September 09, 2013

Don't Apologize

“When you flip anything you must have the courage of your convictions, particularly if it’s sort of a loose mass like this. Oh…that didn’t go very well...But you can always pick it up. And if you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?”

Cooking. A metaphor for life. And wisdom from Julia Child.

A perfect source of wisdom for me right now. Because, believe it or not, after months of building up to it - I left chef school. In the first week.

And I learned a lot. But not what I was expecting.

Chef school is exciting. The kitchens are dazzling. The demo labs, the industrial mixers, the massive stoves, the chef whites, the knife kits, the hats, elevating you into the profession. (Although one baking teacher asked why we all wanted to go into the life of a domestic servant…)

These chefs are very passionate, determined and dedicated artists.

Through all of that I discovered something.

I really, really, really don’t want to cook to the standard of a restaurant. It was like hitting my passion for food with a nuclear bomb.

And though no one asked them to, my classmates figured out quickly that if the chef asked us if we understand, they said, in unison, Yes Chef!

I wasn’t sure if it was in me when I wrote about it before I went. And guess what? It isn’t. My neck and shoulders tighten, my lips get pursed. And I suddenly find I’m trying to shake my shoulders loose. Nope. It’s just too much. You know…set to 11.

It was a blow. I spent most of the week on the verge of tears in public and letting them overflow in private. It was shocking. The thoughts started creeping through - the money...the risk...the embarrassment...the naivete, and my age old panicky feeling of doubt followed quickly by paralysis - I can't go forward, can't go back.

The old me would have torn myself to shreds. For a long time. In a voice I wouldn't use on anyone else. I debated pushing through. I've been in these settings before (anyone in a newsroom or tv control room feels it) and wondered why I pushed on. But here no. I knew if I went back, my body would stop myself from going in the classroom. Hmmm. Journalism was what I was meant to study. What I loved. And cooking school was adding a specialty to my life. And one that I can still learn.

I had made a huge mistake.

So this time, I quit.

For me, the “courage of my convictions” was in calling it.

When a goal leads you down a fork in the road and you see another path veering away from you – you get to call quits. And you will never quite know. And that, my friends, must be what growing up feels like.

I’m a home cook. I want to get better. I want to, in fact, be the best I can be. I want to taste well (not good, that’s different). I want to practice up my palate. I want to create. And I want to share.

Cooking is generosity, not competition. Not so much the culinary Olympics. For others maybe, but not for me.

Goal/motivation psychology tells us that if your goal is taking you in the wrong direction, adapt the goal. Find a related goal – one that’ll get you near. In psychology gobbledygook it is called ‘goal disengagement’ and ‘goal reengagement’. And people who can do that apparently also have the added benefit of better physical health.

In other words, flogging yourself to death because you won’t quit what you don’t even want ain’t good for you.

When I told my closest friends, they all had the same reaction – in calls and emails…first complete support and congratulations for knowing so fast...and second, worried that I’d beat myself up…I seem to have a reputation.

The not-much-younger me could hear the muffled voice inside my head trying to break through to scream at me for failing…for quitting…for not following anything through…for thinking I could even do this in the first place. Imposter!

The not-much-older me shored up the walls. And ignored it.

I did some research – discovered a different certification program that is part-time and signed myself up. I start that in less than two weeks. I still get to wear my chef whites, carry my knife kit and learn to be a much better, and happier, cook.

And with that, by the end of Friday, I’d reached the end of my first, and last, week of chef school. I had set a goal. It hadn’t worked. I found another. I moved on.

Julia Child had it down – her philosophy was work hard, take risks and if you make a mistake – don’t apologize.

If you need me, I’ll be on the other fork in the road.