Success without challenge is mediocrity

If you know me, you know I love food. I love watching food. I even wrote an ode to chefs.

When I tell people I spend my free time watching food documentaries, they next ask me, “Do you cook?” I answer, “Yeah, I’m getting into it. It’s a work in progress.” Then they ask, “Oh, what do you cook?” This is when I get sheepish. I scan my mind for the most complicated dish I made in the past few weeks and say, “Oatmeal and fish.” (This raises questions because it’s so peculiar. It’s actually extremely delicious when I add all my fixings.) In actuality, my go-to meal is the classic sunny-side up egg and bread. However, since it isn’t complex, I find myself feeling too ashamed to even mention it.

Sunny-side up eggs and bread is the breakfast of my childhood. I dress my eggs with different ingredients depending on my mood for the day: soy sauce, pate, pepper, red chili flakes, harissa, chives, spinach, etc. I also experiment with different types of bread: Vietnamese baguette, french baguette, wheat, rye, etc. It is extremely delicious, equally satisfying, and ultimately, very simple.

Today, I realized, there is nothing shameful about having eggs and bread as your favorite dish. Moreover, there is nothing shameful about saying that you are a beginner. That you are just starting off. That you are not entirely knowledgeable (yet). Or even that you are a highly skilled cook yet your favorite meal is the most elementary food.

There is a vengeance to obtain from knowing you are mediocre at something, great excitement in knowing that you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and undeniable humility is admitting you love the simplest things. 

After all, great cooking begins with the egg.

Similarly, being in a state of uncertainty is not shameful. Whether you are unemployed, recovering from an addiction, going through a divorce, or “failing at life” (for the record, if you are trying, you are not failing), own it. There are crest and troughs. There are mountain and valleys. There are great moments and terrible moments.

You are human. It is normal.

What you make of the troughs is, however, should not be taken with mercy. These challenges are tests of your mental toughness. Push. Act. Rise. Be the contender and tap into your inner strength.

Success without challenge is mediocrity.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

I grew up learning how to do everything on my own. From difficulties in school to applying to college to my first job, I did it all on my own. I had to as there were other people to worry about; I had to help my parents raise my two younger brothers.

I was raised to be fiercely independent but also foolishly arrogant; I believed I could do everything by myself. This self-starter mentality allowed me to succeed for a while when I worked in a startup, until my performance did not meet expectations.

When I was overwhelmed, I insisted on figuring it out on my own instead of asking for help. However, when this led to mistakes at work, I realized that is not efficient nor effective strategy.

It’s okay to ask for help and say “I don’t know”.

There is a fine line between when you should problem-solve on your own and when you should seek input from others. Nonetheless, once you realize that needing the help of others is common and actually a smarter decision in most cases, you don’t feel as powerless but humble in realizing your human limitations.

It takes humility to recognize that you cannot do it all on your own. 

I am unlearning my old ways and reframing my false notions. Asking for help does not always take away your power, but more often than not, strengthens your relationships and builds a more sustainable framework for success. For instance, with more people, you have access to a larger pool of knowledge.

No one knows everything and you can learn something from everyone. Your job is to be open and humble enough to see that.

That is maturity.

Passion gives life life

When I have free time, I spend it feasting my eyes on food. Food documentaries, food shows, food Youtube videos. Today I watched a food movie starring Bradley Cooper called Burnt (highly recommended).

The reason is, I am deeply in love with chefs.

Chefs have a passion that goes beyond the need for comfort or stability. In order to be a chef, you have to put in copious amounts of work for a glimmer of hope that you will become Someone or cook in the kitchen of a world-renowned chef. Chefs get paid minimum wage for decades, working almost double (or triple) time compared to 9-to-5 employees, standing on their feet all day, only to be abusively screamed and tormented for the tiniest mistakes.

Does this turn some away from the culinary world? Probably. That’s where the feeble or disconcerted get weeded out. Only the most resilient, most hungry, most passionate, and possibly most arrogant chefs persevere and rise to stardom. (After all, don’t you need arrogance to curse off the critics?) It’s only then, after such grueling experiences, when chefs reap the rewards, make money, earn awards, and now – thanks to Netflix – become rockstars.

