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.



29 thoughts on “Doing the Work

  1. Timely for me.
    I have decided to play a musical instrument. My grandson who plays piano and guitar has picked up the ukuele. It inspired me to play as well. I wish I could just pronounce myself a ukuele player but it will take lessons and practice and time. I’m impatient about it but I want to play and sing to myself and anybody else who wants to listen. We’ll see how it goes.
    In the meantime….thanks for the reminder that I will have to work at it and keep my desire to “become” strong.

      • hehehehehee…..It would be more than timely as it would help me explore my heritage…..”we are a fighting people”……
        I’ll stick with the ukulele….Tiny Tim is my idol……….NOT! when was the last time you listened to him “Tip Toe Through The Tulips”?

    • Becoming is a special state. We shouldn’t race through it. I am excited for your musical adventure. I took seven years of piano lessons and never made it past the Happy Farmer. Alas.

  2. Anthony Weiner, LOL! “I’ll call myself Carlos Danger…”
    Oh, our wonderful, terrible egos. Leading us astray, convincing us that we don’t really need to work at something, we can simply BE that because we say so. We can be too good at fooling ourselves sometimes, believing our own publicity…

    • The mind is a very adjustable device. And justifying things to ourselves is a major way we fool ourselves that we are doing the right thing. Rationalization is far more fun than self-control.

    • Part I. The point is the point. How it’s brought across is just writing. Part 2. I wish I did. Names, details and circumstances have been changed, but it’s real. In some ways, the reality is more dangerous. People won’t eat bad food, but they will take terrible advice.

      • #1: People eat bad food all the time. McDonald’s seems to be pretty successful.
        #2: “Just writing”?!? That’s also the difference between Moby Dick and Jaws…

        • #1 Just because people eat bad food doesn’t mean it’s a great thing to take advantage of their ignorance. #2. It’s the same thing, different career. It’s not sustainable. As Martha Beck says, “”Any transition serious enough to alter your definition of self will require not just small adjustments in your way of living and thinking but a full-on metamorphosis.” Most people don’t want to do the work of metamorphosis, they just want to wear a butterfly costume and think they can fly.

          • That was me, by the way. Sorry; switching among too many computers. My #1 point was simply that of course people will eat bad food; and often prefer it. My point #2 is that calling the difference “just writing” seems to me to run completely counter to your message. In this case maybe it’s because it’s YOUR writing, which is hard to acknowledge — but come on, it’s not like nobody has ever made this point before; it’s because of the way YOU make it works for people. It’s writing, but I submit that it is not “just” writing because then “just anybody” could “just do it”. Which they can’t.

            I don’t know who Martha Beck might be but her “explanation” is tautological. And I should know; I’ve taught a logic. *rimshot*

          • The crack about writing was sarcasm. You know, if I can’t be a chef, I’ll be a writer. Or a coach. Or something else. And I knew it was you. Who else writes like that? And yes, I am ignoring the rimshot.

          • That’s the second time I’ve read that quote in as many days . . . maybe the universe is talking to me? Maybe I need to start knitting myself a chrysalis, or would a sleeping bag do? Actually I feel like I am in a chrysalis in some ways and it’s getting restrictive. When the tightness reaches straight-jacket proportions I’ll burst out!
            And I guess if people can be so unwise as to call McDs food, I shouldn’t be surprised there are people as naive as Anne. . . . but I am.

  3. “before you call yourself a X, you have to earn the right” I agree, I always have but then I see people pulling it off and I´m kept wondering. What if it´s all that it really takes? To call yourself and get on with it.
    On the other hand I see things like people claiming they can make you have a gazillion fans on Facebook while their page have less than 100. *roll eyes*

    • Yeah, that’s what this is about–the ones that pull it off. I think they do it at a terrible cost to someone–their clients, the image of a whole group. When they get tired, they quit.

      • Sometimes, infuriating as it can be, a person really does come along who can just play. I don’t mean somebody who actually does work harder and longer than anybody else, but it looks effortless. I mean sometimes it really IS effortless. It’s not as uncommon as you’d think.

        • It’s usually effortless after a lot of work. It’s hardly ever effortless just because you want it to be. There are geniuses and talented people, but most of the time they work hard at what they think is fun. Or at least care about.

          • I understand that often there’s work involved, but just extrapolating from my own experiences, there is no work at all more than you might think. I have a little bit of it, with math; I just know the answers. I don’t even think about it; they’re just there. Only to fairly low-level problems, in my case, but I’ve met a few people for whom it’s true at a much higher level. There are people like that in programming and chip design too; people I’ve met. There are “people persons” like that as well, and business people. Writing is a solitary, unobserved process, but look at how prolific some authors are; I don’t believe that’s always based on work. I don’t know much about sports, but what little I’ve read suggest that there may be less of this phenomenon there. Maybe it’s because in sports, unlike many fields, natural performers are pitted directly against other natural performers. Technically adept people usually end up collaborating.

            From what I know, it’s not ever effortless because anybody wants it to be. It just is. It’s like your height or the color of your eyes; invisible potencies mingled and condensed, and we are their unwitting dew.

          • Interesting fact to toss into the mix: Stephen King, who knows a thing or two about writing books, starts every day with writing practice. Practice. He’s written 50 novels and he practices every day.

  4. One day the universe called me
    to tell me the thing I should be.
    But the call? It was dropped.
    Now my dreams are all popped.
    ‘Cause the universe has AT&T.

  5. “Ref.” What I said was REF. There was a clinic at the ball field right down the street from her house while she was holed up with her computer. It was R E F for crying out loud. Sigh. Anyway I have to go talk to Anne’s otolaryngologist; you wouldn’t believe what I actually said to her.
    – The Universe

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