When people ask what I wanted to be as a kid, I recall my friend and I convincing our science teacher to take us to the canyon near our home to gather rocks and arrowheads. The first thing I ever wanted to be was an archaeologist. I was fascinated with learning how people lived thousands of years ago. Even to this day, when I visit a historical place, I become almost dissociative. I can feel what it was like to live during that time. It’s my version of time travel, I guess.
I was also a big reader of biographies. My mom and I watched a lot of old movies together and I was fascinated with the 30’s and 40’s actors and actresses, so I’d scour the biography section at the library for biographies. I read about Francis Farmer, Carol Lombard, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland, to name a few. I felt like I had been born in the wrong era. Those biographies took me back to a time I never knew. Even today, my personal biography library takes up the most room on my bookshelves. I’ve got bios on everyone from Da Vinci to to Marie Antionette to Julia Child to Laird Hamilton.
The question is why biographies? I’m a notorious loner. I have a hard time connecting with people in real life. I have often said, “I hate people,” but obviously I don’t. In fact, people fascinate me, especially when a biographer gets beyond their personas. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for me to relate to people. I’m interested in the real story, not the persona you present.
Of course, I can’t judge. I am far from authentic myself. I’ve kept my real Self locked up so deep inside that even I don’t know who I am. I think the reason I’m so interested in biographies is because I’m looking for myself in other people.
I recently began watching The Chef’s Table on Netflix. It’s been out for a while and I love cooking shows, but I thought it was going to be about hoity-toity food and I’m not interested in that. It turns out, though, that the series is more biographies about the chefs themselves. Some are famous chefs, others not as famous, but all are super interesting in their own ways.
I’m a seeker. I have been all my life. I’ve often said my goal in life is to know everything and that includes learning about myself and growing as a person. I look to these chefs and I wonder what makes them so special. Why are they so successful, while I’m struggling? I’ve found some commonalities, which may seem like Duh! to most, but to me, they’re life-altering.
Each chef is compelled to follow their heart first and be true to themselves, above everything else. They are not people-pleasers. Chef Ana Roš said, “I never meant to hurt my parents, but my need to be true to myself and my sense of duty to my parents were fighting a battle. I chose to follow my heart.” And chef Francis Mallman said he felt compelled by “the freedom of believing only in myself and not letting myself be led by anybody.”
All my life, I’ve tried to please everybody and I’ve failed miserably. It didn’t make me happy and I certainly didn’t please anyone. Somehow, I never knew that pleasing myself first was an option.
Almost all of the chefs failed, or at least struggled terribly, when they first started. They questioned whether they should continue or give up. However, almost every time, the failure was a catalyst for the next phase, which ultimately catapulted their careers. They each said that they believed in themselves first and foremost and they loved what they were doing unconditionally. There never really was a question of quitting; they needed that failure and struggle to make them even more sure of themselves and their dreams.
I’ve always viewed failure as an end. I failed. I give up. It got to the point where I was afraid to even try. I believe that’s what’s causing me to procrastinate about doing what I want to do right now. If I fail at something I know I’m good at, if I fail at what I love to do more than anything, then that’s it. It’s all over. I’m afraid of that ultimate failure.
However, I’ve realized that I’ve had a few failures — logos for clients that simply quit responding halfway through, blog posts rejected for my friend’s business with no feedback as to what they didn’t like, posters rejected with no explanation — yet I’m still continuing to do design work and striving to learn more every day. Seems like struggle may be part of the learning process.
Finally, what ultimately came from their struggle was that they had to be true not only to their vision, but to their home. They were cooking French cuisine in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, even France, but the food had no soul. Only when they returned to the roots of their culture and the food loved by the people of their homelands, were they able to be successful.
Sadly, I’ve never identified with the “culture” of the US. In fact, I don’t feel like we really have a culture. Our food is almost exclusively borrowed and dumbed down from other countries, while we look down our noses at those very cultures. In my opinion, the US is devoid of any real culture, which probably explains why we are so unhappy as a country. We have nothing to bind us together.
Aside from the lack of culture, I’ve never felt like I had a family home either. I grew up in Texas, but we left when I was 17 and we never really settled down anywhere after that. I lived in Omaha for 20 years and never felt at home there. I live in Colorado now, but I don’t feel like this is where I belong. I desperately want to find my home, a place I feel like I belong. I’ve never had that before. My secret desire is to build out a van to live in and travel the country until I find a place that feels like home to me. My definition of hiraeth is being homesick for a place I’ve never been and I am homesick.
Chef’s Table brought that longing to the surface in a big way, but maybe it’s like trying to be a people pleaser. I’m looking for home outside of myself, like I was looking for approval from outside of myself, like I’ve been looking to these biographies to tell me how to live my life, but perhaps it’s as Hermann Hesse said,
“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”
Ultimately, I want to live my life by my own terms and follow my own vision, just as these chefs have, even though right now I don’t know what my vision is because it’s foggy from decades of people pleasing and begging for external validation. If failure is a catalyst for a big shift, then I’m in for a doozy of a shift. I’m ready for it. As chef Enrique Olvera said, “Success is being proud of what you do every day.” I’m ready for some success.