The Math Behind Self-care

What if we all had 10 pellets of energy to spend each day? How many do you spend before you even get to work?

Maybe you wake up every morning rehashing things you should have said the previous day/decade. Day after day, you start with 9, the first one continually absorbed by mental stuff.

You read Facebook in bed before you get up, glance at Twitter while you brush your teeth, like a few things on Instagram over your first sip of coffee. You’re down to 8.

Maybe you spend another couple on patience, getting the kids out the door. Then another 1 on traffic. Down to 5.

By 9am you have literally spent HALF of your energy pellets for the day. It’s possible that you show up to work every morning as if you were half-hungover or as if you started your day a full 6 hours before the rest of the world.

Most people have an allergic reaction to the words “self-care.” I get it. Self-care evokes a basket filled with pastel bath beads, a personality who must sniff incense and leave work by 3pm to adjust his chakras. Self-care sounds wealthy, spoiled and precious.

Ignore the poor marketing, folks. “Self care” is math, quite simply a question of depleting and refilling. Have you ever spent time in a sandbox? You can’t build mountains without making holes.

So how do you maximize those 10 energy pellets? And is there a way to earn any back? I have some ideas.

1. Deny regret. And while you’re at it? Deny jealousy, imposter syndrome, trolls and could-have-beens. Not one of these serve you. Do not give them an ounce of an energy pellet. When they show up in your day, call them out and turn away. Nice try, regret. You’re cut off.

2. Shed, continuously. Every single thing you do today will take energy from you. Not into the book for book club this month? Stop reading it. Dragging your feet on a catch-up coffee with someone? Cancel it. There is a difference between loyalty and empty obligation — and often the difference is called guilt. There’s no room for guilt in your budget.

3. Outsource. I say this specifically to business owners: YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE THE ONE TAKING OUT THE TRASH. Value your damn time and recognize the absurd tasks you’re holding onto because you’re worried people will think you’ve got an ego. Welcome to adulthood. Those people’s assumptions are their problems, not yours.

4. Refuel with premium. Make time and space in your schedule for the best of the best. Whether it’s a daily call with your dad, evenings spent with nothing on the schedule or afternoon chakra work (hey, no judging!), you know the activities and people who bring you energy, whose presence in your life sends you back to your desk with renewed enthusiasm and a couple extra energy pellets. Follow these, always.

Can you imagine how efficient meetings would be if everyone had a handle on their shit and showed up with energy to spend? How quickly could decisions be made if the only topic on the table was the issue at-hand?

It’s all math, folks. Practicing self-care demonstrates your understanding and appreciation of systems. You know as well as I do: the best people at work are never the ones eternally scraping the bottom of the barrel.

If you’re a manager, self-care is even more important. You can’t offer support, guidance and direction to a group of people if you don’t have a handle on yourself. Join us next week for Plucky’s manager training in NYC! The very notion of attending a 2-day conference is a gift to yourself.

Plucky Perspectives: Chef Kelsie Kerr

Kelsie Kerr is a well-known chef. She founded Standard Fare in West Berkeley in 2014 and has been involved with a number of well-known restaurants and projects, including Chez Panisse, cookbooks and designing curriculum for cooking schools. I’m a sucker for the scones, muffins and coffee at Standard Fare, which is one of my favorite stopover points for lunch or coffee meetings.


Jen: Okay. Kelsie, tell me in your own words, what is your job?

Kelsie: My job …

Jen: It’s gonna be a long answer.

Kelsie: I run Standard Fare, that’s the short answer.

Jen: What’s the slightly longer answer?

Kelsie: That I’m the chef and the administrator and the shopper …

Jen: And the shopper?!

Kelsie: I do everything. I do all the marketing, I do all the social media, help wash the dishes. I manage everybody.

Jen: How long have you been in … What should we say, the food service industry?

Kelsie: Over 40 years. I started when I was 15.

Jen: Ha! I won’t give any real digits. What are you still curious about in your work?

Kelsie: I love ingredients, I love food, I love the way it all works. There are a few farmers that are growing really super cool things. Last week I had somebody dropping off roselle leaves and amaranth leaves and sweet potato leaves and long beans and little hibiscus buds. So then we’re fermenting the hibiscus buds. It gets fun because everything tastes different. These farmers, they come in with dirty hands, they’re not making loads money. It’s the pure fascination and satisfaction of taking care of the earth and growing these amazing things that are establishing biodiversity, but also creating wonderful flavor and supporting different ethnic traditions. To get to be in that circle is really exciting for me. That’s my favorite thing.

Jen: Are there any ingredients that you’ve ever encountered where you kind of just couldn’t figure out what to do with it?

Kelsie: I’m sure. There’s always something to figure out. The internet and Wikipedia, are really fantastic tools because you can learn so much about an ingredient.

Jen: Interesting.

Kelsie: I’ve been cooking for a long, long time so it’s fun to have this kind of community. I work really, really hard. I opened a very small business. It was not really not an intelligent entrepreneurial move but even though I work hard and it’s really challenging, the rewards are enormous.

Food is such a weird thing right now because there’s so much celebrity and stardom and all that kind of stuff, so sometimes I feel like, “Oh, I really should be engaging in that.” And I feel overlooked when I am not, but then at the same time this is really what I want to be doing.

Jen: I think this is fascinating … Have you heard this acronym FOMO? (Fear of missing out) So I see this comes up when small businesses have that additional pressure of social media and seeing how everyone else is faring. The internet is awesome because of Wikipedia and all the things you’re saying, but also can create such a sense of, “Why did I not get asked for that?”

Kelsie: I’m sure every business has that a little bit. There are all the superstars and then there’s chefs that you know… But the funny thing is, as a person on the inside of this sphere, I know all those restaurants and I know all the superstars, but other people around don’t have the slightest idea. It’s a tiny little world that is very easy to get caught up in.

