The Things I’d Do If I Wasn’t Afraid

Lifestyle

Image Courtesy of @des-nee on VSCO

Last spring, three Twin Cities chefs—all of them women—were announced as finalists for the James Beard Award for Best Chef of the Midwest, a record number. I’d never met any of them in person but I knew their names, had laughed and danced and wept and fallen in love in their restaurants. Jamie Malone’s Grand Cafe was the first place I ate after a semester abroad, crisp triangles of toast and coddled eggs and a morning sorting through homesick letters I’d written and never sent. Christina Nguyen’s Hai Hai is so verdant that even Minnesota winters fade at its doorstep, my favorite happy hour in Minneapolis.

After my first raise, I took myself out for a celebration dinner at Ann Kim’s Young Joni, at the tail end of a winter so bleak I’d forgotten what it felt like to have an appetite. Slowly—and then all at once-—I was so hungry I ached with the intensity of it, ate and ate and still wasn’t full, couldn’t decide between appetizers so ordered all of them: a lumberyard of sweet potatoes roasted until velvety and caramelized, fried cauliflower studded with tiny golden raisins, blistered sweet corn and a grain salad topped with a single, perfect soft-boiled egg. 

I’d never met any of them in person but I knew their names, had laughed and danced and wept and fallen in love in their restaurants.

I watched the James Beard Awards for the first time this year, ducking out of a work dinner to catch the ceremony. When Ann Kim’s name was announced, the crowd erupted over the tinny speakers of my phone. 

”My journey has not been easy. It has not been linear and it has not been traditional.” She admitted as the took the mic, applause still rippling across the auditorium. “I stand here because 10 years ago, I said fuck fear.” 

(Yes, of course I teared up.)

Here’s the thing. I have a lot of fears. Most of them are small and low-stakes: house centipedes, uncomfortable silences, clowns, accidental reply-alls. Some of them are bigger: not saying enough; saying too much. My own body, sometimes. Disappointing people, all the time.

But then there are the fears that are impossible to get rid of, so big they swallow the world: a plane engine cutting out, a bus hitting a median, accidents, in general. Schools with too many locks, too many scanners, too many dangers. Januarys that are too cold, Julys that are too hot; fires that don’t stop, oceans that don’t calm. What do I do about those?

At the James Beard Cooking School, Beard’s first lesson for culinary students was often this: “The only thing that will make a souffle fall is if it knows you’re afraid of it.” Or, from his close friend Julia Child: “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

What I take from Beard and Child, from Kim and Malone and Nguyen, is not a dedication to banishing fear. Instead, it is accepting fear as a reminder: of the privilege to take action, the space to change paths, the freedom to make a choice.

What I take from Beard and Child, from Kim and Malone and Nguyen, is not a dedication to banishing fear. Instead, it is accepting fear as a reminder: of the privilege to take action, the space to change paths, the freedom to make a choice.

A few weeks after watching Kim accept her award, I left a job. A month after I would quit another, the start of a bruising, brilliant summer spent learning that fear of letting go wasn’t a good reason to stay.

So standing here this September in the year of our Lord 2019, heading into my mid-twenties, probably over-caffeinated and definitely under-hydrated, I’m saying fuck fear, too. Bring on the souffles.

An un-comprehensive, disorganized, thoroughly committed ten-year plan for a future-me who isn’t afraid:

  • Stay home.
  • Go out.
  • Drive on I-75 again.
  • Take long midnight runs: the kind that prickle your skin and rinse out your lungs and unravel a city beneath your feet. (Maybe turn location sharing on and bring a personal alarm, because fear of the dark doesn’t go away all at once).
  • Get angry; stay angry; don’t apologize for being angry.
  • Don’t apologize for being, in general.
  • Call a therapist. Call more than one therapist. Make time for all your feelings—you have so many, and that’s okay!
  • Quit a job (check!).
  • Quit another one (double-check!).
  • Quit googling calorie counts.
  • Quit a lot of things.
  • Say no. A lot of times. To many people. Everyone will be fine.
  • Interrupt all the men that try to explain blockchain to you. You do not need the explanation. I know you don’t know what it is but also You Do Not Really Care™.
  • Say I love yous.
  • Say goodbyes.
  • Write.
  • Edit. More than you write. Be a little merciless.

BY Julie Zhou - September 23, 2019

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4 Comments  +

add a comment

  1. Nicole

    September 23rd, 2019 at 10:17 am

    “I’d never met any of them in person but I knew their names, had laughed and danced and wept and fallen in love in their restaurants.” —I feel like I’ve spoken these exact words myself many times. What a great reminder to take action.

  2. The Things I’d Do If I Wasn’t Afraid – Business Blog

    September 23rd, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    […] Continue reading The Things I’d Do If I Wasn’t Afraid at Wit & Delight | Designing a Life We… […]

  3. The Things I’d Do If I Wasn’t Afraid - trylamp

    September 24th, 2019 at 2:26 am

    […] Continue reading The Things I’d Do If I Wasn’t Afraid at Wit & Delight | Designing a Life W… […]

  4. Jade Dsa

    October 13th, 2019 at 3:12 am

    Brilliant Post!
    “Say no, a lot of times. Everyone will be okay” – this is a line that definitely stuck!

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