The Illusion of Always Being Behind
I scroll through the internet, seeing videos of young chefs using exotic ingredients with amazing footage, posts of chefs similar to me in age are given the James Beard award, colleges achieving great things in their careers, accomplished websites filled with handmade recipes and pictures from home cooks, and everyday cooks and restaurants bringing their A-game to adapt to this COVID infested world. I see, read, and watch all of this and my mind always goes to the same place – am I not where I should be in my career? What am I doing with my life?
This type of thinking is dangerous as it can slowly wear a person down. It usually starts small, in the deepest, darkest parts of your mind. A little, cancerous seed that finally found a tiny plot of soil to take root in. The soil being insecurity, which could have entered your mind from anything at any point – someone your age doing something absolutely stunning, or someone in your own career going to the moon with their achievements, and you will naturally compare yourself with them. Some reframe this insecurity into a challenge, to push themselves to become better than either themselves or the person they saw. That’s a good approach as it will naturally cause you to become more confidant in yourself but the drive will always stem from the source of insecurity, and that root system will hold fast until the seed is given some dark light to thrive in. Eventually, most people will grow tired from pushing themselves and take a break, which can be a prime opportunity for the seed to grow.
What about the situation where you have all the drive in the world, that if your drive could be transferred into energy the USA would be thinking about abusing your ability for its own purpose, but you simply lack the natural ability to soar to the heights of the people you want to be equal to? Practice will always make perfect, but how does one practice imagination to create innovative products, dishes, ideas? Imagination comes naturally, and so many times I’ve seen great cooks who have rock-solid technique and drive that struggle to come up with fresh ideas. I’ve experienced this feeling, which I call the glass ceiling. I see what I want to do and achieve, and since others have done it, I know I can too, but for some reason I hit something. It’s like running in a dream but you’re barely moving. I always try to figure out why I’m hitting this boundary, and the results vary. Sometimes it may be because I haven’t worked in enough modern-day kitchens that are always pushing the boundaries, maybe it’s because I’m focusing too much on what I know and need to forcefully expand my mind, maybe because I rely too much on seeing what others have done, and so on. The theme is the same: I’m simply not doing enough, and I’m at fault for not being as successful as others.
Frankly, it’s a horrible feeling, that you’re not good enough at something you love to do. The seed has now grown into a tall sapling, and so your mind begins to go down a slippery slope of undermining yourself. Rather than think of “Hey, I can do that too” as you did in the beginning you now start to think “Well, they’ve already done it and seem good at it, so why try?”, actively undermining your own mind and happiness to achieve greater goals. You begin to do only the easier things, not adventuring out into unknown and exciting territory and rather stick to the safety of the shores, as you know you know you can’t disappoint yourself with what you already know.
The little cancerous seed, now fully grown, begins to sap every bit of motivation, energy, and confidence from you. You’re not even sticking to the shores now – you’re sticking to your recliner in your home, not even willing to look outside. You’re officially in a deep rut. Motivational videos on YouTube aren’t helping, even the cat ones. When you engage in your passion it’s in grayscale. The normally vibrant, vivid colors and aura that surround you and your passion has been sucked out of the room, leaving you in a cold, sterile, gray void where you just go through the motions. You feel ashamed of yourself and where you’re at in life, thinking that your skill is now that of an amateur.
So, what now?
The image of needing to be continually growing is an illusion. You don’t need to constantly move forward to grow. If you hit a wall, perhaps than seeing that wall as an obstacle, see it as something to lean on as you might need that type of support right now. I got to this stage where the color was drained from my world, the plant had taken over like a weed, but something bright flickered in the void. A warm, inviting flicker, the pale-yellow color of straw. Melting the area around it with its light, almost whispering to me to hold it. That flicker was fresh pasta. I had a client for who I was making fresh pasta, and this spark was ignited when I began to roll the dough in the pasta machine. The dough was perfect – pale yellow in color, smooth as silk, subtle but not tacky, and when I draped the pasta over my arms as it became longer it was like a warm embrace from an old friend. The flicker started a jumpstart in my heart, erasing the void in my heart with something I hadn’t felt for a long time when I looked at food – joy. For too long had I been looking at others, comparing myself to them, when I should have been looking inward to what brings me happiness. For me, fresh pasta is happiness.
We are all at different stages in our lives and careers, and we are all destined on separate, unique paths. We are all not destined to become YouTube chefs who stress every day producing a fast-paced video on a trendy topic to appeal to our short attention spans. We are all not destined to become Michelin-starred chefs whose lives are consumed by food, sacrificing everything for one passion. We are all not destined to become successful restaurateurs, celebrity TV chefs, the next “it” chef who comes up with a new way to do something. We are destined to become what we will naturally become, whether that is a small successful restaurant owner whose homestyle food is well-made and brings joy to your neighbors, an amazing food blogger who loves to cook but has immense success writing about food, or even making the best damn pies in town. You will always know something someone else doesn’t know, be better at something than someone else is, and vise versa. The only person who expects more out of you is yourself, so rather than allowing that illusion to create an unyielding pressure that you will eventually break under in your life, be real with yourself and enjoy where you are in life.
Love the process, and yourself.