My cooking claim to fame is that I can open the refrigerator, scan the shelves, then create a meal out of whatever is available. (Leftover Oatmeal Cobbler. Salsa and Vegetable Soup.) I may check a recipe, but only to play with possibilities. If I have a handful of apricots, I might mix together something Moroccan. Sprigs of cilantro could lead to Whatever-I-Have-on-Hand Enchiladas. Scanning the shelves, I am curious to find out what dish will emerge from the random ingredients I find there. No fears or what-ifs. I’m not concerned with tomorrow’s lunch or next week’s dinner. And I trust that whatever I make will be edible, and often delicious.
I’ve just come face to face with the fact that I have a very different approach to other tasks I need to accomplish. Particularly tasks that involve working collaboratively within organizations that hold a bold vision that makes my heart sing.
Instead of playing with what’s in front of me, I grab my tattered recipe for I-Need-To-Make-Something-Happen-NOW. Defaulting to distrust, I scramble in over-responsibility with things that aren’t mine to control and don’t notice the tasks that are mine to tend.
Throughout my life, part of me is always looking down the road a piece—weeks or years in the future. All too often, I focus that sight on potential pitfalls or possible brick walls endangering the path up ahead. I try so hard to be positive—and part of me is naturally that way—but my innate bias is to focus on what might go wrong. From there, my ironclad responsibility kicks into to full gear. Grabbing all the ingredients and tools I can find, I scramble to rigidly follow my inner “recipe” and try to “help” as a way to calm my preemptive fears.
My favorite life-refrigerator ingredient is my astute analytical thinking. Though it has served me well, in this case it keeps me focused on the recipe of Solving-Potential-Problems rather than the mystery of creativity. I need to drop my thinking into the soup pot and let it bubble on the back burner for a bit. Turning from the stove, I then need to squat down and dig in the back of the bottom shelf. There, hidden in the shadows, are my tucked away feelings. They’ve always been there flavoring everything I cook. Ignored, sometimes they taint the entire dish. To bring my cooking skills into my skills in life, I need to include my feelings as a valued ingredient.
Starting from a perspective of possibilities, I remain open to the mystery of what might emerge. The only way I can have the openness I seek is to release my need to hold tightly onto my beautifully constructed plans filled with desires for my own life and for everyone else around me.
Stepping into organizations with my Chef-in-Life apron on, I remember the vast array of options held in the mystery of the moment. The taste of the unexpected. The way the flavors of different ingredients innately combine to become something greater than the parts.
It’s really simple, even in its complexity: Face each moment with the same fresh openness that I have in front of an open refrigerator before dinner. Peek at a pre-determined plan, if needed, but just for ideas. Trust what I already know—my intuitive experience of years in the kitchen and in organizations.
All that is required of me is to show up fully with all I have to bring to the task at hand, enjoy the process, delight in the remarkable array of partners, honor my training by mothers and grandmothers, and relax into the mystery of all those who join me at the Table.