The very nature of the industry is cut-throat competitive and driven by passion; and that is what makes it so alluring.

People love the eager, the enthusiastic, the fervent, and the remarkable.

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Esther Perel talks about this idea in her TED talk. For her book Mating in Captivity, she asks people, “When do you find yourself most drawn to your partner? Not attracted sexually, per se, but most drawn.”

The first group responds: “when she is away, when we are apart, when we reunite”

I’m more interested in the second group’s response:

“[…] when I see him in the studio, when she is onstage, when he is in his element, when she’s doing something she’s passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him, when I see her hold court. Basically, when I look at my partner radiant and confident. Probably the biggest turn-on across the board. Radiant, as in self-sustaining.”

If you want to boost your attraction, feed your passion.

People naturally gravitate towards those who love what they do, as they are full of life.

Passion gives life life.

Work hard, work smart

If you are like me, you push yourself to be better every day. The idea of “1% better” is what you strive for when you go about our day. You think about your processes and try to learn new tactics to make sure you’re operating to your maximum potential.

Learn, refine, experiment, and refine again.

Improvement is a reiterative process in efforts to be more efficient and effective the next time around. Part of optimizing your tactics requires you to considering your limitations.

This can include your weaknesses, blind spots, and your basic human needs. Strategizing without factoring in these details is counterproductive.

“One of the greatest indicators of our own spiritual maturity is revealed in how we respond to the weaknesses, the inexperience, and the potentially offensive actions of others.” – David A. Bednar

Know yourself, know your needs and weaknesses, and plan accordingly. If you do not, your needs and weaknesses will negatively impact your process in one form or another. For example, our basic human needs include sleeping, eating, and hydrating ourselves. If you decide to advance full power into your daily routines without satisfying these core needs, you will run out of steam and add detriment your body.

Work hard, but work smart.

Authenticity goes far

Why sell a fake version of yourself? Yes, we must impress people to get what we want, however we should showcase skills that are authentic to who we are.

I reached out to a seasoned marketing professional for advice earlier last week. This part of her response surprised me:

At the end of the day, people don’t buy your product, they buy YOU. The more authentic and vulnerable you are willing to show up in the world, the more people want to listen to what you have to offer. I have found that to be true through and through.

Think of all the ways we market ourselves: job searching, branding, sharing our stories. We try to show people ourselves, however often times, there is a plateau. We don’t get the response we want, or the validation we believe we deserve, so we give up. We sacrifice our authenticity and sell a different story. Possibly a story that is fake.

A great example is when people catfish when looking for dates. How would you feel if you were going into a date expecting one person when another person shows up? I would be extremely annoyed. I assume people we are marketing to feel the same way when we act out of character.

If we hit a plateau, let’s simply change our strategy. Gather data. Theorize. Test. And try again. Don’t give up. But keep testing. Find a better way to tell your story.

The market, at least the market you’re looking to serve, wants someone who they can trust. How can you build that trust? Show them you, the best parts of you, and actively work to strengthen the rest.

Everything can change in a day

Your life can change in a moment for better or for worse.

You hear back from that job. The diagnosis returns. A new law passes. Your loved one is taken away from you. You get be pregnant. The contract gets approved. Your work receives an award. There is a catastrophic car crash. You meet the love of your life.

Anything can happen any moment every day for the rest of our lives.

This statement makes me simultaneously exuberant and melancholy as memories are both spontaneous and fleeting. A beautiful poignancy, if you will.

Our pace of life is controllable to a degree. Whatever is out of our control must be met with patience and grace. Relinquish your control and let the universe take over. Instead, focus on what you can control. Control your reactions. Control how you deal with it.

Treasure the moments. 

Stay up that extra twenty minutes to finish the bedtime story. Push harder in that last mile. Book that flight and experience your dream vacation. Tell them “I love you”. Hug him tighter. Kiss her goodnight.

Life’s transitoriness is inevitable, however it is as much a blessing as it is a curse.

How else are we going be reminded to seize the day?