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Don't put career on back burner

Dear Harlan: I am a 23-year-old high-school graduate and have completed two years of cooking school. I have worked at three different restaurants (one of those jobs was an internship), but I don't end up staying because I talk myself into thinking I am not good enough or not ready yet.

The places I have cooked at have been fine-dining establishments, and the people whom I have worked for are all faster, more relaxed and all-around better. My biggest problem is I feel like I am too old to accomplish my dreams of being a top chef . I know that most people start younger, and I am worried that it is already too late for me. — Cooking Late

Dear Cooking: Chill. Then simmer. NOTE: Turn up the heat too high, and you risk burning out or boiling over.

The truth — you're not the best at the moment. But neither is tomorrow's best doctor the best at practicing medicine today or tomorrow's best attorney the best at practicing law. Julia Child didn't publisher her first cookbook until she was 49 (and she kept writing into her 90s).

Give yourself time to develop your style. Give yourself time to make mistakes. Give yourself years to know that you are great. Seek mentors at school who will teach you, guide you and offer you honest criticism. Find a job working under a chef who will shape you.

Creating is all about trial and error. Unless you can allow yourself to make the errors, you will stop trying. It's not just true of cooking; it's true of life. Even as the best, you will have to endure endless criticism, constant questioning and limitless scrutiny.

Unless you know you're good enough and create a life filled with people who can remind you, support you and guide you, you will give up before you even begin.

Dear Harlan: I am a 14-year-old gymnast, and I am getting sick of it. I have been doing gymnastics for six years. My parents know that I want to quit, but they won't let me. How can I let them know that it's too much and that I want to quit? How can I persuade them to let me stop once they say "No"? — Bent Out Of Shape

Dear Bent: If your parents' goal is Olympic gold and yours is graduation, then you and they are in totally different places. If they think you're quitting because you're giving up, but you want to stop to try something new, then you are in totally different places.

See where they are; then tell them where you are. Ask them this question: "Why do you want me to keep doing something I no longer enjoy doing?" Listen to what they say. Then explain that you're not a quitter but rather you're looking to explore other options. Taking a break gives you time to figure out what's next.

If your parents still don't hear you, have someone else do your talking. Turn to a coach, a family friend or a teacher. Hearing it from someone other than you will sound entirely different — especially from a Romanian gymnastics coach named Karolyi.

Write Harlan at or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614. © Harlan Cohen 2005 Dist. by King Features Syndicate Inc.