what the barefoot contessa taught me about careers

When I first decided to evolve my career and end Jess LC in favor of becoming a professional, full-time helper of people I was elated. I felt like I was finally coming into my own, that I was becoming more “me” in my career.

I was playful, optimistic, and confident about my business future and had so many awesome plans I looked forward to bringing to life.

But last week, just three weeks away from my career transition, I started diving into advice from consultants to other consultants. Since I’m still new to the industry in many respects, I was all ears when it came to putting my best foot forward in the full-time arena.

Over and over in my readings I kept finding a trend emerging called “scaling.” In fact, its a huge concept in many parts of the web. It’s based on creating products that serve large numbers of people, rather than limiting oneself to one-on-one interactions exclusively.

And though I am sure that I will scale my consulting in the future as things naturally progress, I left my advice binge sick to my stomach. I started to buy into a misled belief that if I don’t scale immediately that I am somehow ‘missing the boat.’ Or worse, intentionally running my business the wrong way. 

In my original playful/limitless approach I did not emphasize the scalable aspects of my business right away. I was looking forward to helping more people in deeper, one-on-one interactions through consulting and intimate workshops. I also had plans for e-books and eventually, larger live events. But for the moment, or next four months, I didn’t want to scale. I wanted to go deeper before I broadened.

So I questioned that intuitive plan in the face of experts with more experience.

As you can imagine, I was feeling pretty blue about this internal conflict. What once seemed a wondrous business move later seemed small-minded in light of the new information.

But then I remembered a show I had seen years ago that featured the life of Ina Garten, the woman behind The Barefoot Contessa culinary empire. I remembered something vaguely from the show about her transition from the restaurant to life after running the business.

So I decided to look up her career and refresh myself on her path to personal and professional success in more detail.

What I discovered helped me re-align with my initial intuition and innate joy at the prospect of my career. What’s more, I think her story also lends itself to all careers and walks of life.

Ina took her time.

While it is easy to assume that Ina had always been cooking as a profession, that was not the case at all. Though she developed an early passion for cooking during the Vietnam War, she did not do anything professionally with this passion for quite some time. In fact, when she moved with her husband to Washington D.C. in the early 1970’s, she started as a low-level aid and worked her way up to the “Office of Management and Budget and was assigned the position of budget analyst, which entailed writing the nuclear energy budget and policy papers on nuclear centrifuge plants for Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.”  (Source)

Stressed by the job, she then flipped houses for a profit (who knew!?). These profits later became the funds she used to purchase The Barefoot Contessa store in 1978.

She then spent 20 years growing and evolving the store into something quite incredible.

Later, she sold the business and took a six-month sabbatical to plot her next career move. She even studied the stock market and considered different ventures.

Her first cookbook, which put her onto the path to stardom did not launch until 1999. This means she had a career between 1972 and 1999 that was varied, interesting, and ultimately gave her the experience and skills she needed to become the famous culinary maven she is today.

Like Ina, I want to take my time, have fun, and explore along the way in my career. If I want to work primarily one-on-one for a little while, that is totally fine. I also want to take some time to rest after Jess LC ends before I dive headfirst into my next chapter. Though it will only be for a week or two, I also think there is significance in letting each chapter of my life breathe a bit.

Ina didn’t have a master plan.

While writing high-level documents on nuclear energy, Ina may not have grasped that she would one day be famous on television for cooking in her kitchen.

She might not have realized while flipping houses that she was raising capital to buy a food business.

But no matter where in her career she was, she always returned to her love of cooking and entertaining in her personal life which later led to her professional success. I bet the idea of working full-time on food-focused ventures excited Ina and later started directing her career steps.

For me, this helps me realize that though I may have a clear vision of what I’d like my legacy to be when I die, I don’t know exactly how that will manifest over the decades to come. I am just five years into a career which I am turning into a vocation to last a lifetime. I don’t need to race to any self- or other-perceived finish line rightthisminute in order to be labeled a success.

Ina blended her personal and professional life with her passion.

From watching her show on The Food Network it is easy to see that her show concepts are derived from real or semi-real events that happen in her life. She cooks for friends when they return from vacation, demonstrates how to cook for a friend’s baby shower, and always has her husband taste-test.

She loves to entertain and she has found a way to do so for her friends while educating her fans watching the show.

I too, want to find a way to find financial success doing what I love to do in my personal life. And the initial idea I had for my new business does allow me to do just that.


So there you have it. I hope my struggle to follow my heart and let the rest flow, as well as Ina’s inspiring and adventurous career helps others in their own professional paths. May we wander, may we weave, may we do what we are meant to do.


I worked for the Office of Management and Budget in the White House, on nuclear energy policy. But I decided it would be much more fun to have a specialty food store, so I left Washington D.C. and moved to the Hamptons. And how glad I am that I did!”  – Ina Garten


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  1. DomestiKateBlog

    I love this post — such a good story. I feel like we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do everything ‘NOW’ — and this is a great reminder that the journey is sometimes bigger than the destination!

  2. Jen

    Thank you! This is a breath of fresh air. It’s so easy to compare ourselves to everyone’s “end results” when we’re still just finding our footings. I needed to hear this today.

    “May we wander, may we weave, may we do what we are meant to do.” Amen, sister.

  3. Becky L

    Ina has always been a favorite of mine. She seems to be the kind of person you want to invite over for dinner or go shopping through the farmer’s market with. I hope I can look back and say that I let my passions guide my path!

  4. Daniela

    Jess, have you ever contacted Penelope Trunk for advice, either formally through her consulting or informally via email? I know she is a bit much (for lack of a better term), but she helped my sister a bunch via email. Plus it might be interesting to see how someone else does a similar thing. Just a thought!

  5. Jess

    Daniela, yes, I do read Penelope Trunk! It’s great to know that she helped your sister! : )

  6. Lemon Drop Love

    What a great story! Thanks for sharing this. I had no idea Ina wrote on nuclear energy policy!! So crazy and so refreshing to hear her story and yours. Thank you!
    xx Jen

  7. Jess

    I’m glad you all enjoyed it. Who woulda thought that Ina would have such an amazingly varied career?

  8. pve

    Love love love Ina.
    I think having a mentor is a great game plan and also having someone tell you “No” – it cannot be done works for me too.

  9. C G

    Just loving this post. Sometimes it’s so hard to remember that life plans aren’t always linear! Thank you for sharing this and that internal doubt that plagues us all. So hard to remember these lessons in the doubtful moments – so great to be reminded!

  10. kelsey

    great post, jess. i think our generation really gets stuck into having it all – NOW. we want the house our parents have (which took them 30 years of hard work to own) and the careers of much older people who have worked years and years to get where they are. life is long…sometimes we need to learn to enjoy the ride.

  11. Jessica

    I love this story. Makes me feel more at ease and happier with the career path I am taking, and my own plans to get there. Some people might not like the way I think or do things regarding my career, but Ina’s story showed me that’s its okay to do what you want to do and have no master plan sometimes. Its good to just do what you want to do and love. 🙂

  12. Sarah

    Love this. Thank you. In slowly building my photography business (Yay for side businesses), I am paradoxically frustrated at how slowly some aspects of the business are progressing and also wanting to let things happen organically and in their own time. Its good to remind myself that its ok to go at my own speed and I don’t have to keep pace with those high-energy, uber-driven entrepreneur/motivational speaker types. Nor do I have to know exactly where I will end up to begin the journey towards what I want from life.

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