Essays & Confessions/Finding A Job/Work/Life Balance

The Nearly-Free Activity That Helped Me Feel Useful & Fulfilled During My Frustrating Job Search

By | Friday, May 10, 2019

Flour, sugar, salt, butter, baking soda. All reasonably affordable items that are almost guaranteed to be in anyone’s kitchen, and combined together they make the base for my favorite comfort food: cookies.

Discovering the comfort that baking could bring me wasn’t something I found out learning from my mom growing up, or during visits to my grandma’s house. I learned it in the years I bounced between jobs, during bouts of unemployment and a seemingly endless job hunt. During a lengthy period of unemployment, I hunted for a way — any way — to feel like I’d done something with my day, while not spending money. The job-hunting process can be demoralizing, and it felt like I was shooting my resume out into a void like a video game, and each one missed.

With family and friends who had their own jobs, most of the time, I was alone in the house with an inbox rapidly filling up with heavily templated rejections. I eventually ran out of shows to binge sadly, and endlessly scrolling through social media isn’t as fun when you inevitably run across the same posts you’d looked at the day before. I am not someone who enjoys doing nothing. I want to be working towards something. So I ended up turning to a room of the house that I had never wanted to spend more time in than it took to make a cup of coffee: the kitchen.

The necessity of food made it an easy place to be. I couldn’t feel guilty about taking the time to whip up a batch of my butterscotch peanut butter cookies because it was fuel that everyone in the house could enjoy, and we needed to eat anyway. Most importantly, baking was cheap — the exact kind of time-consuming entertainment I was looking for when I couldn’t afford a hobby that required buying…anything.

When I got a rejection email from yet another dream job, I whipped up gooey chocolate cupcakes. After a job interview that only lasted 20 minutes and went terribly, there were flaky, buttery biscuits that I made from scratch. The day I cried and started talking about maybe going to grad school since I clearly would never get a job, an apple crumble with way too much cinnamon went in the oven. For me, those baked goods became something to point to and say that, everything else aside, I made that. I did that. It felt essential.

Even after I got a job, cookies have continued to be my favorite thing to bake. They became something to share. Perfect for batch-baking and easily portable, cookies now routinely make the trip to work with me. No one ever asked for them; I started bringing them on my own.

It started with me bringing in cookies as part of my own lunch, a few in a ziplock bag that I’d munch on. Then I started to offer an extra one to whichever coworker happened to be in the breakroom during my lunch. Eventually, word got around that I was a great home-baker, and I began bringing in bigger bags of cookies on Monday mornings and supplying the snacks for big team meetings. When I got promoted, I’d make it a point to walk around to everybody’s desk to make sure they got one so that I was sure I’d have some facetime with everyone in the team.

Baking has become foundational not just in my own self-care, but also in feeling comfortable at work. Being promoted can be challenging to navigate, especially when you end up supervising some of the coworkers you started at the company with, plus people who were more senior than you were. Supervising friends, even if they are just work friends, can be difficult. I struggled to find ways to stay connected to them while stepping into a new role with more responsibilities, some of which included overseeing their work.

Small acts of kindness from someone above you are always a welcome surprise to see at work. Even from jobs I had years ago, I still remember the day when a manager bought us all lunch or brought in English toffee for everyone because one of the newbies mentioned they had never tried it. Making sure I never forgot about those moments, and helping create them for my team, felt fundamental to me when I started moving up the ladder.

I don’t think the fact that I’d bring cookies into work made me a good boss. I had to work hard to gain the new skills, and trust, that that requires. However, through a difficult time I had in my own life, baking for others has become an important part of how I take care of myself. It’s a way I’ve learned to connect with myself and others, no matter what’s going well or not-so-well in my life. At the end of the day, it’s simple: respect the cookies.

Shelby Rosten works as a travel professional in Las Vegas, Nevada and is an avid theme park goer and home cook. You can find her online on Instagram or Twitter

Image via Unsplash

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