Taking a Break for Ambition

When it comes to ambition, goal setting, and planning- whenever someone says “there wasn’t room for doubt,” I don’t think that’s true. I think they didn’t MAKE room for doubt.

That sounds almost cynical and defeatist- and I suppose it could be taken that way. I won’t pretend to be some grand philosopher on that. I’m an anxious person. “Doubting” is as natural to me as lemonade on a hot day- as is planning, contingency, and fear-setting, for better or worse.

If Jesus can have a moment of doubt at Gethsemane, I’m pretty sure us poor mortals can wake up in the morning and wonder if we’re still going the way we want to in life. Those moments are important, because that’s when you make the turns that get you there. Don’t cheat yourself by removing room to doubt.

Learning From the Best

It’s a question I tend to have whenever I read interviews with famous people. Not if they ever have any doubts about what they do or did- statistically, 75% of the population deals with some form of Imposter Syndrome– but what they do in their moments of doubt. Anyone who ever claims to have perfect confidence or to have never doubted anything for a moment in their lives is immediately suspicious to me… that kind of confidence comes from either a terrifying lack of self-awareness or being really good at lying their asses off.

Not that doubting yourself is always great. Imposter Syndrome is a pain in the butt to deal with- but doubt is definitely a healthy thing to have. It tends to keep us humble, and- most importantly- provides opportunity for self-reflection.

Circumstances in my life have conspired that, for the first time in a while, I’ll have plenty of time for exactly that. I’ll be taking time off from the bakery- but I’ll have the impetus and freedom to at least try out some new ideas about where my career should go next. When it feels like you’ve hit a wall, you change the plan- not the mission.

For a bit of inspiration, I’ve been digging back into my pile of food writing. I brought back a couple more books from my recent trip to Astoria, and I’ve already finished one- a collection of Anthony Bourdain’s last interviews. Between more of my food writing hero’s philosophy and Eric Ripert’s engaging autobiography “32 Yolks”, I think I have some wonderfully flawed characters to get inspiration from.

“It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon.
Master Ittei said, “Confucius was a sage because he had the will to become a scholar when he was fifteen years old. He was not a sage because he studied later on.” This is the same as the Buddhist maxim, “first intention, then enlightenment.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo & William Scott Wilson

Great people in the past were still people. They ate, drank, cried, laughed, pissed and died like the rest of us. They doubted too. It’s not a character flaw, it’s a feature. So the question isn’t so much whether to doubt or not- it really is what you do with it, and where it leads you.

On The Right Road

Last week, I wrote about how chefs and other culinary pros pivot their careers– out of necessity, or out of changing circumstances. I’ve admitted before that what I wanted out of my career when I started is not the same as what I want from it now. That said, I still want a career in and around the kitchen.

As stressful and time-consuming as it is, I love the motion of a bakery. I love marking off entries on a task list, and I love the technical work of making delicious pastry (something Eric Ripert and I have in common, apparently.)

What I’ve learned over the last few years, however, is that I also love writing about the kitchen and telling stories. I love teaching people about the kitchen and baking, and I love the fact that I apparently don’t suck at it.

Of course, Anthony Bourdain is proof that writing about the kitchen and working in one are not mutually exclusive. At the time of his writing, however, he had very different circumstances and goals than I do. Reading in his interviews about his writing style was enlightening- waking up, writing until he had to go to work, then working for 17 hours at Les Halles until he came back to his apartment and passed out certainly worked out for writing Kitchen Confidential. At the same time, he admitted that he wrote that way because he had no choice. He was living alone, in an apartment whose rent he always paid late, and burdened by a small mountain of debt.

If that’s the kind of pressure that makes some people write, I’m glad I don’t have it. Neither pressure or lack thereof are excuses for creation though.

How to thread the needle? That’s something I’ll need to consider- how much time I can afford to draw away from the kitchen to make my own projects work. Can I pull off a Bourdain and simply do my projects a little at a time while pushing myself to the limit in the bakery? Or will the projects require a greater investment on my part- and with that a certain amount of gambling. If there’s one thing I know, how safe a bet on yourself is is always up to you.

But I’ve got some time to try it out now- and at the very least, it feels good to have something to dream of again.

Stay Classy,

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