The Myth of Success

Recently, foodie influencer Alison Roman gave an interview to The New Consumer that can only be described as a “shit show.” While talking about her own Zen-like journey into fame, she performed an epic racially tone-deaf (I’m being kind) take down of Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo, calling them sellouts while she remains pure as the driven snow because she doesn’t have a line of cookware at Target.

What bothers me, other than the latent racism of her entire platform (until this episode she used her whiteness to omit how different cultures influenced her food – just so you know, she is not the person who discovered garlic, turmeric, coriander, and cardamom create outstanding flavor), is that she is making her success seem like something that just happened to her. Like she didn’t try *at all* to become The Foodie with The Stew and The Cookies and The Whatever. Which we, as people who had found a modicum of success, know is not true.

It’s like beautiful people acting like they just always look that way naturally, when in reality it takes a twice daily application of cleanser, exfoliant, toner, serum, lotion, hair dye, and Botox to maintain those looks. It is a lie that inadvertently discourages people from trying – making success feel as if it will always be woefully out of reach.

That is bullshit.

You have to try in order to be a success. You have to try really, really hard. When I started writing articles, I got a hundred “nos” before I got one “yes.” I am still getting rejection emails from a manuscript I sent out six months ago. But I keep trying, because one day I will get a “yes.”

Bon Appetit and the New York Times didn’t pluck Roman off a subway platform one bright spring day, hand her column space, and say, “You look like you could be successful. Write about food for us.” She pitched them ideas and used the incredible amount of work she has done on her Instagram account to get in the door. (Those pictures don’t just happen, people.) She didn’t just luck into those recipes, either. Those were developed with intense hard work and repetition built on the knowledge from years of experimenting with flavor and spices and, yes, food from other cultures.

One quote in particular from the article about how she creates a recipe gets me completely worked up.

“You’re overthinking it. I think people would be fucking shocked at how little — There’s no formula. There’s no strategy. There’s no, like, “gotta have this, gotta have that.””

Actually, there is a formula. One she learned through years of tasting, learning, and cooking. One she developed through years experimentation, seeking out the flavors of other cultures, and through failure. I would bet a plate of cookies that none of those dishes in her cookbook came out perfect the first time. To admit to anything less is disingenuous at best and killing the career aspirations of thousands of young cheflings at worst.

The tone of her whole interview is why people hate Millennials. She is perpetuating the myth that success just happens to people. No effort is required. You are given what you get in life like a participation trophy handed out at a soccer tournament. Failure happens to other people, not those blessed to succeed.

That is a flat out lie.

Anyone can succeed if they try hard enough. I’m not saying that luck isn’t a factor, but as the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.” Alison Roman is successful right now because she was ready with all the tools she needed when the opportunity came along.

As I said above, she did issue an apology on Instagram for her horrible treatment of Teigen and Kondo; however, Roman needs to learn a larger lesson about owning the effort it takes to make it and honoring the work of those who have gone before you that makes your path to the top possible.

Failure As An Option

No one likes to fail. We do everything we can to avoid it.  We fear failure so much that as parents we do everything in our power to prevent our children from that feeling of having your heart crushed in your chest. But sometimes we need to fail.  In Homework Without the Yelling I touched on allowing my son to fail at his homework in order for him to learn inner motivation.  To hate that feeling of yuckiness so much that he will work even harder towards success. (Along with how to coach him towards success.)

Then I posted the article, Free Range Parenting, where I talked about how letting go of your fears and letting your child take risks builds their confidence as well as YOUR confidence in your parenting.  One of the biggest risks in parenting is letting your child fail.  My heart breaks a little every time my boys come to me with tears in their big blue eyes and a shattered, “I couldn’t do it,” on their lips.  As a parent you feel helpless. You can’t fix failure. You can’t make it un-happen.  That’s what makes failure feel so very risky.

But here’s the secret. You are supposed to fail.  Often.  I have little failures every day.  I slopped my coffee out of my cup.  I didn’t save that document I was working on before my computer decided my software needed to be updated right now.  I forgot my son’s residency card that I must have in order to be seen by the dentist.  Some of my failures are bigger than others, but they all have their purpose.

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all — in which case, you fail by default.  ~~ JK Rowling

Let me tell you, people, I am definitely living.

It’s not that we fail, it’s what we learn from the failure. It’s how we coach our children (and ourselves) into learning from their failures.

Daddy Batman had it right. We fall so we can learn to pick ourselves back up.

So how do we teach our kids to pick themselves back up?

One of our family’s (especially E’s) favorite television shows is Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel.  One of the refrains of the Mythbuster team of Adam and Jamie is “Failure is always an option.”  If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you watch an episode. (Full episodes are available at www.Discovery.com.)  The Mythbusters take an urban legend or pop culture myth and try to replicate it to either bust the myth or to prove it as plausible or true.  They have at least one fail in every episode.  And they revel in how spectacularly they have failed.

Then they break it down.  Adam and Jamie sit down and go over what parts of their project failed. Then they talk about what worked. And most importantly, they talk about what to improve/change/scrap for the next time.

There is always, always a next time.

They continue to try until they have proved the myth to be true or not.  They celebrate their success and they talk about their failure.  They continue to break it down: what worked well; what could be improved.  They even take past failures and apply those lessons to current myths they are busting.

What would happen if we also reveled in our failures? If we really took a look at what went wrong rather than pushing it out of our minds as quickly as we possibly can?  Would we have a more successful society?  Would we live more creatively?  Would we be happier?

The short answer is “I don’t know.”

More research needs to done. By each and every parent.  We need to actually weigh the risks and the rewards of our decisions, parenting and personal, instead of going instantly to the path of least risk.  Sometimes the risks pay off, as I will share in a future post, and sometime we fall.  It’s how we pick ourselves back up that counts.

And I leave you with these lyrics from a classic Nat King Cole song.  Funny how they were true then and they are true now.

Pick yourself up,
Take a deep breath,
Dust yourself off.
And start all over again

Nothing’s impossible, I have found
For when my chin is on the ground
I pick myself up, dust myself off
And start all over again

Don’t lose your confidence if you slip
Be grateful for a pleasant trip
And pick yourself up, dust yourself off
And start all over again