Mad Science

Not too long ago, my partner and I were talking about those meal-kit delivery companies. I wondered who these were for, as it isn't difficult to buy groceries and look up a recipe online, so I didn't understand why someone would pay a substantial amount of money to have a predetermined meal that they still have to cook. Jamie suggested that these services are primarily for people who are intimidated by cooking and meal preparation.

This raised another question. Why are some people afraid of cooking? The answer, I believe, is that they are actually afraid of failure. They are worried that people, including themselves, won't like what they cooked, and so in this case, they shift the bulk of that responsibility to a third party. In that sense, these companies capitalize on people's insecurity, charging a premium for a service that need not exist if only people could learn to embrace their own potential for failure. 

I tend to believe that the more that you do just about anything, the better you are going to get at it. If you don't believe me, go ahead and pick something to learn, and then spend even an hour a day at it. You will likely be amazed at your progress. That said, it is important to be patient with yourself, as most skills also require the investment of a certain degree time and effort before they begin to pay dividends.

When I cook, I generally try to make things exactly as I would like them to be if I ordered that meal in a restaurant. That means that I put onions, garlic, and/or ginger in damn near everything, and when I make desserts, I tend to make them slightly less sweet in order to accommodate my own tastes. If I used a meal-kit delivery company and followed the instructions to the letter, chances are that whatever it is would not be as well-suited to my (and my family's) palette than if I was to just do it myself. It might even have cilantro in it, which is kind of like my kryptonite.

I think that the best way to learn how to cook is to abandon your fear of failure as much as possible. In fact, virtually every time that I cook something that I have made before, I change one element as an experiment that is intended to heighten the dish in some way. Sometimes these experiments fail, sometimes not. This is the nature of experiments, but this is also a very good way to learn what works and what doesn't. This is why I usually only change one variable at a time. In the immortal words of Peter Venkman, "Back off, man. I'm a scientist."

Obviously, this philosophy does not just apply to cooking, either. Far too often, it seems like people are afraid to try something new because it comes with a built-in risk of failure. Maybe you're afraid to play an instrument, or dance, or play sports because there's a chance that you won't be any good at it. I have news for you. Acquiring skill in any field requires a willingness to fail.

Michael Jordan did not make the varsity basketball team in high school, and most actors struggle for years before getting a break of any kind. I know that in my own experience, for the first two years or so that I played guitar, I was pretty bad at it, which I also found to be incredibly frustrating. However, I stuck with it, and once I got to the point where I was no longer terrible, it was a real game changer. Suddenly practicing became a lot more fun because I liked the sounds that I was making. 

It was more or less the same thing with cooking. For many years, my skillset was quite limited, and I screwed up fairly often if I ever tried something new. I could have just said that I can't cook and left it at that, but instead, I stuck with it. I learned from my mistakes, which wouldn't have been possible if I did not first give myself permission to fail. 

Now when I cook, it's probably only about one out of every twenty meals or so that isn't exactly what I wanted it to be, and even then, it's still not bad. It is extremely rare that I make something that anybody would ever send back at a restaurant--you know, unless that person was a total asshole. 

However, it is worth noting that these are the experiences from which I stand to learn the most. My first screenplay, for example, was a tremendous turd, but through the act of writing it, I became a better writer. I then applied the knowledge gained to my next screenplay, and so on.

You should not be afraid to fail, because in many cases, this can be the most effective way to learn what not to do. I say this as someone who has sent out hundreds of query letters for about a dozen feature length screenplays, as well as a novel and a couple of children's books, and very few of these letters ever even received a reply. I keep writing nonetheless, because I believe in what I am doing, even if nobody else does (yet). Besides, the more I do it, the better I get. This is true with just about anything. In fact, I have often found that the best way to learn how to do something is to simply do it. Even if you fail to some degree, you will have learned something in the process.

Along this same line of thought, I think that it's actually better to lose at chess than it is to win, because if you lose, then you stand to learn something from your opponent. The same is true from your own mistakes, whether cooking or just about anything else. Better yet, learn from the mistakes of others.

Twenty years ago, I could only cook a handful of things, none of which was all that complicated. Now I can make pretty much whatever sounds good. I don't have to rely on meal-kits in order to sidestep failure, in part because I am not afraid of to screw up. Hell, I've even gotten pretty good at failing over the years. In doing so, I have gained useful skills in a lot of other areas (hence the name of this blog).

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