When it comes to Thanksgiving, I like to tackle my dinner preparation with the same planning and organization that I use in my everyday work life. Surviving this holiday is possible if it’s divided into manageable segments, just like any major work project!
On many occasions, guests have remarked on my relaxed demeanor and seemingly effortless style in the handling of the holiday and all the food. I smile, shrug and think … Oh, if you were only here for my first Thanksgiving as a hostess!
That happened during my third year of marriage. While I loved this holiday that my husband’s parents so wonderfully put together each year, I had serious doubts about my own ability of combining Italian and American Thanksgiving traditions in one meal.
Although my first Thanksgiving was a success, the process could have been improved.
I realized that putting together a holiday meal could be a lot easier if I used some of my on-the-job skills, including proper documentation, early preparation, planning and team work.
Over the years, I have developed and tweaked master plans for various holiday dinners.
After I consented to hosting my husband’s family for dinner (I was young and naïve), I started asking for recipes from family members that I could copy for myself. Unfortunately, THERE WERE NO RECIPES! It appeared the instructions on how to make these amazing dishes existed in someone else’s head. Like a tribal herd of nomads, the family passed down the lasagna recipe verbally for generations.
I never anticipated how challenging it would be to sit at a kitchen table and have someone explain a recipe. My mother-in-law would say one thing, then my father-in-law would jump in to contradict her. They were visual people – they knew a meal was good-to-go by the way it looked.
Back then, I made a note to self – the tradition of verbal recipes ends here. I now hold the distinct honor of being the first IBM (Italian by Marriage) in the family to put the gravy recipe to print. While it is three-pages long, it gives you every detail and EXACT measurements. Even my dear sister, who has trouble boiling water on high for pasta, can make her husband happy with this gravy recipe. I am happy to share it with anyone – in or out of the family.
I decided the Friday after my first Thanksgiving as hostess, I was going to create a master plan – one that could be handed down in writing for generations to come.
Early Preparation and Planning
No major work project is accomplished overnight. So why do we think a huge undertaking like Thanksgiving dinner can be thrown together at the last minute? It takes a certain amount of preparation to earn the title “hostess with the mostest.” After my first year as hostess, I realized that I could have started planning for the dinner on November 1st — so now, that’s exactly what I do. Here’s a rundown of my week-by-week planning leading up to the big day:
First week in November:
- I empty out my china closet and wash all of my crystal – including the chandelier over the dining room table. Never again would I be cleaning that chandelier at 11:00 pm the night before Thanksgiving!
- That weekend, I make a colossal pan of gravy – most of which is frozen and pulled out of the freezer the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving to make the lasagna.
- I make a collections of lists: items to be served, items to be bought ahead of time and items to be purchased the Monday night before Thanksgiving, Yes, I said “night.” Like most people, I hate to waste time. By accident, I discovered that if you go to the grocery store at 7:00 pm the Monday of Thanksgiving week, the crowd is lighter, employees are more focused and the truck has been unloaded.
Second weekend in November:
- I have two major goals: iron all the linens for Thanksgiving dinner and carefully store them, so that no one “accidentally” grabs a linen napkin as a towel – yes it has happened!
- My usual weekend trip to the grocery store now includes the purchase of what I call the “dry” items: spices, canned/jarred goods, lasagna noodles and nuts. Dismiss the thought that you may catch them cheaper if you wait another week for a sale. Create a special section in your pantry for Thanksgiving items and avoid the scavenger hunt scenario on Thanksgiving morning.
Weekend before Thanksgiving:
- My two goals for this weekend are: Clean out both refrigerators to create anticipated storage space and take a trip to the Italian bakery for cookies. With all kinds of room in the spare fridge, cookies can be stored there. They stay delicious and fresh as if I had bought them the day before and I avoid the hysteria of the bakery, not to mention the parking lot. The challenge is not breaking into that box before the special day!
During Thanksgiving week, I start organizing dinner. With some moderate planning and a little work after dinner on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it pays huge dividends on Thanksgiving Day.
No man (or woman) is an island. This statement applies to the workplace, but it also rings true when it comes to serving Thanksgiving dinner.
My own reference for Thanksgiving dinner came from years of going to my Aunt Peggy’s for the typical Irish-style celebration: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, peas and carrots, cranberry sauce, squash, ambrosia salad, bread stuffing, and pumpkin and minced pies. Every family brought a dish that they excelled at making. You always knew what your dish was going to be: once you did ambrosia salad well, that was your contribution for life.
In contrast, my husband’s family viewed Thanksgiving dinner as a culinary marathon that you ran solo. Of course, there was always a designated pastry and wine person, but that was it – you owned the rest of the whole, big, long meal from shopping to serving.
