in my case, i ended my career after 18 years, having worked my way up from dishwasher at 16 years old to executive chef.
the reason in my case was the fact that i was getting married and the various deciding factors included these (in no particular order):
- when you get to the level of executive chef, you have little time for family life. holidays are your busiest times, and someone will invariably call in sick.
- hiring is always problematic, and firing is never fun.
- a creative outlet for your skills is one of the attractions of being a chef, but for the vast bulk of chef positions about the best you can hope for is a vaguely upscale restaurant which still limits the sorts of ingredients you can freely use, as well as the types of dishes you can put out.
- as a line chef, wages can be fairly good or fairly low. in my own experience, i had an pretty good wage working at a well-known restaurant in new york off of times square, but the cost of living was such that, after about 1 year, i had barely saved a penny. on the other hand, while the cost of living is a lot less in a smaller community, you're not too likely to make very much money.
- job security is problematic. about 1/2 of new restaurants fail within the first year. few last much more than 5 or 10 years. also, in many areas, such as in my hometown of newport, r.i., there are "off" seasons with layoffs and reduced hours.
- one gets tired of coming home late smelling and feeling like an old french fry.
some of the good points of the job are the comeraderie that develops in a well-functioning kitchen, the fact that it's fairly easy to move around the country and still find a job, and the fact that if you're skilled, it's also fairly easy to move from 1 position to a better paying one in another restaurant (used to be anyway, not sure about these days).
given all of the above, i decided that it was time to go back to school and change careers. still, i think that there's a possiblity of doing the owner/chef scene one day.