Change Is Always Constant

by David Lory

ike many people experienced, 2022 for me was no joke. Although being a leader sometimes means you have to find the humor—no matter how dark, in different situations. I don’t think the year set out to kill me, but I do know it held me by my feet over a cliff and dared me to talk back a few times.

Things were strange enough for me in 2021, a decision to move a world away to New York City during a pandemic being the least of them. This past year had things on life’s “bingo card” I just didn’t expect.

The Dawn of a New Beginning

In March of 2022, I gave a nervous three-month notice to my long-time employer, The Yard House. To be sure, I had conflicting feelings about leaving the company.

My wife and I had pulled up stakes in 2021 to move from Southern California to New York City when they offered me the opportunity to help open a new restaurant located in Times Square. My wife had never lived outside of Southern California, and with the last of five children having left the nest, we saw an opportunity for one great adventure, perhaps the last of its kind. Honestly, what really sealed the deal for her was several glasses of Chardonnay while watching Sex in the City reruns.

Choosing New Paths

We settled into life in New York City, visiting landmarks we’d only seen in magazines or on TV, dining in restaurants that run the gamut from Michelin-starred palaces to walk-up falafel carts and everything in between. I will always be proud of helping to establish the flagship location of our company, but something was missing, and I soon realized that it was time for a change—one of an entirely different nature and out of my comfort zone.

As luck would have it, roughly a year after we moved to New York City, I received a message from a family friend who owned restaurants but had also built a restaurant-specific tech platform. He asked if I would be interested in coming onboard and leveraging my considerable experience in the hospitality space into a sales career, offering better hours (no more 3 a.m. walks home through Times Square) and a chance to work from home. The opportunity to do something different after so many years was intoxicating.

Choosing Change

My choice to leave the company wasn’t financial; I actually took quite a pay cut to try out this new thing with the opportunity of commissions. It wasn’t animosity either: I have never worked for a company I believe in as much and couldn’t imagine working for another restaurant brand.

I didn’t feel guilty about the decision; I had laid it all out on the table for the company and did every task required and then some.

No, it was something else…a “quickening,” a chance to see if I could operate outside the lines I’d drawn so carefully for myself throughout 30 years, to see if I could create a better quality of life for myself and my wife.

I believe that part of being a leader is recognizing that sometimes you’re done, that you can’t give one more ounce of effort. I had left it all out on the table, and staying would only hurt the team. It was time for new ideas and new energy, and that was my mindset.

The Dawn of a New Beginning

Soon my notice was up, and I left The Yard House two days before my fifty-sixth birthday not with a bang nor a whimper. I just quietly rode home alone on the subway, hoping that I had made enough of an impression throughout almost a decade with the company that I could come crawling back at some point should my dreams of remote work be quickly dashed.

On that ride home, I thought about all of the things I had given up in this career: nights at home with the family, weekends at t-ball games and soccer practice, birthday parties for everyone. Was it worth it?

Restaurant work is atypical in terms of schedules and making plans. Irregular sleep patterns, poor eating habits, and a casual flirtation with alcohol are common issues within the industry. I had burned through one marriage by making work more important than family, and I didn’t want a repeat.

The explorer Hernan Cortes famously burned his ships to motivate his men. Maybe this was the spark I needed to change my life.

Birth of a Salesman

A month later, I began training for my new gig. It seemed the most natural place to dismount from a lifetime of restaurant operations, plus I could work from our apartment just like my wife.

Certainly a man of my experience could find a foothold in this new world? This was a dangerous assumption, at least at the start.

There are some for whom speaking in front of large groups strikes fear into their core. I have spoken to groups from 10 to 300 and loved every bit of it. But for me, doing cold-call sales carries the same psychic weight as public speaking does for others. As a leader, this was an entirely new experience, and it has caused me to re-evaluate my skills and learn how to leverage my assets in a new way.

I am now on the other side of the restaurant-business equation, being careful not to call during lunch or dinner hours. Or happy hours. Or during the big game, shift change, or private events. This leaves about three hours in the afternoon to ply my wares selling a software solution that is a complement to the business but not necessary to the daily operations.

Many were the early days I would fumble over my words in a manner completely foreign to my past life. After leading teams from 25 to 200 brave souls and probably masking my inadequacies with their combined excellence, I am no longer professionally in charge of the care, feeding, and success of anyone but myself. I’m still not sure what to think.

Reality Check

Life has a funny way of intruding and putting things into perspective. My father died on August 24, 2022. This was tough. It’s strange to watch a man that always seemed invincible to me exhibit mortality.

Two months after my dad’s passing, during a fateful trip to San Diego for a family wedding, I found myself admitted to the hospital for four days for heart arrhythmia. Doctors couldn’t figure out what it was, but I’m thinking stress after all that had already happened this year.

I felt old, probably for the first time ever.

Once former colleagues found out about my dad passing and my health issues, I received a wave of support for which I was grateful. Soon after, I fielded several inquiries from those same people about my new career path and whether or not they might make a similar transition. I quickly learned that many in my former industry were having the same desires that drew me to shift direction: lifestyle change, more time with family, and the sense that running a restaurant during and even after the pandemic didn’t hold the same appeal as before.

Leading a Grateful Life

What’s to be learned from such a year? I think it will be different for everyone who reads this, notwithstanding the continued pandemic craziness, the economy, politics, and the like. Truly, 2022 was a rollercoaster for the record books. My advice?

  • Take a shot at happiness by understanding what happiness means to you
  • Everything you want is on the other side of fear, so take chances
  • Live gratefully…not to other’s expectations
  • Being a leader isn’t all about business; there is leadership related to life

Recognize that the episodes that happen to and around you aren’t always just coincidence: the last time you saw your Dad, your son’s mother, your friend.

Maybe freaking out about the things that don’t matter as much isn’t where you need to live. Understand that everyone that works with and for you has things happening in their lives, so be their champion.

I haven’t yet been super successful at my new job, at least not in the way I measured success before. I’m at peace with that, because I’m even more successful now that I’m living the life I really want.

We’ve had to tighten our belts and make different choices, and at some point we will move back to our home in Southern California, but what we’ve gained through life’s experiences cannot be measured.

a realistic rendering of blue wavelengths
David Lory

David Lory is a hospitality industry veteran who has worked for iconic brands such as Darden, Cheesecake Factory, and BJ’s Brewhouse, as well as successful independent restaurants throughout the country. His leadership experience includes operations, training and development, and franchise consulting. He is now at the intersection of tech and hospitality working with MarginEdge, a startup restaurant management software platform. On his days off, Lory can be found trying to perfect his hot sauce recipes. He resides with his wife in New York City.