The Hard Work, The Heart Works


By Emma Kobolakis

Nothing you put your heart into is guaranteed to love you back. That’s a truth in life that’s easy to accept, on the surface. It’s harder when you get that sinking feeling in your chest and step back only to realize that its strings are inextricably tied into the motions of your daily life. The same endeavors that used to keep you warm with satisfaction and accomplishment can leave you totally cold. And much like the cold, it creeps in, or it hits you all at once.

Such is the life, or at least my life, as a food freelancer.

I call these “fuck that shit” moments. Like staring out across a picture-perfect vista of manicured grass while sweating like a pig over a grill the size of a Cadillac, desperately trying to keep artfully sliced baby vegetables from carbonizing themselves. Unloading a van full of liquor at two in the morning after a punishing twelve to fourteen hours trying to make someone else’s wedding happen. Realizing that you have been farming out your time and talent while neglecting your own dreams. Fuck that shit.

Yes, I knew what I was getting into. And I’m willing to do the work. My issue lies not with the tasks themselves, but their unsatisfactory culmination. This city is a jungle, and it can make you feel like Tarzan, swinging from gig to gig in a giddy rush. But other times, you’re on the forest floor, hoping to scrape together enough grubs to survive. This rocketing between extremes elevates the highs and sharpens the lows, certainly, but it also distracts from the idea of it all leading to something. On endless nights, or worse, empty ones, the hope of “making it” grows dim.

Feeling your heart suddenly go out of your work is paralyzing. It’s also misleading. I used to think it meant my passion was gone, or had evaporated. Rather, it was a cue to dig deeper: had I gone off course? Overextended myself? More often than not, I’d gotten stuck in a rut and was only just realizing it. With a little recontextualizing, frustration becomes fuel. It turns out that not quitting is a great way—the only way—to stay in the game.

For those of you nearing the end of your rope, consider this. You can lean in, or you can pull back. You can lovingly trim the herbs, scrub the carrots, plate the entrées. You can wax poetic on the layers of a croissant. You can remind yourself that every day, you get to touch something you love. Or, remind yourself that the mere act of carving out your own destiny is a privilege. Cutting your own swath in an industry you chose is double happiness. Recall that your dreams are exactly that, yours, and your responsibility to fulfill. That the act of surviving teaches you to see opportunity in the most barren of places. That your life is up to you.

Photo: Chia Messina