Working for a big, highly validated company and then opening up your own teeny-tiny thing… they’re very different things, but it’s really rewarding to have it be yours. You do also own all the hardship, too.

Jen: Good, I wanted to get here. What are the challenges?

Kelsie: The challenges are huge! When I was a young cook, I paid $200 to live with 3 people in a 3 bedroom flat with a giant back yard. That was $600 a month, in San Francisco, in SOMA. So, multiply that by 10 now maybe? And I was probably making $10 an hour? And today a beginning cook makes $12 an hour. Okay, so how the heck do you deal with that? How do you pay your staff more? How much do people want to pay for a sandwich? In the end, this is a sandwich shop.

Jen: Yep.

Kelsie: So, that part just makes me want to cry because I can only pay people so much and it would be okay except for the fact that there’s are all these other twenty-somethings making $150,000 at their very first job and don’t have a clue of what it means to run these food places. So the disconnect there is just so crazy, crazy.

I could have opened something in San Francisco, but then I’d have that horrible commute. I have a kid, I’d like to see her occasionally. I’ve gotta be a mom and a business owner and food is hard. It is hard to understand until you are actually in it, but just imagine that you’re having 15 people are coming to your home every day and you need to create a dinner party for them, all by yourself.

Jen: That’s my worst nightmare. I am not a good cook at all.

Kelsie: And you have to clean it up at the end too and do it again tomorrow.

Jen: It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders. I wonder, what gets you out of bed on a Monday morning?

Kelsie: You know you’re going to have a really cool fermented roselle to put on the plate. You get to touch the bread when it’s rising, it’s a luxury. I pay for it, but it’s a luxury.

Not to mention, the community of folks that come to eat at Standard Fare. All the regulars have established a Standard Fare community that is quite lovely.

Jen: Is there any boring part of the job?

Kelsie: Yeah, I hate doing estimates. Oh my God, I hate doing estimates. Somebody calls you up and says they want a caterer… I don’t know if it’s really just being a woman or what, but I just absolutely hate putting a price-tag on myself.

Jen: Is entrepreneurship at all like parenting?

Kelsie: Oh extremely. Except, I don’t know who’s the child and who’s the parent. It’s humbled me in so many different ways and then it’s strengthened me in so many other ways. I was a huge perfectionist and I still am somewhat, but you learn… I don’t cry as much anymore. I just don’t.

I still don’t have the slightest idea about how it’s all going to get done, but somehow it always does. I have learned to trust that. And hopefully, along the way, people enjoy their food!

I did like my food! And I also liked hearing so many parallels between Kelsie’s words and the challenges in other jobs, including the founder who wears infinite hats and the love of the fundamental work remaining the motivator at the end of the day. Kelsie’s comments on the financial complexities running a food-related shop in a tech-laden area are also spot-on.

It’s been so fun publishing three Plucky Perspectives to celebrate Plucky’s 3rd birthday that I think I’ll continue to release another every so often. A huge thanks to Ellie, AAron and Kelsie for sharing their time and words for this mini-project!

Dear Plucky #4: When to Quit

I am starting to seriously doubt my future with the company I currently work for. How do you know it’s time to leave? If it’s not time to leave, how do you make staying seem like a better option?

Boy, this is a popular question.

I want to start by saying that work and life live in the same bucket. You do not magically turn into a different person at 6pm when you head home… whatever was going on at work affects you at home and vice versa. Sometimes we need a change in our lives, a drastic one even, and we conflate issues with our spouse or our roommates or the novel we always thought we’d write with our place of employment. We blame all of our problems on our jobs instead of attributing them to their true place of origin. And we probably do that because we’re avoiding conflict.

So the first question I would ask you is – what is going on at home? Are you feeling overwhelmed? Underappreciated? Uninspired? Unhappy? How can you address those truths without upheaving everything going on between 9 and 5?

But let’s say you look at those things and you see that no, while there are imperfections that exist, much of your discontent comes from your work, be it your role, your coworkers or your ethics. Then I’d ask you: what’s going on at work?

Try to answer it in the simplest and most neutral way possible:
“I don’t get along with my manager.”
“I’m burned out.”
“I don’t know what role I want.”

These answers at least point you toward possible solutions and I encourage you to try working through these before you jump ship entirely. Problems often follow us around in life… and if your issue is one of these, then you are punting the growing you need to do down the road. Whatever you’re living through right now will likely show up at your next job in one form or another!

Does it sound like I want you to stay in your job no matter what? That’s definitely not true. I just want you to make very sure that you’re not reacting to the friction of working with other humans, since that’s not your job – that’s life.

But there may come a moment when you look inside and just see that you have squeezed everything out of the experience that you could have. Or that the people who hold the keys to your path are so blinded (by money? by dysfunction? by tradition?) that you want to look elsewhere for mentorship and growth.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of employees I know who have quit in on-the-spot rages of passion. Most cases are slow boils, which is what makes it so confusing to know when to leave. There will be a swinging pattern of positive and negative days for months or years that leave you paralyzed. And then one day it will just be obvious that you are no longer in the right place. When that happens, I urge you to take immediate steps before your fear beats you back. Email a few networking possibilities, send your resume around, get rolling. Make the intentional decision to remove yourself from the possibility of staying. Because once you know you have to leave, the timer has started on you doing increasingly poor work at your current company. Your drive, passion, dedication and authentic work ethic are compromised. You need to get out as efficiently as possible, for the good of everyone involved.

No matter what, I want to reassure you that you’re going to be okay. Live your life as a science experiment and embrace change, as it will surely teach you something.

Be brave and good luck figuring out whatever change you need,