by Jack Waggon
I’m 17 years old, just graduated high school near the top of my class. I was a student class officer and involved in several clubs and societies. I also scored well enough on my SAT to receive several generous scholarship offers, from which I selected a school to begin attending this fall. My parents are delighted. I’m not.
I don’t want to go to college.
Ever since my first lemonade stand, I’ve wanted to own a restaurant. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. My parents have always treated my dream like some kind of childish fantasy, like when you say you want to be an astronaut. It’s always been assumed that I would go to college, just like they did, and then pursue a professional career, just like they have done. I never fought back against them, but as the day of my departure gets closer, my dread and fear are overwhelming me.
I don’t want to be a doctor or an engineer. I just want to cook. I’m already the best cook in my family. I do most of the cooking for my parents and younger brothers. I’ve cooked Thanksgiving for three dozen people. I’ve even catered a small wedding. It’s not even like work for me. It’s play, I love it so much.
I have made friends with a chef at this restaurant we go to all the time and he’s willing to hire me in his kitchen. He says I can start whenever I’m ready. How am I going to tell my parents? They’re going to have a heart attack if I don’t go to school. But I know if I go, my dream is going to die and I don’t want that to happen.
Can Stand the Heat
So don’t let it happen.
I’m tempted to tell you to tell your parents to piss off, but as a parent, I can’t do that. There is a rather small window of opportunity for the best scholarships. When you drop the big news, all your parents will see is how they’ll end up footing the entire bill for your college after you quit the restaurant three months down the road. Working in an actual restaurant is nothing like cooking for your family. The hours are long and late with no weekends off, and more often than not you end up toiling under some tyrant who treats you like a slave but expects you to perform like an artist. The washout rate is high.
However, the window of opportunity to pursue your dream is equally small. If you put it off, before you know it you’re saddled with debt and a couple of kids and you can’t afford to chuck it all in and start at the bottom bussing tables.
The obvious solution is culinary school, but I suspect your parents wouldn’t see that as an acceptable exchange for your college scholarship. So what I’m going to do is offer you a compromise. Suck it up and go to college. Be a business major, get a glimpse of what you’ll face from the ownership side of the restaurant business. Owning a restaurant isn’t all about cooking. You also have to run the place, deal with employees, pay the bills and make sure the lights stay on and the toilets keep flushing. Meanwhile, get your chef friend to write a letter of recommendation so you can get a kitchen job in a good restaurant in the town where you go to school. Work those long, late hours while keeping your grades up, forge your spirit in the ovens of a busy restaurant. If you can survive and thrive in that environment, doors will open for you. Hold yourself in readiness to take the plunge.
Most importantly, you will pursue your dream without burning the bridge to your parents. Think of it as part of your education, like a double-major. You get to cook and learn the business while they get to comfort themselves with the idea that you will get a respectable job one day. Before you know it, they’ll be sitting at one of your tables, looking at that restaurant entrepreneur magazine cover with your picture on it, wondering how it all happened. Got a problem? Jack Waggon will set you straight: firstname.lastname@example.org