Thursday, I sat in the back pew of a local house of worship, surrounded by several of my colleagues, paying respects at a funeral service that no one had anticipated we would need to attend so soon. We knew this lovely lady had another bout with cancer, but, her health had just recently turned the corner for the better a few short weeks ago.
As I sat there, I couldn't help but notice that I was among the "who's who" of my industry, all gathered together in one small sanctuary. Sitting in the rows just ahead of me were 5 Certified Master Chefs, and several CMC candidates, as well as several well-respected and accomplished chefs of note and prominence.
All of them, a small fraternity of excellence, the embodiment of hard work, talent, and passion. All of them have been decorated many times over. Many of them having reached a level of success that only a very small fraction of their peers could even hope to achieve.
It's trite and cliche, but I don't know many people who can attend a funeral without taking at least an abbreviated inventory of their own life; where they've been, where they're going, and the people who travel alongside them. Maybe regrets flash in their memories, hopefully not too many. Maybe sweet thoughts of happy times with family and friends...
I've always said, "you're going to be dead a lot longer than you're going to be alive....", and it's long been sort of a mantra I'm not "old" by any means, but as I contemplated where I've been and where I'm going, I couldn't believe how fast time flies by. I was just 17 years old when I made the acquaintance of many of these men I now call colleagues and friends, including our widower, who was one of my first instructors.
Fresh-faced and full of enthusiasm, and lots of youthful ignorance, I started culinary school with little concern for anything or anyone other than myself and where I was headed professionally. As I sat there, I thought to myself, "these guys probably want to shake their head at me; all of my drive and talent, all of the training and awards - I didn't do what they trained me to do. I didn't end up a "chef's chef". ...I make granola".
It's pretty ridiculous. It's also kind of funny. I make granola. Of all of the things I know how to make. Of all of the awards I've won. Of all of the magazines my work has been featured in, I make granola. Of course, none of them treat me this way. They're all very, very sweet to me.
So, at 31, I again realized that I'm going to be dead a lot longer than I'll be alive, and I'm really not too far behind these guys in their 50's, or at least in terms of how fast the time will pass before I'm there. Especially based on how fast the last 14 years have breezed past me, when it all just seems like only a couple of years ago, I was living it up, making trouble and showing off with other obnoxious and precocious culinarians.
I make granola, and, I guess, if I wanted to "redeem" myself for the sins of not "living the life" and setting the culinary world on fire, like the 5 Masters had expected me to, I can point to the snobbish standards by which the granola was developed and is made. The thing is, making granola is one of the best decisions I've made in my career.
No one expects an explanation from me, except me. And, as I sat there, contemplating my past and future, an arm's-reach from mid-life, I know that one day, I'll be in a box or an urn, too, and it'll be just fine because I lived the life I wanted to live, on my terms, risks, reward, and all that other stuff that accompanies the business of making yourself happy.
It's a new year. What are you waiting for?
While having coffee with my sister the other night, we were reminiscing about Christmases past and how this year is so different than the ones we've shared before. It's true, this year is very, very different for a lot of reasons. From the grey and muddy weather to the people we'll be celebrating with, this Christmas will come and go, just like all of the others, and we'll head into 2012 as subtly different versions of the people we were before.
Like anyone else, I have my preferences, there is a certain way that I think things should be or how I would want them to be. Like anyone else, I'm sometimes disappointed or frustrated when what makes perfect sense to me doesn't seem to be so logical or feasible to someone else. Like anyone else, I'm looking forward to see what 2012 will bring, wondering about the future, and wondering what will change and what will stay the same, and hating the fact that there's no way I can know.
It's Christmas Eve morning, and I'm surrounded by the happy sound of snoring dogs, content that they're warm and well-cared for. Particularly, my foster, Colby, who seems to wake up every morning, truly grateful to see my face, knowing I'm the person who picked him up from the pound. Colby sleeps on the floor, most times, since the other two have long ago claimed the sofa or the bed. Colby still finds a comfortable place (usually not far from me) to lay down and rest. When he's finally asleep, his tongue pokes out of his mouth and
he's completely at peace
When I think about the dogs, particularly Colby, I think about how dogs can be always present in the moment. They don't worry about the future, they don't generally have anxiety about the unknown. I watch them and am in complete awe of how contented they can be, and how they're completely unaware of what a gift it is to be able to live out their days in such a state of acceptance.
2011 was a great year for so many reasons, even with all of the highs, lows, frustrations and disappointments. Today, I am somewhat of a different version of who I was before I walked into my office on January 5th, having decided that it was time to make a change.
