You know I am a collector of stories. I rejoice when I hear or read real-life tales about special people and the paths they take to get where they want. This one made me learn, smile, and wonder. Thank you, Ernesto Mandowsky for sharing your story.
On Turning 30
by Ernesto Mandowsky
While I was in college, I stumbled upon Dr. Meg Jay’s The Defining Decade. The book is about how our twenties are one of the most critical years of our lives-the period of our lives when our brains go through their third wave of growth and development. As I was reading the book, I felt the author was trying to emphasize the importance of using these years to solidify core beliefs in the major areas of our lives that include relationships, career, personal growth, spirituality, etc… It was a major catalyst and input into my own philosophy of living.
Early in my teen years, I started answering most of my grandma’s statements with “I Know…” She would joke, calling me “Mr. I Know.” During these years, I recognized that most of the time that my international family came to visit Miami, we would cook meals and join together around the dinner table. I started falling in love with the power that food had in bringing people together. After meeting a restaurateur, I decided that I would pursue this career path.
Part of what makes your twenties the defining decade in your life is consciously choosing activities and projects that you are drawn to. Although I wanted to get into the restaurant world, I was really fascinated by numbers and processes-figuring out how stuff works-which led me to pursue studies in systems engineering. There wasn’t a clear path between my choice of study and my intended career path. I had to regress to my teenage “Mr. I Know” self, to convince myself there was a way to bridge the two.
Three years into my studies, I stumbled upon a way to connect the two worlds. I read The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company; a top organization known for their attention to detail in every guest experience. It turns out that they used a database that kept track of guest preferences, allergens and key details that could enrich every moment staff had with the guests.
I had just finished a programming class and wondered what if I could create a similar project to help restaurants do the same for their guests. Sharing my ideas with my network, a nightclub in New York gave me the opportunity to build a test product. I found new direction for my career-creating technology for the restaurant world. I knew there would be a way in.
The Defining Decade shares a lot about making the most of these ten years. The latter half of my college years were spent identifying opportunities where I could connect the dots between my skills, passions and interests. My first job out of college was at a big tech consulting company, where I would supposedly learn how to create the technology that would get me closer to my restaurant technology aspirations. I didn’t realize that I would learn more important, not-so-obvious skills like persistence, organizing the way we work, and networking. After two years of searching, I realized that this company was never going to give me the hands-on restaurant tech experience that I was looking for.
Through my (chaotic) adventure, I was able to manifest a job at a new restaurant group that needed help configuring their systems to keep track of inventory (a major cost within the food biz), analyzing data from the different ventures they were launching, and project managing the different initiatives our team launched. On the surface, I was excited that I was finally working in the space that I set out towards. Behind closed doors though, I was incredibly frustrated by the amount of chaos and changes that came with working with creative visionaries. The need to involve “Mr. I Know” with fulfilling work kept me focused on my tasks, despite the frustrations. Working with a diverse array of hospitality professionals-bakers, servers, chefs, bussers, runners, etc… all claimed that their technology skills were low. I decided that I would take initiative to change that. I wanted to create products to increase technology literacy in the restaurant world.
One of the projects we launched was a non-profit culinary school. A young point of sale (think of the little white iPads at coffee shops) company wanted to donate their equipment to us in exchange for the recognition and press that would result. This company was working with the top restaurants in New York City, and wanted to create an educational platform for the industry. This was a sign that inspired me to create a job for myself with the company that would help me get closer to my dream of teaching the industry about technology. Although I learned a tremendous amount working closely with the CEO, I did not work on getting closer to my goal.
Although I wasn’t able to get closer to that goal, I had a more profound realization. During my 20s, “Mr. I Know” was driving the car looking for significant experiences that would make these years a part of the defining decade in my life. I had been writing a book about my experiences, inspired by how bees make honey. While extracting nectar from the experiences of my life and transferring the lessons learned between each flower, cross-pollinating my life had enabled me to create my own unique path in my life. With this realization, I wanted to finish my book, buy a van and tour the country to speak with college students about the importance of cross-pollinating their experience to create a unique journey forward.
The universe had alternative plans for me and sent another “can’t-miss” job opportunity with an iconic family-owned steakhouse. My old boss from the restaurant group was being hired to revamp the organization with new technology and modernize the way the company operated. He told me that my set of experiences would be ideal to help refresh the almost century-old company. I was hesitant at first-mostly due to the fact that I would have to relocate to a city where I essentially had no network, twice. Yet, I couldn’t ignore the push from my inner network. It was “too good of an opportunity to pass up.” Was the universe sending me another sign?
They say the Saturn Return is an incredibly brutal time period in your life, when you feel like everything comes crashing down. The planet Saturn completes its orbit every 28 years. Astrologists say that between 27-30, humans experience their own cycle, which brings along challenges to prepare you for the next 28 years of life. (Note: the mid-life crisis is synonymous with the completion of a second Saturn return). Between trying to change a family-owned restaurant that had worked in the same ways for decades, starting a long-distance relationship, moving to a new city, and being far from friends and family, I began losing the connection to my purpose. I realized that although I had cross-pollinated my way into an incredibly unique career opportunity that enabled me to bring everything I had learned during my defining decade; I had sacrificed the other components of my life that completed me.
2019 was coming to a close and I started thinking how I would cross-pollinate my life to bring back some of those missing elements that I was craving. Having just completed the second relocation, I found a dance studio where I could resume my salsa classes, joined a gym where I could restart my fitness regiment, and hired an ayurvedic nutritionist who would teach how about holistic health practices. Although I was still lonely in the new city of Orlando, new energy was being brought into my life. Just when things started looking up, the end of my defining decade would experience a second thrill of emotions.
The owners of the company had lost a lawsuit and were forced to sell their business to pay out the award. My boss told me that he was moving on to pursue a new opportunity (which I fully supported). He told me that I along with the remaining executives, would be responsible for helping the different teams ensure a successful sale. The sale closed a day before COVID shut America down. Our company (and our jobs) were protected. I’ll never know how or why it happened, how it happened, but I was done being Mr. I Know.
In the months before I turned 30, I helped the new owners merge our systems into the larger machine. On my birthday, I felt kind of dumbfounded. Throughout my defining decade, I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. I was determined to figure out a way to merge my worlds together. Arguably, I did. I carved a unique path that enabled me to explore the intersection between my interests, skills, and experiences. The only thing I could have never predicted was the apocalypse of life as we once knew it. When the world hit a reset button and entered a new normal of living, I too decided that I would hit the reset button and start upon a new journey.
On my birthday, I launched presales for the book I had been writing all along. Titled, NewBee, my story described how I had carved my way into the world I was creating. After finishing my work with the restaurant group, I resigned and dedicated 100% of my time to evangelizing the importance of Cross-Pollination Design-teaching people how to connect the dots across the various components of their lives to figure out the next steps in their journey.
Although fearful of entrepreneurship in a completely new world, I surrender to the universe, trusting that I have all the insight I need to navigate the next defining decade of my life.
About Ernesto: Ernesto Mandowsky has spent his career connecting the dots between restaurants, systems engineering, and data analysis. In his first published book-NewBee-he shares how the power of Cross-Pollination can empower young adults to create unique opportunities that exist at the intersection of their skills, interests, and passions. He is the founder of CPD Advisors-an educational company that teaches individuals how to incorporate Cross-Pollination design principles to create balanced lifestyles. In his free time, he can be found either jumping rope outdoors or covered in flour in the kitchen. He currently lives in Miami, FL.
P.S.: Please share this post with a friend. Your friend, Ernesto and I will be grateful!
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