The other week, I drank out of a toilet.
That's not really one of the "life decisions" referenced in the title, but it does serve as a decent starting point. I committed the crime at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Truth be told, the toilet was actually a cleverly disguised drinking fountain, part of an exhibit called "Sip of Conflict.” I would later read the exhibit's purpose was to explore "the tension between reason and emotion,” the reason why I couldn’t help but hesitate as I leaned down to take my first sip.
I’ve experienced a fair bit of tension between reason and emotion as of late, the result of making a few major life decisions. Decisions that I’ve had more than a few people ask me about, so I figured I’d publish some of my thoughts for those of you I haven’t talked with yet.
The first being my decision to leave a job and team I loved at Apple after having spent four years at the company. Apple by all means provided me with far more than I ever deserved in terms of career opportunities. They took a bet on a college junior from way out in Alabama with no substantive professional experience, and it forever changed my life. The generosity of my colleagues, managers, and mentors there continues to enrich my life each day.
Yet, as a single 26-year-old, I began to really think hard about the fact that I had a list of other things I claimed to want to try "someday." I also realized I wasn't able to point to "someday" on a calendar. Furthermore, I started to realize that the cost of me trying something new would only increase over time. One day I'd have a wife, kids, a mortgage...the list goes on. This led me to realize my risk tolerance was at an all-time high.
That’s not to say once realizing that, I ran out into the street seeking this “risk” thing I’ve heard so much about. Instead, it just widened the list of possibilities of what I could do now versus later. And in order to take on the risk, the upside had to be an order of magnitude bigger than the down.
I was fortunate enough to come across a couple of these opportunities at the right time, and realized they were ones I might truly regret walking away from. Regret is another big theme here. On this topic, I’ve decided that I want to live a life where I never fall victim to a midlife crisis because I'm intentionally creating mid-year crises—honest evaluations of where I'm spending my time and resources, and how that lines up with the goals I want to accomplish and the man I'm striving to become. In this process I do need to be conscious of not simply seeking instant gratification, but instead viewing the process as a slow, but constant evolution that, yes, will sometimes involve switching employers and/or geographies.
From there, I started to think about how both the risk tolerance realization and mid-year crisis mantra should drive tangible change for me.
I took the first step in making my next adventure(s) a half-step more real—I put pen to paper. More specifically, chalk to blackboard. My mom was in town and I was struggling to explain to her all the things on my mind. When I felt myself not making sense, I drew a diagram on the blackboard: time on the y-axis, and categories of life opportunities on the x-. This was an amazingly liberating exercise, as I hadn't clearly organized my thoughts before, let alone verbalize them to someone else. And I could actually hear myself getting more excited about one particular path as I explained it.
My mom, a wise woman of few words, said: "I like that one."
I smiled. She knew me.
The plan we both liked most would actually involve me exploring two passions in succession.
I would first try to land a job with the venture arm of R/GA, a digital agency I had admired for a few years now, watching them as they helped build not just powerful advertisements, but also compelling products and platforms like Nike+ and Beats Music. By working as a business strategy resource for the early stage companies in R/GA Ventures' 3-month commerce accelerator, I'd gain valuable exposure to the startup world and the entrepreneur’s gritty mindset.
At the end of the program, I would then either try to continue working for R/GA, join one of the startups in their portfolio, or do something even more different.
I would go to culinary school.
(That's what you were guessing, right?)
Cooking and I have a strange relationship. I guess we’ve been together about 4 years now, and where it started is hard for me to remember. But I truly love it—as a form of relaxation when work stresses me out, as a creative medium when I want to make new things, and as a love language when I want to entertain for those I care for. The first thought of culinary school hit me about two years ago: you seem to really like this, why not take the time to learn real culinary technique from the masters? I first dismissed the thought, but it kept coming back. And back. And back.
So I spent several weeks applying for a James Beard Foundation scholarship. And recently, found out I got it.
At the end of November, I’ll begin the International Culinary Center's 6-month Culinary + Farm-to-Table program in NYC. The question I’ve heard the most thus far is “So…are you going to be a chef?” And the answer is I’m really not sure. While I do have a number of restaurant concepts swirling around in my head, maybe founding a startup in the food space is a more logical move, or maybe it’s neither of these and food resurfaces later in my professional life. I’ve forced myself to stop trying to pinpoint what’s next for me after I graduate, but instead let the uncertainty drive me.
What I do know is that I’m excited for the massive amounts of new experiences and information I’m about to encounter. My whole life I’ve relied on the generosity of others to get me where I’m going, and this is no different. Never stop asking people for things that you want and never stop giving back. Allow yourself to design for the unlikely. You won’t regret it.