As I toasted thin slices of sweet potato this morning, I found myself thinking about the person who started what has seemingly become a trend. It isn’t a difficult concept to come up with. Most of us have toasters in our kitchens, many are trying to find alternatives to bread products, and potatoes can easily be sliced to fit into a toaster. I doubt anyone is getting rich off of this concept, and many people probably thought of it (may have even tried it and decided it was a poor way to cook a potato) before it’s now trending status. Yet, did it ever occur to me before I heard about it somewhere? No, not at all.
I read an article recently on the Wait But Why blog [that source I keep citing – not because I don’t read plenty of other things but because it is just so good] in which author Tim Urban examines in his view what makes Elon Musk who he is – someone changing multiple industries – while I sit here and ponder what’s for dinner and why I keep signing up for long-distance triathlons. One of Urban’s main conclusions is that Musk thinks from first principles. While most of us think that all the good ideas have been tried (I have this great idea, but if it was really that simple someone would have done it already, etc), and if we venture from what has been done we tweak it just a tiny nudge in a different direction, Musk doesn’t carry that baggage. The analogy used is a cook vs. a chef. Chefs invent cuisine from scratch (for reals, think the first person who ever decided to mix oil and vinegar together for a salad dressing, or salads in the first place, or to mix water and flour to create pasta, etc) and cooks may tweak a recipe, but they work from what’s already there.
I think that what we believe is possible and doable in our lives is largely based on what we see in front of us. This includes the professions that our parents held, or grandparents, or what we may gain exposure through other venues. (Could this be why so many of us want to be teachers or firefighters when we grow up – because that is what we see good people in society doing?) In his interview with Tim Ferriss, Patrick Collison, the CEO of Stripe discusses how his parents ran businesses, so it was no leap for him to play around with different business ownership options. On their joint podcast (recently but I’m afraid I forget the precise episode), Gretchen Rubin and her sister Liz Craft discuss that one became a writer first and showed the other that it was a possible path. I think this is why we celebrate the feat when a student is the first to graduate college in his family. I have a friend who grew up in a wealthy home and married someone who grew up in a very modest home. They now live off of income somewhere in the middle, and as you might expect, one is very happy with their financial life and opportunities, while the other thinks more about the opportunities that they do not have based on the family’s employment choices.
I recently signed up for an online web developer course. I haven’t gotten into the nitty gritty yet, but it appears someone has put together a course that will help me learn how to code using different programs (or languages? whatever it’s called). This is so foreign to me, I don’t even know the correct language to use. What’s more, this hadn’t even occurred to me (to seek out a course in web development) until I read this excellent article by Steph Smith (no relation). Ms. Smith is a remote employee who writes about her experience and provides tips, some of which include obtaining basic skills in development, design, and SEO (to name a few) for anyone wanting to enter the world of remote work. I signed up for the course using Udemy, something I didn’t know existed before reading her article which recommends it. And how did I come across this article? In the most indirect way! Gretchen Rubin shared it on Twitter because the article mentions the four tendencies that Rubin developed (and not even in a big way). Oh the connections we can make in today’s tech world.
I like the concept of the chef, as presented by Tim Urban, because it can sit in the back of my mind as approval to sometimes not follow what others say to do. A million people will tell me how to build my health coaching business, they will sell me information about social media marketing, etc. There are paths I could take that may work for me, but it is also true that I may find my own path. Maybe in little ways throughout life we can all make the choice to be a chef. To completely choose our own path out of first principles rather than tweaking what has already been done in the past. Maybe. Maybe I will never be that creative or gutsy, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
I’m not sure how this applies to triathlon, except that I know many of us have been the first in our families to tri, and many have re-shaped their entire lives to be far healthier through triathlon. It can take a lot of guts to call yourself a triathlete if deep down you see yourself as a couch potato-for some I think that takes some chef-level thinking.