Six Life Lessons I Learned from Binge-Watching Kitchen Nightmares

Lately I’ve been on a kick of leaving the reality show Kitchen Nightmares playing while I take care of odds and ends. Although Gordon Ramsey can be a little problematic sometimes, with his calling women “Darling” and men “Big Boy,” as well as his comments about weight and judgments about how much food someone should eat, I’ve realized that there are some important life lessons embedded in each episode somewhere between the dramatic music and the shouting.

Lesson One: Clinging to what you have even though it’s not working because you’re terrified to lose it leads to stagnation. Whether it’s a mushy risotto, cheesy faux-tropical décor, or a habit that’s not serving you, letting it go makes room for something better to come in.

Lesson Two: Check on the dark corners on a regular basis. In one episode, Ramsey descends into a restaurant basement to find it swarming with insects feeding on rotten vegetables. If we don’t peek into the places that scare us on a routine basis, things can fester and mold, making it even worse in the long run. We can do this through therapy, journaling, coffee with a friend, going to a meeting—whatever suits your style.

Lesson Three: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. (And ask for help). Every chef Ramsey meets who is quiet in the kitchen and doesn’t ask for help creates chaos and lengthy delays in the restaurant. Delays like people waiting two hours for their entreés. When we think we can do it all, we end up screwing things up for the rest of the people in our lives.

Lesson Four: Defensiveness will be your downfall. It’s really hard to hear criticism, and even harder to hear that something we worked really hard on isn’t up to snuff. However, deflecting feedback right and left keeps us from growing. A deep breath, staying open, and remembering that we can always do better can help us take in the information we need to improve.

Lesson Five: Never underestimate the power of a symbolic gesture. On the show, this usually takes the form of throwing plates, smashing a sluggish point-of-sale system, or burning a wooden sign. In our lives, this could take the form of planting something, giving or acquiring an object, a dance, a painting, a social media post, or trying out a new style.

Lesson Six: Purpose fuels passion. Many of the chefs on the show started out loving their work, and then they sunk into burnout and boredom. Ramsey uses cook-offs, games, and sometimes extreme measures to remind the chefs and the rest of the staff why they are there, stirring up what he frequently calls “the fire in the belly.” Remembering why we’re doing what we’re doing can stir up our own internal fire, keeping us going through a tough dinner service or a scary next step toward our goals.

There you have it. Six courses of life lessons from reality TV. You might give them a try this month and see what evolves for you. Bon appetit!