June 16, 2016

Recently, I learned more about award-winning chef, restauranteur and cookbook author Marcus Samuelsson. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia but, along with his sister, was adopted and raised in Sweden after his mother died of tuberculosis. He learned to cook from his Swedish grandmother and the rest, as they say, is history. Except that it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. A bit of advice in his early career reminded me of a similar experience my father had. Samuelsson shared:

“I got a job in a three-star Michelin restaurant in France. And chef told me at that time, ‘You have to leave Europe. ‘Cause only America would accept a black chef.’ And with that advice, I moved to America.”

In my book, Uncommon Candor, I shared the story of the optometrist who, in the early 1950s, told my father some hard but real truth.

“Young man, you’re Jewish, aren’t you? As much as I would like to see you locate here, this town is not ready to welcome you. I think it would be a mistake.”

Along with politics, we have been warned not to discuss race and religion.  Yet in both examples, someone was willing to speak directly about these uncomfortable things. Both Samuelsson and my father seemed to receive the honesty well. When Samuelsson shares this story, he does not appear angry or offended – it seems he takes it as a matter of fact. When my father told me about his experience, I was furious and assumed he would be, too. In fact, my father saw the advice as a gift.

The candor of their colleagues served a great purpose in both Samuelsson’s and my father’s careers. My father built a successful optometry practice in Virginia Beach, which, as a military town, was more accepting at that time of people with diverse backgrounds. And today, Samuelsson is changing the way the world thinks about great cuisine – from his base in New York City.

So, we each have to decide for ourselves. Are we going to stand and struggle in an environment that may be a barrier to our success? Or should we move on with the truth of what might actually work better for us? Perhaps moving on is the best thing you can do for your future.