Doing the Work

“I don’t feel as good as I should,” Anne said. You may remember Anne. She drops by from time to time to help me work out coaching problems, art problems, and  creativity conundrums.

chef-hat-2430“What do you want to feel good about?” I asked Anne, who has a varied, fast-moving life.

“The universe called me to be a chef, and I was really excited about it, and now I’m not,” she said, collapsing the story of the last six weeks into one sentence.

“How did the universe call you?” I asked.

“I just knew it’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “And then all these things started happening to support me. Chef aprons and pants went on sale, and I found a knife catalog in my cart at the grocery store. So I had business cards made that said I was a chef and now I’m cooking for people,” she added.

“Did you go to cooking school?” I asked, slightly incredulous.

“I took an online course from a well-known chef,” she said, “And he said to start cooking right away.” But I wanted to serve people, so I told people I was a chef. But I’m not happy,” she frowned.

“Any idea what might be behind the unhappiness?” I asked.



“Not really. I did real well on the online course. I watched the videos and everything. And I’ve come up with a great name for the business–Against the Grain–I’m cooking gluten free,” she added with a slight smile.

“Clever name,” I agreed. “But there is more than choosing a career than being wowed by someone famous and coming up with a clever name. There’s real work involved–practice, study. Do you know what gluten is?”  I asked.

“It’s, like, flour,” she said. “But what’s important is that the universe called me and I’ve always wanted to cook, and now I’m doing it.”

“It’s not flour,” I said, “gluten is a protein in some grains like wheat, barley or rye. But you can’t just decide the universe called you and then say you are a chef. There’s a lot of work involved. A lot of study to know the science behind food and cooking. Practice in learning technique. It’s more than deciding you were destined to be a chef. That’s a story you tell yourself to make the work seem less important,” I added.

“If you want to be a chef, you have to be ready to go to school–a hands-on school–because online learning and watching videos goes only so far. The real work is in knowing what you are doing and why. That kind of technique isn’t learned by watching, it’s learned by doing under the guidance of someone who knows how, who is willing to teach.” I was ranting, and I knew it.

“You just don’t want me to be a chef,” she said.

“It’s fine with me if you are a chef,” I said. “But before you call yourself a chef, you have to earn the right. To join a group of anything you don’t do it by calling yourself one, you do it by working at becoming one, by honoring all the greats in your group. A bad chef ruins it for the good ones,” I added, appealing to her sense of justice.

She looked at me for a while. “So you don’t believe I’m a chef,” she finally said.

“You aren’t,” I said. “But you can be one. Just not overnight. Or in a month. It takes willingness to start at the basics and learn your way up. It takes knowing how to do all the un-fun tasks. Peeling potatoes. Knowing how many hors d’oeuvres a group will eat in an hour. Knowing how to make soup stock and plan a menu and bone a chicken,” I added.

“But what about the name of my business?” she said

“It’s great. But you can’t just declare yourself an expert, you have to prove it every day, to other experts. That’s how you get real skill,” I added.

“I don’t want to go to school,” she said. “It takes too long. And I hate tests. Maybe I’ll be a writer. The universe could be calling me to be a writer, too.”

* * * There is a long stretch of hard road between wanting to do something that requires skill and actually doing it. If the universe is calling you, the work won’t be easier, but it will seem worthwhile. Whether it’s teaching or writing, cooking or coaching, all skills come from learning, making mistakes and practice. We are eager to re-invent ourselves, but it takes more than giving ourselves a new tag line and changing our website. You are never alone. In your career, you represent your profession, not just yourself.

If you are in it for the glory, the flash, the cachet, that’s not the universe. That’s your ego. Ask Anthony Weiner.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. She worked for it. Still does.