined), conspires to get me where I need to go.
His feedback was spot on. And I needed it, unless people wanted to come to my restaurant and look at poop on a plunger. With years gone by now, I am left wondering: how does a restaurant launch expert show up on your launch day and just happen to hand you a long list of what you need to do to look like a real restaurant?
Only I couldn't see it or appreciate it then, because my "don't tell me what to do" tantrum was more important than taking it in and being effective as a business owner.
When we seek approval from others, and when we perform mental gymnastics in an effort to get them to give it, we lose our own power as leaders. Our life becomes about looking good, not about making a difference.
I want to make a difference. I started Blooming Beets Kitchen to promote healthy eating and lifestyle habits, but I’m also passionate about helping others step into their full power as leaders.
Whatever you’re passionate about and want to make a difference doing, don’t let your need for approval or the voice in your head hold you back.
To read more, here’s a link to my book on Amazon: Dust Off and Rise: Stumbling Toward Success https://www.amazon.com/Dust-Off-Rise-Restauranteurs-Leadership-ebook/dp/B07H9HK8MP/