Dean Callan: Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Taken

Since getting my job as a global brand ambassador, I am finding more and more people asking ‘how did you get that job?’ My answer to this is simple, I don’t really know.

Out of shot, those silver sleeves are rolled up, Miami Vice style.

What I do know, is that I have always followed a few key ‘mantras’. I wouldn’t say that I really have rules but more so inspirations. I have tried to list a few quotes that have inspired me and my interpretation of them.  Hopefully they’ll be useful for you too! 

1. “Be Yourself, everyone else is taken” – Oscar Wilde.

Being yourself means more than just having your own opinion and voicing it, it means being true to who you are in every aspect of your life. If you don’t like being stuffy and wearing a suit all the time don’t work in a super fancy hotel, if you don’t like customers then become a chef, don’t take it out on the guests. The idea that someone is naturally talented in the service industry is a myth, they are simply comfortable in their shoes, working in the right job and have the requisite skills to pay the bills. You need all three to be good at your job and happy in it, only then will you even be considered for ambassadorship.

2. “I was out of touch, but it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough. I just knew too much” – Gnarls Barkley.

One of the best things you can do in this industry is know stuff, it builds confidence, helps round your skills and makes for good shop talk with colleagues. One of the worst things you can do is only apply this healthy appetite for learning to random bullshit facts, start learning about your guests, why do they come in? What are they passionate about? Do they like Pińa Coladas and getting caught in the rain?

Not everyone wants to listen to you talk about esters, congeners, the history of the Pineapple or the increasing use of anaerobic reactors by spirit production facilities.

I have a one track mind (albeit easily distracted) and it’s hard to think of anything outside my own interests, but to really make conversation I need to take a vested interest in what other people might want to talk about. I am still learning to pace myself, stop getting too in depth and chewing peoples ears off. Don’t bother with conversations about politics, religion or “original cocktail trends” unless you are speaking to Jacob Briars. Then you might learn something from a true genius of interesting conversation and knowing his audience.

3. “The creative adult is the child who never grew up” Not sure where I got this from, but it works for me (and Peter Pan).

This is a tricky one really because not everyone is creative, some people say I am creative but as a matter of fact I am not. I just like a challenge, and I like to have fun.  I like to think of something that I can’t already do, and see if I can learn to do it. It’s like the old saying “necessity is the mother of all creation”, if you decide to do something you think is extremely difficult, and truly work at it, you will be forced to think creatively. You just need a driving force to kick you in the butt sometimes, competitions are a perfect example of a driving force. Some of the best flavour combinations, techniques, presentations and characters I have ever seen where in competitions. People are pushing themselves because they want to win, this is great and I whole heartedly embrace the competition scene, although in my mind there is something better, a more powerful driving force.

It’s the inner child, it’s the part of you that starts a sentence with “what if… ?” or “imagine if we…” being confident enough to throw an idea out into the world without fear of rejection or embarrassment is the real key to pushing yourself, because it’s you doing the pushing, you are the one getting excited about your next big challenge.

 4“You’re good, kid, but as long as I’m around, you’re only second best” Lancey Howard (Character from the Cincinnati Kid)

No matter how good you are, how hard you work, how much you study, how many competitions you win. No matter what job you land, how much money you make, how far you travel, how many people you know or places you have seen. There is always someone better, they may be at a different stage in their career, or maybe they live in some far away corner of the earth that you will never visit. They are still better. Get over it. If you start thinking you are the best, or that you know everything, you are heading backwards.

If you can’t shake that feeling send me an email or call me, I am happy to administer a slap in the face. If I am otherwise engaged (or on the other side of the planet) then do what I do. Look for the people who inspire you, the ones you look up to and keep in touch with them. They should bring you back to earth, I have a long list of them (my girlfriend is at the top, she rocks my world).

If you are having trouble finding someone to look up to I can suggest a few, John Gakuru, Jacob Briars, Gary Regan, Jason Crawley, Marco Faraone, Sven and Amber Almenning, Barry Chalmers, Raj Nagra, Justin McKenzie, Jim Wrigley, Stuart Hudson, Mathew Hewitt, Hugh Paten-Smith, Gregor De Guyther, Zdenek Kastanek, Lee Linford, Dale De Groff, Jim Meehan, Dushan Zarich, Jake Burger, Tony C, Nick Van Tiel, just to mention a few. My list of inspirations is too long for the page, and my reasons might be unique to each individual but I am still humbled and inspired by them every day.

5. No amount of experimentation can prove me right, a simple experiment can prove me wrong. – Albert Einstein.

The last and most important piece of advice is to take into account what I have said and consider me wrong. Then work toward proving me wrong, depending on your point of view you might just succeed, seemingly rendering this entire reading experience useless.

But in the process of proving that I know nothing, take note of what you learn for yourself, and about yourself. That is the only real way to learn, by doing your own work, and coming to your own conclusions. Everyone is unique and we all learn differently, try to remember that, it’s useful for when you are teaching someone new, give them the patience they deserve.

Oh and to get you started on proving how full of shit I am, I made this all up, none of it can be backed up in any classic cocktail books. Except for perhaps Joy of Mixology, Gary Regan knows everything, buy his book.