part two: the price of not failing
de bill, K7WXW
I make awesome hard boiled eggs. Seriously. People love my hard boiled eggs. I could have a website or a cookbook cover devoted to them. It was not always so. I have ruined uncountable eggs. Under-boiled. Over-boiled. Hard to peel. Mushy. Chalky. Rubbery. Whatever sort of badly made egg you have ever eaten, I promise you I made one (or two or ten) of the same kind. I am the king of bad eggs.
Early on I was taught that failure was the province of losers and fools. My schooling and professional life were grounded in that idea. Badly-made eggs were not tolerated, let alone eaten. Good jobs, promotions and stock options were the province of people that did not make mistakes, at least publicly. So, like many of my peers, I became a guy that had to know how something was going to turn out before I tried to make it happen.
This approach got me the stock options, paid for with a bland, cooking-to-eat world. I seemed to be rewarded in direct proportion to how often I said no. Being a winner was equated with avoiding failure, which is synonymic for not taking chances. It worked, in the sense that I looked like the kid with the cake, but little that I did – designing a new product, cooking a steak, making a new friend – meant much because I was always pretty sure how things would turn out before I started.
Figuring out how to make a reliably good egg – or almost anything else – involves making some bad ones first. You have to try things, take chances. But if you can’t abide failure, you don’t risk bad eggs and you either give up eating them or have someone who makes a good egg make them for you. You do eat and don’t fail but live a bland life.
When mistakes are okay, an untasty egg is a provocation. You bite into one and you think, egg, water, fire. How hard can it be? You give free rein to curiosity and think about why and how and when (does it make a difference that I use an electric stove? how fresh are the eggs? how big?). You might even ponder big questions, like how does Anthony Bourdain do it?
Curiosity, the ability to think about the big picture and the willingness to learn from others is what makes good eggs, elegant designs, and lyrical translations. If all your projects have good outcomes – if you are almost always that kid – it is highly likely your recipes require little or none of these three ingredients. As I learned, stock options or not, it isn’t a very tasty sort of winning.