I eventually realized that, with a bit of teamwork, the holiday can run much more efficiently. Next time I cooked Thanksgiving dinner, I encouraged my other family members to bring something significant – like the lasagna or the antipasto OR BOTH!
If I were given the choice of going back in time to what amounted to certifiably unorganized chaos or dealing with this holiday in manageable segments, I will opt for the segments every time. Make no mistake — this type of organization is the gift that keeps giving both at home and the office.
If “boss” isn’t in your desired career path, don’t fret — a boss’ life is not always an easy one. Here are some downsides to being “the boss”:
You may need to be the bad guy
Making unpopular decisions, giving critical feedback, telling people no, and even firing people is all part of the job when you’re the boss. This “boss” role requires a certain personality type, one that allows you to make and enforce tough decisions and deal with negative repercussions.
You may get the blame
When something — anything — goes wrong, whether it’s your fault or not, you will get the blame as a boss. Launching a bum product, making a poor decision, hiring the wrong person, etc. Even if a majority of the work or ideas came from employees, at the end of the day, only the boss is accountable for actions made on behalf of the company.
You’re always in the spotlight
Whether you like it or not, as a boss, you are a quasi-celebrity in the workplace. You may be a subject of gossip or ridicule, especially during times when you need to play the “bad guy,” as mentioned above. Even when feelings are positive in the workplace, the limelight is not for everyone — it can be distracting and quite frankly, it can get old.
This is not to say that being an executive doesn’t have it’s perks or that it’s a horrible place to be in your career, but simply pointing out that the role of “boss” is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Find out what is your cup of tea when it comes to your career, and go for it! Your career path is unique to you, and only you can pursue it — whether or not it ends in an executive corner office.
What do you want to be instead of the boss? What’s your ultimate career goal?
Throughout our lives, we all receive quite a bit of advice, particularly when it comes to our careers. “Have a firm handshake,” “do what you love,” and “attend college” are among things people say to others when it comes to their careers.
For me, the best advice I’ve ever received was “intern early and often.” In the past, internships were thought to be only for high school or college students looking to learn about a particular industry or field. Today, however, internships are a vital source of entry-level experience, a way to change careers, and a necessary foot-in-the-door at most organizations.
I was an intern five times (with five very different experiences) during college. I know first-hand how rewarding a good internship is.
Internships provide you with immediate benefits. An internship program done right can provide you with accomplishment stories you can tell to land your next position, work samples you can proudly share, a mentor for life, networking contacts, practical and “real life” applications of your skills, etc. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t say those things about my undergraduate degree. (Although many would argue that landing a great intern position is difficult to do without the education – which is true in many cases.)
Internships help you learn how to apply your knowledge and skills in real world situations. They also help build one’s professional network before (and after) graduation, and can introduce you to individuals who will help in your job search in the future.
Unfortunately, bad internship programs tend to get the most press. But there are great programs out there, too — you just need to know what to look for. In order to determine if an internship program is a good one, look at the following characteristics: mentorship, education, meaningful work, culture, recommendations, and networking opportunities. It shouldn’t matter if you intern at a “big name” company–startups and small businesses provide great experiences, too!
If you had to decide, what was the best career advice you’ve ever received? How did this advice impact your career?
Remember taking those career assessment tests in high school? Although they can tell you where your strengths lie, they don’t necessarily tell you what you’re passionate about. Passion is something that comes from inside you—and, if your interests or skills don’t clearly align with a career path, it can be difficult to put your finger on what you want to do.
To find your career passion, think about the following:
- What do you love to do?
- What are your interests?
- What skills do you possess?
- What do you want to be remembered for?
- What impact do you want to have on people?
- What motivates you?
- If salary wasn’t an issue, what career path would you choose?
- What courses did you excel in during high school or college?
- What do others say you’d be great at?
Obviously, not every one of those questions will lead you to your ideal career path, but they will certainly get you thinking about what you’re good at and what you enjoy most.
Once you’ve brainstormed from those questions, start thinking outside of the box when it comes to ideal career paths you might take. For example, when I was working as a public relations professional, I had to hire for several positions within our firm. I discovered that I truly enjoyed the hiring process and wanted to improve upon it—so I set out to use my knowledge as a hiring manager by starting my own company, Come Recommended. Now, I’ve combined both of those career paths into one, working as a career expert and running a PR and content marketing company for HR/career organizations.
Get a better handle on your ideal industry by actually experiencing it. You can do this one of the following ways:
- Job shadow – tagging along with a professional in the field you desire to work in to see what their day-to-day assignments are like.
- Informational interview – asking for 10-15 minutes of a professional’s time to inquire about the field, ask questions about the organization and receive advice about breaking into the industry.
- Volunteering – offering to help a local nonprofit organization by working in a position similar to your ideal field.
- Internship – experiencing the industry first-hand by working for an organization as an intern, building your skills and networking with other professionals at the company.