I was terrified of failing so I bought five pounds of carrots and got to work.
I had just joined a two-year intensive culinary program. Everyone seemed unfriendly and years ahead of me. I would walk into the kitchen and see people sharpening their knives while looking me straight in the eye. I knew they technically couldn’t hurt anyone, but surely someone here must have stabbed someone before?
Fear turned thoughts in my head into anxiety, paranoia, and all sorts of things. If you’ve never stepped into a professional kitchen before you won’t understand this— a well-functioning kitchen exists on a balance of grace and eating shit. When new recruits come in, there’s too much eating shit and not enough grace. This makes the veterans impatient, and the head honchos even more so.
My first day, I turned what seemed like a never-ending mountain of carrots into julienne cuts. Towards the end of the class, one of the higher-level students came over and surveyed my mountain. She found four cuts she liked. As in four tiny pieces of carrot. As for the remaining pounds of julienne cut carrots? She simply stated, “mirepoix”, and handed me the bin. “Mirepoix” meaning the excess scraps of carrots, onions, and celery used by kitchens to boil down and make vegetable stock.
After three days of having my shit handed to me, I figured out that my normal method of showing up to class and expecting to get better over time wasn’t working.
I went to the store and bought the biggest bag of carrots I could find. Every day after class after cutting bins and bins of vegetables, I would go home and cut more.
The change wasn’t immediate, but it was steady. I kept my head down and kept going. Sometimes I looked up, but just for a moment. When I won first place in a regional culinary competition, everyone was ecstatic. I was happy but humbled. To me, my success wasn’t due to being exceptionally talented, I was just terrified of failure.
It’s been years since I was in a professional kitchen. My life took a different turn. But the memories of culinary school aren’t far behind me. I learned countless lessons in that kitchen.
Today and twenty years from now, no matter who I am, I want to remember my bag of carrots. I want to remember I’m never too good to be afraid of failing. I want to take any fear, especially failure, and use it to power me through any obstacle.
I think if I can do that, I can prove no idea is too crazy, no dream is too high, and no thought is too abstract.
Find your bag of carrots.