The perpetual student

It sounds cliché to say you are never too old to learn something new every day, but this is a philosophy I actually live by. I completed my formal education in 2005 when I finally graduated with my master’s degree in cultural anthropology. Yet, the student in me is alive and well and continues to seek out new information constantly.

In particular, I am very active about participating in ongoing education that is relevant to my field of work, cooking and innkeeping. One would assume that having been in business for more than eight years now, I kind of know what I’m doing, but in a constantly changing world, the game of doing business constantly changes. And in order to stay relevant, you have to keep up with what is new, adapt and put these new procedures into practice.

First off, and I believe this pertains to just about any profession out there, conferences and educational seminars are always being held. And more and more often, these are being held as webinars that you can take from the comfort of your own home right on your own computer, so you don’t even have to invest in travel expenses to participate. We religiously attend our annual Illinois Bed and Breakfast Association meetings every spring, and without fail, I return home with a ton of new information and a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the work we do. Barring catastrophe, I will never miss one of these meetings. It is not only a benefit of membership but a unique opportunity to pick the minds of others in the same business and glean valuable experience from them. And truth be told, innkeepers are a very fun bunch to hang around with.

Second, there are numerous resources out there via social media and the Internet to keep abreast of new trends in any industry you may be involved in. I follow many pages on both Twitter and Facebook that pertain to innkeeping and cooking. And it doesn’t hurt to keep up with what your competitors are doing. It enables you to see what is working or not working, so you can stay competitive. I would like to issue a word of caution with the Internet. Just because it is online, doesn’t mean it is true. Make sure your resources are legitimate, and make sure you cross reference stories. Anyone can post anything online, and that can make it quite difficult to discern fact from fiction.

Finally, don’t be afraid of becoming a returning student. Classes exist for returning students through many community colleges and vocational schools that are geared toward the specific needs of the returning student, for example “Using the Internet 101” or “Computer 101.” These types of courses are often held nights or weekends to fit around a busy work and/or family schedules, and they can be cost effective ways of acquiring new skills that can really make a difference in how you compete with those who are coming straight out of school. I myself recently completed a culinary certification through the International Association of Culinary Professionals. The program involved studying 25 different books related to food and cooking and then completing and passing an exam with 200 questions and three essays. Once I qualified to enter the program, which took me six years, I had one year to prepare for and pass the exam. I like to joke that it was like taking the bar exam for cooking because the topics were so wide and the specific questions random. It was intense, but I’m glad I did it, and I learned a lot. Did it make me a better chef or make me more credible to those dining with us? Probably not, but it did give me new information to use when teaching cooking classes which is invaluable, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment to have completed it.

Sometimes that personal satisfaction is worth every penny and every minute of investment that you put in. I would also argue that by always trying to learn something new you set a great example for your kids. I have had several occasions to spend time with young people talking about what I do, and many are surprised to find out that I didn’t come to my profession until a little later in my academic career. I convey to them that the very act of learning is valuable, and everything you learn is useful in some capacity, so never stop. You’d be amazed at the impact this has had with them. Who knows, you might just inspire someone to achieve something they thought impossible, and that would be truly remarkable.

Monika Sudakov is the chef and innkeeper at the Chestnut Street Inn in Sheffield. She can be reached at monikaandjeff@chestnut-inn.com.

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