Lessons From Lombardi

I know what you’ve been thinking! You’ve been patiently waiting for me to tell you how to succeed. You want to win the cake show. You want to run the best bakery. You want to know the secrets of success. I’m not sure that I am the perfect person to tackle this subject, but I do know that I am passionate enough about the subject to give it a try.

I tend to hold jobs a long time. My second job was at Casa Bonita in Little Rock, AR. (Some of you may know the restaurant chain from Southpark episodes). I had just moved from Oklahoma to Arkansas and turned 16. Casa Bonita had a rigorous training program. You had to attend six training sessions before you ever waited on a customer. I think that some of the principles I learned in those six meetings helped to shape who I am today. In one meeting, we were given a card with five rules for success, which I have kept to this day. (It lives on my makeup mirror and reminds me of what I need to do). I am going to share this with you, in hopes that it will guide you as it has me.

I think that all these principles came from Vince Lombardi. I am a huge fan of his philosophies on life and business and encourage you to read about him. I am not going to try to tell you what Vince would say to you, or even what Casa said to me. Instead, I am going to tell you what these five principles mean to me today.

Mental toughness is essential to success

The bakery business is tough. Entering cake shows can be intimidating. The only way to thrive in this industry is to be mentally tough. You have to believe in yourself and your talent. You have to be able to hear a customer tell you that you are a terrible decorator and be able to let that roll off your shoulders…because YOU KNOW BETTER. You have to see judging scores lower than you’ve ever imagined, and yet know that you are far more than the scores on a piece of paper. If your self image is wholly dependent on the opinions of others, this business will break you.

How do you gain self confidence if you don’t have it? Do as Vince did when he began his NFL career. He didn’t try new plays, bring in new players or revamp the entire program. Instead, he set out to have his team master the basics. He believed that if you have the basics under control, success will follow. For us, this means that we master mixing our batters, knowing when something is done, knowing how to preserve moistness until you decorate, knowing how to ice a cake well, knowing how to pipe borders and write on a cake and knowing how to take a customer’s order. If you get good enough at those things, they become second nature and you gain confidence as you go. This is your foundation. No matter how extreme a cake might be, how original or jaw dropping…it still has to start with great basics. Master those and you will find you have increased your mental toughness. I promise.

Control the ball

I have written before about retaining control. To be successful, it is imperative. Your customers will try to “steal the ball”. Your employees might fumble it. It is up to you to control your business. You are the only one who can. You have to decide how much notice you require, what customers cannot order, when to take deposits, when to turn down an order and all the other decisions that are part of being the boss. You have to train your customers and enforce it.

Every time I read people posting on Facebook that they are burnt out, frustrated or sad, it almost always stems from a lack of control. When you pass the control of your business to someone else, you will start to hate making cakes. It is not easy to define your comfort zones and it is even harder to stick to them, but for your business, you MUST!

Fatigue makes cowards of us all

I used to think it was a badge of honor to tell people how many hours I worked or how little sleep I had. I was wrong. It only showed how poorly organized I was at that time. Every time I worked past the point of exhaustion, I became weepy. I felt insecure in my work. I lost confidence. I’ve watched it happen to you guys, too. I have seen one of my closest friends burst into tears over simple things going wrong. When you are THAT tired, you simply cannot handle life’s every day stresses.

There are days that it may seem impossible, but you have to allow yourself to rest. You have to take care of you. Your entire business depends on you.

Operate on Lombardi time

Vince Lombardi said that you had to be fifteen minutes early for any appointment. If someone showed up ten minutes early, he considered them five minutes late. You know how irritated you get when brides don’t show up on time and when people don’t pick up their cakes when they are supposed to do so. You owe it to the customers to have the cake ready fifteen minutes before the due time. You need to be at the delivery fifteen minutes early. At weddings, someone always freaks out until the cake arrives. I learned quickly that being on time was rarely enough for them. I had to be early.

Make that second effort

Sometimes I have started a cake, only to think that I could not finish it. I’ve considered throwing in the towel. Invariably, it was my second effort that helped me get it done. So many people stop right before they are about to succeed. You may feel like you’ve given a second effort and maybe a third, too. I still say, don’t give up.

I watched a special on Lombardi as I was writing this blog. I only knew what Casa taught us about him and that he was a successful NFL coach. I only saw the end. That is the part of the story everyone remembers. The reality was that Vince was repeatedly passed over for head coaching jobs. That Vince was not respected as a coach for many years, in that they thought he could only be an assistant. He wanted to coach in the NFL so badly, but it just wasn’t happening for him. When he got his big break, it was to coach the worst team in the smallest, most out of the way (at the time) market. He knew that it was finally his chance and he took it. Even then, he struggled to make things work with the team. It took a great second effort for him to realize his dream.

You could name almost any decorator that you think is a great success and I bet they could tell you stories if failures. They could tell you about disappointments. They plugged along until they changed their circumstances. One of my favorite movies is “A Knight’s Tale”. In it, the father tells the son, “You can change your stars”. That has largely been my philosophy in life. When I think about where I came from, how I grew up and how my life is today, I know that I changed my stars. And the key on all of it has been that I make another effort.


So that’s it. My five rules for success, via Casa Bonita, via Vince Lombardi. Try them in your life and career and see if they help you. I wish you all the best.



9 thoughts on “Lessons From Lombardi

  1. I needed to read this so badly!! Not only in regards to my cakes but also in life! Thank you Ruth!!!!! I am so appreciative and grateful for you!!!

  2. I needed this too! Thank you Ruth ~ really struggling in some of these areas right now. Thought it was just me. This is very encouraging to hang in there!

  3. Well said Ruth!! Thanks for the reminders! “A Knight’s Tale” is my all time favorite movie and our family has referred to the quote “you can change your stars” many times throughout the years!! I got goosebumps when I read that! Love your blog!

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