Matt Hinckley.

I bounced around for years, trying to fit into the corporate world with “real jobs.” I’d quit those jobs and wait tables or bartend to make ends meet. Ultimately, I fell in love with the people this industry.

The hospitality industry gives me purpose and helps me feel like a valuable member of my community. I love that it never gets old and that I can do it anywhere. You can follow many avenues in this career: bread baking, fermentation, regional cuisine, and much more.

Early in my career, I was in a rush to gain a title and defined success in this industry by how many stars were hanging on the door. It wasn’t until after running a Michelin-starred kitchen in NYC that I realized that it doesn’t define success. It left me feeling empty.

Don’t let other people define what is successful for you. Set your own goals and embrace the struggle necessary to achieve them. When you ask champions about their fondest memories, they don’t talk about standing on podiums. They talk about the grind that it took to get to the podium. I wish I had embraced being a line cook more. Those were my best years. Be patient with your growth. Allow yourself to make mistakes. Learn to embrace failure. You’ll make many friends in this industry, but the ones you’ll stay friends with for life are the ones you’ll suffer the most with.

I hope that the industry can face the challenge of addiction and mental health better in the future. I quit drinking about 7 years ago and started pouring energy into Brazilian jiu-jitsu instead. It’s been really rewarding, and I wish that some of my other colleagues could find an outlet like that.

Our industry can really beat you down, and the default mechanism to cope is often alcohol or drugs. I hope that people can see that there’s a way out of that.