The other night, my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas. When she asked, I was very sure I knew specifically what would make me smile and bring a sense of happiness to me tomorrow. It seemed a "no-brainer" - I knew exactly what I wanted. Now that I've been thinking about it, I realized that of all of the things I want or that I think I want, I have to say now that all I want for Christmas is to learn to live with an attitude of acceptance instead of expectation.
I want to enter 2012 as someone who accepts things as they come and go, without judgement and with a sense of gratefulness for the life I have, exactly as it is., understanding that things are wonderful, every single day - just like Colby.
On January 5, 2011, I walked into my office and expected 2011 to be one of the better years in my career. Rejuvenated from a mini-vacation to Chicago, and optimistic about reaping the benefits of 4 previous years of hard work, I expected good things to happen. After building Mirepoix from the ground up, I was looking forward to a year where Mirepoix would turn the corner from start-up to small business.
I had not even sat down at my desk yet when my phone rang and when I answered it, I had no idea how right I was about 2011 being one of the best years of my career. The phone call didn't bring good news. Well, not obvious good news. The phone call was actually really frustrating and stressful. Within 90 seconds, I realized that 2011 was not going to be great because I was going to continue to lead Mirepoix. It became almost immediately apparent that I never should have come back from vacation.
Outraged and appalled, I decided that my days at the company I had built had finally come to an end. I had at long last reached my saturation point. There was finally absolutely NO reason for me to continue on as the director. I made up my mind that I would leave my position and start my own business. The next few months were spent trying to bring people up to speed on the ins and outs of the business so that when I left, there would be at least a somewhat easy transition.
There were days when I was emotional. There were days when I was downright sad. There were days when I would feel flashes of terror when I imagined life without the company I had come to love as my own. When I finally moved out of my office and left my keys on the desk, I felt a sense of relief. I went about the business of starting my own business, and this little bird left the nest in May, ready for the triumphs and challenges of entrepreneurship.
9 out of 10 days, I noticed that I've been happier than I've ever been in my entire life, and, in fact, 2011 was the best year of my career, as well as my personal life. If you've been reading the blog, you know that there have been fits of frustration and fear, but, at the end of it all, nothing was as scary as the thought of staying where I had been.
Taking the risk had been worth it.
There are people who think I have it all figured out. I don't.
There are some who think that I am a successful business person who doesn't struggle with money issues, cash-flow problems, or lost business. I do.
From the outside, it might appear that I'm completely fearless and never worry. Nothing could be further from the truth. It's scary in here sometimes!
I'm not saying that my contented state of mind and outwardly relaxed appearance is a facade. I'm just saying that I've come to the realization that allowing fear to run your life is, for lack of a better word, stupid.
This is the thing - In my life, I've had moments of monumental unhappiness and epic fear. Because of some extreme life experiences, I've come to see that there are just some things you shouldn't do to yourself because life is just too short to be so afraid. I figured out that the things I valued before didn't bring me real happiness or confidence. They didn't enhance relationships or quality of life.
I realized that I had trophies and accomplishments because I fought bitterly and doggedly for them. Whatever I had, I earned through sheer tenacity and a desperate need to prove a point. While persistence and commitment (read "stubbornness") were qualities I considered noble, I enjoyed the victories alone. Hollow. Totally Hollow.
When I made this realization, I started changing.
On Monday morning, I had an appointment with the Michigan Department of Agriculture as I entered the final phase of licensing of Three Little Birds Granola. My mom drove me and waited in the parking lot, hoping to lend moral support as I had a lot on my mind and needed a friendly traveling companion as I made the trip to Holt where the granola is now made.
Three Little Birds was a dream that eventually became a reality, after several long months, obstacles, and small victories and set-backs. The licensing of this product has been one of the most complicated, time-consuming and overwhelming projects that I've ever undertaken.
Obtaining the license was a huge accomplishment; not because it's intellectually or physically difficult. It was an accomplishment because it was a triumph of patience and perseverance. More than that, though, it was a victory because it represented how much my life could change in 12 short months because I made the decision to let go of my fear and take a risk.
When I settled into bed on Monday night, the sense of accomplishment was not as strong as the sense of thankfulness that I had the benefit of support of friends and family along the way. It was also incredibly obvious that nothing worth talking about matters if you don't have people you love to talk about it with.
Thanks to all of you who have been there along the way. Every gesture, big and small have been appreciated more than you could ever know.
Stacy Sloan; Chef & Founder of Three Little Birds