Chef Jeff Henderson has reached the heights of culinary success, having served as the executive chef at Las Vegas’ Café Bellagio and starred in the Food Network’s “The Chef Jeff Project,” where he mentored six at-risk youth while teaching them to cook. But before he scored success, Henderson had to confront his past. After serving nearly 10 years in prison for selling drugs in his 20s and 30s, Henderson, 44, had a stigma to live down.
“I was a convicted felon,” he says. For that reason, “there’s always going to be people who are going to close doors on you.”
But Henderson not only redeemed himself by mastering the art of cooking, he changed others’ perceptions of him in the process. Reconstructing a tarnished image doesn’t happen overnight, but as Henderson learned, there are steps that can help you rebuild a reputation.
Show how others can profit from your lesson. Pretending past missteps didn’t happen will not inspire trust in you by others. In fact, it could lead some to believe you’re not sorry for what you did. While you don’t have to grovel for forgiveness, look for ways to show that you’ve learned your lesson and have gleaned additional wisdom to share with others because of it. For example, Henderson’s past not only made him more credible with his audience when he spoke at high schools and prisons, but his willingness to acknowledge past failures made him more compelling to the public than other top chefs, even leading the Food Network to build a show around him.
Find mentors who reflect the new you. As Henderson rebuilt his life, he assembled what he called his personal board of directors, people who were living the life he wanted to live and those who would hold him accountable to his desire to change. Not only did they advise him on steps to take personally and professionally, but they gave him real-world role models to emulate. “These are your cheerleaders and your advisers,” he says. “They also get on you when you’re not doing right and will tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it.”
Look the part. When you make a life change, emulate those who are already living your vision of success. “I wanted to become a chef so I had to look like a chef, walk like a chef, talk like a chef, and learn how to cook like a chef so I could fit in,” Henderson says. Even if that means adjusting your personal style, learning to assimilate into the new role makes others more comfortable with the new you and less likely to remember past mistakes.
Finding Redemption When Others Aren’t Receptive
Many people wait for others to forgive them for a past action, but that’s a mistake, says Cherry A. Collier, an Atlanta-based life