Search & Replace S02E16: Chad Kelley

Many of us don’t always want to admit it, but how much do we allow our jobs to shape our identities? Chad Kelley linked his identity to his career as a chef in the hospitality industry. After more than twenty years in the demanding and stressful industry, a health crisis presented itself, and Chad needed to decide at the crossroads. Listen to how he was able to step away from a long career as a chef and step into the role of stay-at-home parent on Search and Replace. 

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[00:00:00] Announcer: Support for the following podcast is provided by the user experience specialist at Johns and Taylor. More information follows this episode. 

[00:00:10] Joe Taylor, Jr.: What if the job you are doing to help take care of other people is slowly harming yourself? I’m Joe Taylor Jr. This is Search and Replace.

Chef Chad Kelly spent his entire adult life working in restaurants. From the age of 17, he worked his way up the ladder of his industry into the role of Executive Chef and even served as the director of food and beverage for a hospitality group. It’s a business that attracts talented people that often crave success and perfection. Something that Chad realized might also be one of the hospitality industry’s biggest problems. 

[00:00:51] Chad Kelley: It’s no surprise that the chefs and the industry itself is known for its a addiction issues, just because of the stress. In that of itself, that stress is addicting and it’s one of those you just, kind of like, why do I keep coming back to this?

But it’s, in so many ways, such a hostile work. You have to be a little mentally off already to wanna jump in. But it’s just, it was something I absolutely loved. And even though the stress was there, I always had ways to cope with it that wasn’t drugs or alcohol. And it was some family elements. I mean, not only is it your craft, but it becomes your identity.

But after a period of time in, after over 25 years or so, it just, I lost the ability to cope with it, the creative element and that drive. And the restaurant industry, you have to be constantly reinventing yourself to stay relevant otherwise people just stop coming in. 

Mentally, I was just done. I couldn’t think of anything new. I didn’t wanna think of anything new. I was just, kind of, going through the motions. I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t wanna be there. 

[00:01:56] Joe Taylor, Jr.: Chad’s epiphany coincided with the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, a period when the entire food and beverage industry faced unprecedented challenges. Chad’s body started showing symptoms from a life spent on the kitchen line.

[00:02:11] Chad Kelley: I didn’t know what was going on. My doctors didn’t know what was going on. Everybody was like, oh, it’s just Covid. And it’s like, it’s not. And I mean, I had five Covid tests in one week and all of them came back negative. Nobody could explain what was going on. But the only thing they knew was my blood pressure was taking. My oxygen levels were tanking. I was just having cold sweats all the time. 

And so there was all these things that were going on with my body that nobody could explain. I had so many specialists by the time this was all done and nobody could find anything wrong with me. Nobody could explain what was going on and why my body was shutting down. 

And so walking away was pretty easy, even though I didn’t have a real set plan other than just, we’re gonna figure this out. I mean, luckily my wife has got a great job, stable income, and so that itself, really helped us make that decision for me to walk away because knowing that financially we were still gonna be okay. 

[00:03:07] Joe Taylor, Jr.: With financial security off his mind. Chad settled into his new lifestyle. 

[00:03:11] Chad Kelley: Being a stay-at-home dad, in the beginning it was fun. And then there was a little bit of an identity, like, who am I? Like the, kind of, depression hit. It wasn’t that I had any issues with being a stay-at-home dad. There was no machismo or kind of like chest beating, like, I’m better than this. Absolutely not. I support my life. I love her. I mean, she sacrificed so much of her career in the beginning to support me, and so now this is my chance to support her and help her, and she’s doing fantastic.

It’s been a little over a year now since I’ve done this. And in some ways I’m still kind of mentally working through it. I think it’s just in my nature to be more of a nurturing person and I’m always worried about everybody else, and that was true in the restaurant. I was so devoted to the restaurants that I essentially took that same level of devotion and then put it into my kids, and at some point it was almost slightly smothering.

But I’ve had to learn to, kind of, bring that intensity back because part of that intensity was also causing some of the stress. It’s not that my family or my kids didn’t appreciate it, but for myself mentally, I needed to be able to take a little bit more of a step back for myself and start focusing now on me.

[00:04:32] Joe Taylor, Jr.: Like many professionals that shift away from a high energy lifestyle, Chad was looking for a creative outlet. Fortunately, the Pandemic opened up a new opportunity for Chad to share his passion in a new way. He launched Chef Made Home; a website showcasing tips, tricks, and techniques for home cooks based on the skills he developed over more than two decades as a professional.

[00:04:54] Chad Kelley: So Chef Made Home was created and it was really pushed by my wife to keep me from just going stir crazy and annoying anybody else anymore, because everybody needs an outlet of some. And having such a craft that I’ve been working on for so long, I still needed a place to funnel that. Right? Because that’s, it’s me. That’s still so much of who I am. So part of my new identity though, is I just now have a new place to funnel that energy. 

[00:05:20] Joe Taylor, Jr.: From his Chef Made Home platform, Chad’s teaching courses for home cooks, recording a podcast for restaurant professionals, and even taking on the occasional consulting project. And his transition revealed something that many of us don’t always want to admit, about how our jobs shape our identities.

[00:05:38] Chad Kelley: It’s not easy, right? I mean, the hard part is realizing that your identity was completely absorbed by nothing more than your craft in your job and in what you did. And so walking away, regardless of what the reason, it can be easy in the beginning. But after about two months, get ready. Right? Because you’re gonna have that, what the hell did I just do moment?

And then there’s just that depression. And so in some ways, as soon as you decide to make that transition, we all have our reasons for it, but really start looking into yourself, whether it’s just reading some more books about some self-improvement. Learning more about yourself. The more you understand about yourself and how you function and how your thought processes work, the better you’re gonna be able to, kind of, cope and deal with transitioning and finding what I would call your new identity.

Talk to people around you. Talk to your support system, you know your best friends. Because we can emotionally get so involved in making some of these decisions. From that outside perspective, you know, what am I not thinking about? It is very eye-opening in a lot of ways, so we all need that extra support.

[00:06:50] Joe Taylor, Jr.: That’s Chef Chad Kelly. We’ve got links to Chad’s courses and other projects in our show notes and on our website at 

Today’s episode was produced by Nicole Hubbard with help from the entire Podcast Taxi team. I’m Joe taylor, Jr. 

[00:07:05] Announcer: This has been a Podcast Taxi radio product. Support for Search and Replace is provided by Johns Taylor, user experience specialists serving media and technology companies that want their websites to work. 

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Joe Taylor Jr. has produced stories about media, technology, entertainment, and personal finance for over 25 years. His work has been featured on NPR, CNBC, Financial Times Television, and ABC News. After launching one of public radio's first successful digital platforms, Joe helped dozens of client companies launch or migrate their online content libraries. Today, Joe serves as a user experience consultant for a variety of Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 businesses. Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

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