I think it might be time to take some new risks.
And it took the words of the late Anthony Bourdain to help solidify that.
I started writing as a regular practice back in 2005 when someone said I should have a weblog. I didn’t know what that was and so I looked up a few friends online that had one and I couldn’t understand why anyone would be interested in reading one-paragraph stream-of-consciousness, typo-filled rants on who I’m mad at and what I had to eat that day. I then found some other writers like Seth Godin who wrote thoughtfully, often in very short form, but always with a simple point that made a lot of sense.
Using this example as inspiration, I wanted to adopt a similar quality to my writing, so I used the process of opening our first restaurant, bread&cup, as a source of ideas and as a way to chronicle the story that was unfolding. I mainly did it because I wanted a way to look back on the journey and remind myself why I took such a huge risk that ultimately ended up in failure after 10 years of operation. By failure, I mean I didn’t go out on my terms. It did not end the way I envisioned. Yes, good things happened and many people were blessed, but the business ultimately failed. It could not sustain itself. That’s why I don’t shy away from the use of the word, failure.
I’ve always had a knack for writing. I wrote letters to friends while I was in college. I kept stationery and stamps in my desk drawer. And while everyone else was whining, saying, “I really need to write her a letter,” I did it. It was easy. It was fun. And I haven’t lost that enjoyment to this day, even though my notes are usually electronic and in email or text form. Writing has always been a personal way of communicating my thoughts and feelings to another person. When we found out Karen had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2010, my first compulsion was to go home and write about it
Another author that has inspired me is the late Anthony Bourdain. In a 2017 interview with Fast Company, Bourdain said some pretty amazing things in 14 minutes. I transcribed the interview so I could parse his language and delve deeper into what he was saying. The result is this: I don’t want to make his same mistakes, but I also want to emulate what he found compelling. It was this opening line caught my attention:
“I detest competent, workman-like story telling”
I would venture to say that it was this position, and his refusal to settle for a safe, tidy story that made his writing so compelling to countless numbers of people. He gave a glimpse of the professional kitchen that was raw and accurate. His description of what the chef life was like was nothing like how the Food Network portrayed it. Theirs was fashionable and glitzy, His was authentic, and gave honor to the people who cooked your food and got no credit for it. His voice gave the back of the house something to proud of. He became their champion.
His episode of No Reservations with Ted Nugent was my all-time favorite. The two men were as far apart ideologically as you can get, but there was still a willingness to step into the conversation and do something that is extremely rare and yet extremely wise: Bourdain listened to Ted. He listened without feeling the need to correct or argue. Instead he showed deference by asking the question, “What makes Ted tick?” I love this type of curiosity. And I hope I can develop it more in my own life.
He went on to say this about risk taking and failure:
I was not a particularly good chef. I had a lot of problems at various points in my career with narcotics. I was very deservedly fired on a number of occasions but I mean if you’re talking about failure though you know I’ve accepted failure as a chef because I was at various times, a bad chef or even a bad person. These days if I fail, its because I tried to do something and did not succeed or I was just able to do what I hoped to to do or wanted to do or maybe I tried to do something that is clearly in retrospect wouldn’t work but I would much rather that I failed gloriously than not venture, than not try.
While I would not wish failure on anyone or suggest that a person cannot grow without failure, I am at a place where I can be see how my failures do not have to define me negatively. Now that I have some distance between me and my business failures, I think I am at a place where I can take some new risks. And the first place to start is in my writing. As I have accepted that I have a love and enjoyment in writing, it appears that now is the right time to go against any fears that I may have in an attempt to write in way that is anything but workman-like.
All of us who have this compulsion to express our ideas and thoughts through writing understand this feeling of self-doubt. We wrestle with questions like:
“Do I have anything to say?”
“Will it be any good?”
“Who would ever want to read what I write?”
I recently encouraged a friend from high school who was going through a similar list of questions as she contemplated creating a blog. I told her it was more important to find her voice first, not her audience. This priority is critical because I can’t control an audience but I can control my voice. I have power over whether I speak softly or loudly, whether I use anger or kindness to get my point across. My voice is unique and it needs to be developed in accordance with the stories I am telling. Then, once my voice is clear, the audience will begin to hear it, lean in, and listen.
So I am taking my own advice and will continue the process of clarifying my voice. I want to tell my story in a way that is anything but workman-like.
The place I have chosen to start is with my faith. Faith is deeply personal and at times, very controversial. It is easily misunderstood, but it can also make life very interesting. I can say without question that faith has been the one element of my life that has prompted me to take the biggest risks in my life.
And don’t those types of experiences make for the best stories?