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From Chef to Behavior Tech

by Leslie Ramirez 3 months ago in humanity

The Career Change I Made For My Mental Health

From Chef to Behavior Tech
Photo by Michael Browning on Unsplash

I am one of those people that had to go through a BIG career change to find themselves finally happy in their life. I say life, and not work, because we all know what a huge toll our jobs take on our personal life and there are a lot of us that can't seem to find a healthy balance between the two. Before revealing the nature of my current job and my feelings about it, it is important to mention the career I come from.

From the age of 19, I was a pastry chef. I began working, with no prior experience, at a fancy bakery that was part of a Michelin awarded restaurant group. This job showed me the intricate world of fine dining. and pretty soon, I had dreams of opening my own line of bakeries. I had worked my way to a sous chef position, when I decided to make the big move to New York City, and try my hand at restaurant service. There is a lot I learned about working in the kitchen; time management, how to take responsibility, accountability and initiative, communication, and the importance of maintaining high standards. Not to mention, that I have met my very best friends through these jobs. It takes a special kind of person to work in the food service industry, and the very best people do.

By lasse bergqvist on Unsplash

No matter how beautiful, and delicious the food is, and no matter how fun my co-workers were, there was still a very ugly side to fine dining that was hard to ignore. Like many others, it took the COVID pandemic for me to realize just how much my job did not care about me. The main thing about kitchen culture there is to know, is just how dedicated cooks are. They will take any and every shift, no matter how long, and won't take any breaks if it means getting more done! They'll work holidays, weekends, and every day in between. Kitchens are fast-paced, stressful environments where everyone is constantly under pressure to perform with no mistakes, because mistakes cost money, after all. The only people meaner than the guests harassing our wait staff and bartenders, are the patronizing head chefs who love to mock you in front of your team. Kitchen staff are willing to go through all this, for minimum wage, because of how passionate they are for their craft. I was tired of giving away my passion to a restaurant owner who only cared about his profits, while his employees struggled. A restaurant owner who charged his employees for a meal that he did not spend money to make, but would take home for his family. A restaurant owner who cared more about about his brand, than to speak up and defend his immigrant and LGBTQ staff, or for marginalized people in general. A restaurant owner who, after two years, never bothered to know my name. It was difficult to worry about affording rent, when your managers walk around in designer clothes. It is a normal thing, for the love of your craft to surpass any cons that might come with it. My love of dessert did not surpass my need for mental health.

By Annie Spratt on Unsplash

That realization was the catalyst of my decision to move back to California, and seek a new career. I was in a dingy motel during my cross country drive, scrolling through job postings on Craigslist, when I came across an ad looking for entry level technicians for company who provided autism therapy. I had no idea what any of that meant. With some research, I learned a little bit about behavior analysis and how it was applied to people with autism, to help teach skills and curb maladaptive behaviors. Two interviews later, I was hired. My little babysitting experience and small day care job I worked at after high school was enough to get me through the door. After a three week training program, I was officially a Behavior Technician for children on the autism spectrum. Everything was happening so quickly, that I had not taken the time to know what that really meant or how I felt about it. I knew that I loved kids, and enjoyed engaging with them, so I knew I would like my job, and so far, I did.

By Kristin Brown on Unsplash

It wasn't until the day that one of my toddlers mastered out a skill that took her a few weeks to learn, that I realized just how much I was LOVING my work. What was the skill? To point. Because her speech was delayed, whenever she wanted something, she would just reach and grab, yell if it was out of reach, or cry if her mother could not figure out what she was asking for, and did not understand the concept of choice making. This was difficult, seeing as her mom was not a mind reader, and had a hard time understanding what her child was crying for. A heartbreaking, and frustrating situation, whether you're the parent. the child. or the person looking in. However, after a few weeks, she learned how to point at desired items. There was no longer any screaming or crying! She knew she had a way to communicate, and it made all the difference. Pretty soon, she was pointing at everything! Specific toys, preferred snacks in the pantry, even desired shows on the Netflix screen on the TV.

Her parents told me how that simple communication skill had changed a lot for them. Not just in fixing those behavior issues, but they felt they were getting to know their daughter better. She wasn't just asking for things, she was showing them things. Her parents started to figure out her favorite movies and TV shows, her favorite colors and snacks. They were so amazed at all the things she was able to identify, like birds in the trees, or school buses on the road, or family members in pictures. It was as if there was a giant river of misunderstanding between them and their daughter, and these communication skills she was learning was the bridge allowing them to come together in the middle. No dessert could beat that.

By Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

The moment I heard this feedback from her parents, I felt such a giant sense of fulfillment, that I cried the second I got into my car. To know that not only have I made a difference in this family's home, but that I made a difference in that child's life by teaching her a skill she would use for the rest of her life, overwhelmed me with emotions. Out of all the things I've done in my life, that must have been the most important thing I had ever accomplished. With every day that passes, and with every skill that is mastered, I am more and more convinced that this is the right path for me. A job that is not just a job, but a help to the community and to a brighter future for individuals. No matter what struggles I face in my personal life, I can go into my work with confidence, pride, and most of all, joy. Now I have three toddlers, three homes, three families....three bridges to build.


Leslie Ramirez

A place to get those writing urges out.

Twitter: @brownpoetmel

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