Reinventing yourself in uncertain times

We haven’t had it this bad since the 2008 housing crash – who knew a pesky little thing called Corona would bring our hubbub world to a standstill?

Some have been making hay while the sun shines, while others are curled up in bed in the fetal position at 3am, sweating bullets, thinking they may have to go back to being a waiter at 55.

Which actually, compared to the options in third world countries, is actually not that bad. But, alas, we live in the first world, and don’t have that much free land to grow our own food, so we need cash to survive.

The last time I gave a speech on this topic was when I graduated from culinary school in 2009, and I was the featured speaker, talking to a crowd of about 2,000 new graduates in a slim job market. So what did I offer them?

Make your own job. Make your own opportunities. Be resourceful. My other entrepreneur friends have responded to this crisis by starting A NEW BUSINESS: an app connecting local 3-D printers with hospitals supplier of Personal Protective Equipment

Think this can’t be you? Think again.

Myth no. 1: It takes money to make money.

I started my own cooking classes with zero money. This is how I did it – I asked a local museum in town called the Pacific Asia Museum if they would be willing to let me use their facilities for free in exchange for free promotion of their museum.

I borrowed a cutting board from each of my friends. I borrowed knives from my dear culinary instructor – he was awesome – he said I was going to do great! and then I advertised in the local newspaper. Weirdly, I had pitched a story to the Pasadena Weekly to write about the class, and how to make food tasty and cheaply like the Chinese, but instead the editor decided to interview me instead and put me on the front cover! Wow!

My face was plastered all over Pasadena, California (the location of the show “Big Bang Theory”).

I started to get people registered, and I had them prepay in advance. Then I bought food with those funds, and then I had a class! It took me at least a month to promote, and then I had about 10 people – sometimes I even had events at a church kitchen (church and school kitchens are very cheap to rent $30-$60!) and then another time used the kitchen of my friends gelato shop – and then everyone had free ice cream! We made dim sum. And then everyone sat down to eat. Those were fun times. My family and friends and partner at my time were my (free) workers.

Wow. I hope I even rewarded them with pizza after. It was quite exhausting and a lot of work, but I had a few hundred dollars after each event. They believed in me, and I am forever grateful for that. I went on to duplicate the same event while in Santa Barbara, partnering with the fabulous Dining with Di, who did catering and events in her beautiful home. We did demonstrations, and then served afterwards. Those were great times. I think I basically just googled food, catering, cooking classes, and just went down the list, cold-calling people.

Myth no. 2: it’s difficult to start a business

Yes it is. And? Isn’t job-hunting for the same job as everyone else while not getting any luck over YEARS also difficult? But sometimes a business does not even require a website, or any materials or start-up capital. The basics of business are – buy low, sell high. So say you buy 6 bottles of water for $3. Then you resell each one at $2 on the beach. That becomes $12. And you made $9. OR, do what Robert Kiyosaki explained in His Rich Dad, Poor Dad books – he had comic books and other books with the covers torn off, so they couldn’t be sold, so instead he RENTED time to kids to come and read them for say, $0.10 an hour. Pretty nifty eh? Trash = Treasure.

Offer to babysit for your neighbors. Mow the lawn. Buy groceries. Other than Instacart, I think a great side gig right now is deliver alcohol. Have them PayPal or give you cash up front, whatever, go get it, and then deliver! Same for desserts (you can re-sell), or offer some CBD or pot goodies (in states that are legal of course).

Myth no. 3: You can only do what you’ve always done.

You have to re-invent yourself. Change it up. Personally, I have re-branded myself as a marketing and branding consultant. And in the meantime, while you are working on your dreams, you may need to do a lot of other out-of-the box odd jobs to keep going. Some side jobs I did while on the hustle:

pizza place cashier, spa receptionist, flower delivery, Chinese tutor, English tutor, department store sales, bagging groceries

These jobs don’t define you. It is only what you need to keep going, put gas in your car. In this defining moment in human history, think – what do you do best? How you can best help people with those talents? I am a professional journalist, a professional chef, and an entrepreneur. And I know my greatest strengths are marketing, branding, and connecting with others – and that is what I am doing now.

I ‘re-branded’ a broad-shouldered man man with 20 years of hospitality industry into a chef to get his foot into the door in the exclusive and sexist yachting industry (he wanted to be a steward/stewardess, but those were usually reserved for petite blonde girls). He never had professional chef experience, but he knew how to prepare a meal and get it out on the table on time – timing and organization. He went on to become an even more successful and highly paid chef than I did.

Another woman was a yacht stewardess but really wanted to be a chef – but had no experience. There was an opening on her boat. I told her to ask them if she could try out for it. She did, they hired her, and well, the rest is history. People believe what you say you are. You just need the courage to dare. Subway Sandwich Artist anyone? 🙂

If you need help coming up with a new, nifty name for yourself, let me know. Or a new strategy to turn your lemons into lemonade. A lot of times, you can just do the exact same thing but give it a new name – something that people need at this moment. This crisis is actually rife with opportunities – the cheese has moved – move with the cheese!

I will leave you with some amazing takeaways from John Maxwell, respected leader and coach to the world’s CEOs. His advice to leaders in times of uncertainty:

Do the right thing

Stay focused

Help others

Tell your people they are valued

Make lemonade!

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