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I’m a successful entrepreneur. Here’s how I learned to fall in love with my work (again)

After thirty years in business, Kevin Boehm needed to rethink work to make it joyful.

I’m a successful entrepreneur. Here’s how I learned to fall in love with my work (again)
[Photo: XiXinXing/Getty Images]

I’ve lived most of my life to a soundtrack, part of which is the curated playlists that echo throughout my restaurants, but the music also is accompanied by a symphony of sounds that include joyous conversation, the clanging of pans, the shaking of cocktails, and the demonstrative voice of a Chef at the pass. Occasionally, a server or guest drops a piece of silverware, mid-song,  which is the symphonic equivalent of the chair one cellist hitting a sour note. Thirty years after my first restaurant, it remains my least favorite sound.

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I can imagine similar sounds from offices throughout history: the wood-pecking rhythm of typewriters at The Washington Post in the 1970’s or that Trading Places-like frantic roar of a 1980’s trading pit on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.  I have no doubt that others found—and find—the same comfort I do in their industry-specific sounds. The rush of a dining room has always been my opiate and for years was the reason I woke up in the morning.

But there was a period of time when the alchemy of a busy restaurant stopped sounding like music and started sounding like noise.

For 20 years I had been writing a To-Do list every Monday. One column lists the things I have to accomplish that week and a second lists long terms goals. As my company got bigger and those lists got longer, the balance of things that I got to do, and the things that I get to do, shifted so much that I barely recognized the job that I originally signed up for. (The “get to” versus “got to” concept is one I first heard about from sports commentator Ernie Johnson Jr. in this inspirational speech.)

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One gloomy Monday morning in February of 2021, instead of writing my weekly list, I wrote a list of things that I loved in this world as an inspirational pick me up. It was a random list of the serious and the frivolous , high brow, low brow, and everything in between: Haribo gummi bears, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, a perfectly made spicy tako hand-roll, the sound of my kids’ laughter, driving on the highway at night,  and the smell of buttered popcorn. The list had no particular order, but eventually drifted in to entries that had framed my work life for my almost three decades: walking a dining room to Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, spitballing ideas with my teams, the adrenaline rush of a full dining room, table side chats with guests, and the 30 minutes restaurant teams level-set before service.

I still loved my job, I just didn’t love how I was working it. The recipe of my job, the get to do’s and the got to do’s had fallen out of balance.

I love the quote from author James Clear that says, “we do not rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.” Although I believe there is so much truth in this, I think there is another aspect that gives often gives our work performance a ceiling. Within our self-imposed systems, our execution is also capped at our love level.

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If we want to be truly great at our chosen profession, “love management” is key to realizing our potential and sustainability.  Whether you love your job, have fallen out of love with it, or have never loved it all, the work to sustain it, find our way back, or find the job that we do love, is key to both success and happiness.

So, is there a science to loving your job? Well, not a perfect one, but we are in control of some of it.

The first thing I needed to do was to buy back time, to find room for the things I loved about my job. I put my email on a diet, telling my team to only copy me on emails that I needed it be copied on. I stopped going to meetings that I attended only out of duty, and only kept the ones that I had real impact on.

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I then built a schedule that made sense logistically, and kept openings for a breath, 30 minutes of meditation, or a  yoga class. I made sure that I bookended difficult conversations with a positive ones on the other side. I made sure that I found myself walking one of my dining room floors when I needed some oxygen.

In the end, I worked less, I accomplished more, my renewed positivity was contagious, and I ultimately learned how to fall in love with my job again.

As I walked the dining room of my newest restaurant in New York one Saturday in May, I heard a familiar song and started to sing the lyrics. I poured water at table 201, high-fived the chef as I went by the kitchen, and then the chorus of the song hit. I looked out at the Manhattan skyline and closed my eyes. I could hear all the individual glorious sounds.  Bill Withers chanted “Lovely Day,” as chef asked for hands to run food, while a server described individual salatim that accompanied the pita at the table next to me.

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It wasn’t noise, it was a symphony.

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