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Overwork leads to errors, worry and fear of failure


For five summers, Kathy has been a respected and well-paid pastry chef at a hotel in Bar Harbor, Maine. This season her job suddenly seemed overwhelming, which she was sure was her fault.

"I don't know what's the matter with me. I can't seem to stay on top of a job I used to be able to practically do in my sleep. I'm only supposed to work 40 hours a week, but I'm already working 60 just to stay even -- and yesterday the head chef told me I was putting in too much overtime!

"I'll have to cut my hours back, so I'll be even more frantic. I've lost my grip, for some reason. Suddenly it's all I can do to turn out pastries and desserts that are adequate -- not at all up to my usual standards -- and the worst part is that I don't know why, or what to do about it."

Could there be another explanation for Kathy's difficulties that had nothing to do with her losing her grip?

"Maybe," she said, slowly. "I'd certainly love to think so. But I can't imagine what it could be."

Would she be willing to investigate the matter in a calm, objective manner before deciding once and for all that she was at fault?

When we met a week later, Kathy looked like a new woman. "Once I stopped assuming that I was the problem, I began to ask questions. I took a look at our reservation books for the past two years, too," she said excitedly.

"No wonder I've been frantic! We've had more large groups staying with us this summer than ever before -- an increase of 30 percent already, and the summer is only half over.

"We have a higher percentage of guests staying on the American Plan [meals included] this year, too, and a higher percentage of them are ordering desserts -- at least 80 percent, vs. the 60 percent to 70 percent we usually count on," she added.

"I had a conference with the head chef. He said we'd hire two more kitchen assistants within the next week or so. It will be such a relief to have more help, but the biggest relief will be knowing that I'm not losing my mind."

It's important to take responsibility for our mistakes and failures, but it's also important that we gather all the information available to us before we assume we're at fault -- in other words, that we give ourselves the same benefit of the doubt we'd give to anyone else.

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