The year of the Chef.
Each year I pick a word or phrase to help focus my decisions and actions for the coming 12 months. And I encourage you to do the same.
This is a note that I write every year to announce the word I have chosen to guide me for the next 12 months. The idea is simple. But not easy. It involves searching inside yourself for the qualities you value but perhaps sometimes lack. And devising a word, like a secret code, that can pull you back to the path you want to walk.
It beats the heck out of setting a New Year’s resolution. And then ignoring it after a month or two.
For me, 2020 will be the year of the Chef. More on that below.
Dr. Fox is a stylish, compelling and enigmatic sort of chap and he gets people to look at things in a different way by building little mental/magical exercises around them (he casts himself as something of a wizard on his web site, which is an offshoot of his book about leading quests; it seems every quest needs a wizard). One such exercise is something he calls “Choose One Word — a Ritual of Becoming” and you can get a basic understanding of it from this blog post on Dr. Fox’s web site. In fact, he has turned the entire process into an online curriculum which costs a little over $100 US at current exchange rates. That’s here. Because it’s a one-time cost that you can use year after year, I feel it’s well worth the price.
I have chosen a word or phrase as a somewhat fuzzy contextual beacon for my path for the last five years. Here’s the run-down of previous ones:
Rebel Scum was a phrase I chose in a year where I felt I needed to fight against the big bad Empire of corporate-think and forge a different path for myself. Doing things the same way we had always done was getting to me and I needed a change. The word “rebel” alone would not have been enough. I needed “scum” there to remind me that people would push back (as the empire in the Star Wars saga did) and would sometimes not recognize the goodness and value in the things I do. But I had a higher cause.
I chose Catalyst because, in 2017, I was leading a team and wanted to have an impact upon their work product without doing the work itself. I wanted to pull back and spark change. And it helped a great deal to get some good work done.
Astronaut was a word chosen to remind me to train hard, learn new skills, explore and do things other people have never done before. I really wanted to break new ground creatively in 2018.
I picked Invent Water for 2019 because it was a year in which I knew that I would have to take a leap off the diving board and “invent water on the way down,” as the saying goes. I left a job. I started a new business at the age of —wait—does it really matter how old I am? No, goddammit! I needed to be fearless and take risks. And it worked incredibly well in a number of critical decisions I had to make.
One must note, I have broken the rules two out of the last four years and have chosen a phrase instead of one word. Hopefully, this transgression will not break the magical spell of the exercise. I don’t feel that it has.
So this year, why have I chosen the word, “Chef?”
First off, I’ve always wanted to be a chef. I’ve fantasized about perfecting my 3/4-inch dice in cooking school. I love to cook. And I enjoy feeding people. Also, my friend, Teacher Mike, calls me “chef.” (I call him “Teacher Mike.”)
But beyond that, there’s a strong metaphorical reason behind the word:
A chef is the creative and spiritual leader of the business. A great chef surrounds him or herself with great, skilled people, but the chef sets the menu and decides upon the theme and tone of the meal. A chef creates food that nourishes, delights and inspires. A chef is certainly a very creative person but is also a consistently excellent performer. She or he has a perspective and takes the diner’s tastebuds into account. Plus, to rise to the level of a chef requires hard work, training. and an understanding of fundamentals, muscle memory, mise en place, and presentation. In the kitchen, the chef is king.
The three guiding principles for the Year of the Chef:
- Presentation matters. What we create must delight the senses.
- Deliver consistently. We are judged on the consistent quality of the work.
- Stay in practice. The craft is always changing as are people’s tastes.
I encourage you to do this same exercise. Find your word. Let it guide you. And get the bracelet. You will be surprised how powerful this kind of act can be in your personal and professional life.
Grant Sanders is the founder of SAND (Strategy Art Narrative Design for Transportation Organizations) on Nantucket — a creative and strategic consultancy that helps clients help their customers to get from A to B. He is currently looking for a new puppy to train and raise.