Thursday, August 16, 2012

Always Trust in the Difficult

We would like to introduce you to Nancy Spence, Ph.D., author of Life Medicine: Wisdom for Extraordinary Living and creator/ facilitator of the ikigai workshop, "What Should I Do with My Life?" A great majority of our insight, and any wisdom we may have, comes from having this woman in our lives. We invited her to join us in blogging as we know you will enjoy her depth of knowledge and insight. (Luckily, she also happens to be my mom!) For more on her and her current work, check out stay tuned for future entries.

Photograph: Electric Artists

Maybe the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke was right: "Always trust in the difficult."

Take the case of Grant Achatz. He's the wildly inventive creator who serves up olive-oil lollipops and apple-taffy helium balloons at his 3-star Chicago eatery, Alinea. According to the website Next Level, patrons vie for seating "like little monsters clobbering for Lady Gaga tickets the moment sales open." 

At age 34, Achatz was named "best chef in America." But, at age 33, things weren't nearly as upbeat. He was diagnosed with stage-four tongue cancer.  His options: Cut out a piece of his tongue...or die. Choosing an experimental treatment instead, Achatz could hardly eat and lost his sense of taste. But he courageously kept working. He shifted his focus to the smell, sight and sound of foods while his sous chefs did the tasting for him. 

During his last lecture at Columbia University, historian Charles Beard was asked to summarize in five minutes everything he had learned in a half century of teaching. Beard said he could do better: He could sum it all up in four sentences. One of his sentences was this: "The bee that robs the flower also fertilizes it."

I imagine that Achatz would concur. He says his encounter with cancer actually made him a better chef. As he healed and his taste buds returned, he noticed that he understood flavors in new and inventive ways. Now a leader in the emerging field of "molecular gastronomy," he creates cuisine described as "genre-bending." In 2011, Time Magazine named him one of the "most influential people in America"--a true "culinary miracle worker."

Rilke would not be surprised. "How should we forget those ancient myths about dragons that turn into princesses?" he wrote. "Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage."

Too often I hear clients tell me that they can't do what they love "because..." But what's embedded in their pain, difficulty, tragedy, disability or scar is an invitation to do what Achatz did: Get creative, 'think different,' go deeper, be courageous.

When they do, they too come out the other side to make their own 'wow' contribution.

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