Good Enough

Our heads swiveled a fast and simultaneous quarter turn toward each other, eyes meeting under raised eyebrows, identical bemused smiles on our lips. The grade of the class valedictorian in the Culinary School Professional Chef’s program had just been announced, 94.2. My grade had come in the mail a few days before, 94.09. I was salutatorian .My husband whispered, “Perfect! You tied for first and don’t have to give the speech!” The rest of the ceremonies continued in a happy blur of additional awards, of newly bestowed diplomas and toques. I basked in the proud smiles of my husband and daughter, the warmth of our mutual achievements with my classmates .It was a wonderful day, the culmination of one of the most physically grueling and mentally challenging endeavors I have ever undertaken. Culinary school is a young person’s game and I am young only in spirit. I leaned in, I gave it my all, and here I was graduating with high honors. Perfect, right? Wrong.

One of the simultaneously most encouraging and discouraging things I’ve found in my life is that I am still learning about myself. It is discouraging because I really would have hoped I would be further along in some of these areas by this point. I mean, really! But I suppose more encouraging than not because we do seem to be able to learn, in baby steps, new things in all these new adventures. My life lesson came here; I spent the two weeks following my euphoric graduation depressed, even shamed for not having come in first . I could tell my instructors  expected I would, and I knew my food was consistently good. I let them down I thought, I let myself down. If only, I thought, I hadn’t been on a train stalled for an hour on the way in to my final practicum, the “creative”,  and my carefully packed ice cream component of the dessert hadn’t begun to melt in spite of the ice packed around it, destroying the texture….  If only my portfolio grade had been one percentage point higher,i f only I had done this, done that.  I was torturing myself with “what if” scenarios .

Hold on, I thought, clearly there is something here I need to stop and try to understand. How could I let such a richly rewarding year turn into so much dross simply because of not, by the slimmest of margins, for that matter regardless of margins, being the “best”. Why does this matter so much? Why is external validation still important at all at my age? Shouldn’t I be past this?

My husband thinks it is because my mother always demanded excellence in everything I did. I’m not sure that is exactly right but it was certainly true that a gold star accomplishment gave me a temporary safe harbor in my tempestuous upbringing. There was no such thing as “good enough” actually being good enough, it wouldn’t make me feel safe in her love, even though I probably was. Her love just didn’t feel unconditional to me, it felt like a prize to be won . I think it has to do also with my natural temperament, having to prove myself, to myself…over and over. But here is the thing, I am a grownup, no one can keep me feeling safe but me and I am the most qualified person to judge the worth of my work.

And I think, finally, I get it now. I think, finally, I can relax. I think, finally, I can be happy for good enough. Scratch that, I ,finally, can be more than happy, I can be deeply grateful.

I am , in the end, proud of my hard work and accomplishment. And I am absolutely loving putting all that I have learned, all my heart into the meals I am making for my family and friends …and this, and only this was what I wanted to do , it is good enough.

And I sure hope I have this one down now, because the next life lesson is almost certainly waiting just around the corner …

This entry was posted in A well lived life, Creating happiness, Culinary and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Good Enough

  1. Lynna says:

    Keep fighting the good fight, one I battle myself, sometimes furiously, sometimes passively…embrace the fact that you are able to soak things up…no one needs to be number one all the time, except to yourself.

  2. Jeanne Leonard says:

    Chris,
    Since I have a son that is a professional chef, I somewhat know all the tortures and grueling work in becoming a chef. The fact that you threw yourself into this, with such vigor and sense of excellence is amazing. I’m also thrilled that you were salutatorian and Jim’s remark was just right, “you came in first and didn’t have to give the speech.” However, as usual, you’ve touched the right button in questioning “why, at this age, does external validation still matter.” Unfortunately it seems to, not only for you, but for the rest of us. If we can remember that others are feeling the same thing and that we are in the same boat, maybe that is enough.

    Thank you for sharing this and congratulations!
    Love, Jeanne

    • Dear Jeanne,

      Thank you so much! Your ability to get right at the center of things always leaves me in humble awe. Yes! I have heard from several folks today, almost all saying “Me too!” , it is remarkable to me how many of us are in the same boat…and maybe the comfort of knowing that we aren’t alone can help us steer the boat in ever new directions!

      Thank you again.

      Love,

      Chris

  3. Jaye says:

    You excel at everything you take on Christine…..great mom, adoring wife, totally amazing actress and now Master Chef…..Wow!!!!!!!!

  4. Suzanne says:

    Chris, your honesty, capacity for self- reflection, zest for living, and your active commitment to that heralded concept “life long learning” are just a few of the qualities that earn you an infinite, unconditional series of gold stars in my little book.

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