Lesson from a Messy Kitchen
By Brad Thomason, CPA
I love to cook. Have for a really long time. But I didn’t necessarily have the smoothest of starts. If you had known me back when I was a young man then you would have been impressed with the amount of destruction that I could visit upon a kitchen during the preparation of a meal.
To some extent I did it because I could. I spent a lot of time on the weekends at a farm house/hunting camp with all of my friends, and the rule was that if you cooked you didn’t have to clean. I loved cooking and hated cleaning, so this didn’t even register as a choice. But since that was my context, that was my assumption when I cooked elsewhere, too; whether for roommates at college or even back at Mom and Dad’s for holidays. I cooked, and others had to undo the damage.
But there was another aspect of my mess making, which is why I’m bringing all of this up. It was always very important to me to do a good job with the food. Better than good, actually. In those early days, when I was still learning to develop tastes and manage the process of getting everything ready at the same time, I stayed right on the edge of being overwhelmed. Every minute I was in the kitchen was a minute in which I felt things could rapidly spiral into total collapse. I’m not sure I would have described it like this at a time, but I was essentially making a declaration to my diners: you can have good food to eat or a small mess to clean, but you can’t have both. I didn’t have the skill level to deliver both at the same time. So I didn’t try. I made the choice for them, and settled on the food.
Sometimes we can’t accomplish everything we’d like to do at the same time. It is pretty typical for most adults to have more than one reason for why they are doing something. But what happens when all of those reasons can’t be met at once?
Well, nowadays I can walk through a kitchen with a much lighter step. Like any practiced skill, I can handle all but the most complicated of meals with only about half of my brain switched on. Rinsing bowls, wiping counters, sharpening knives, adding to the grocery list, sorting things in the refrigerator – I can do them all while running a pair of sauté pans and keeping an eye on the bread to snatch it from the oven when it gets to the right shade of brown. No problem.
But even though I don’t still cook the way I used to, I haven’t forgotten the lesson of knowing when to focus on the most important win, when all of the wins can’t be had together. This has become a key principle in my career, both as an advisor, and as a business owner. Sometimes we have a single challenge that is so important to the overall equation that it makes it OK to fail on all of the others if doing so gives us the focus and resources to get the one main one. That’s not always the situation. But sometimes it is. Recognizing when you are in the midst of such a situation is a key to being able to wade through the tough stuff to get to the other side.
As we roll in to the end of the year I hope that you and your family have a chance to have many good meals together, and that the person doing the cooking doesn’t wreck the place too badly. The end of the year is of course also a time for reflection on the year drawing to a close and the one about to start.
When you look back at 2019, did you get the win you were after? When you think about how you’d like to see things go for 2020, is there one particular thing that you need to have happen even if nothing else gets accomplished? I hope that you can make progress and find success on many undertakings. But don’t underestimate the power of knowing which one is most important. Throwing all of your effort behind that one most important thing may lead to results that are simply impossible when split focus is the tactic of the day. You need to be thoughtful about the things which may go unaddressed – a lot more thoughtful than I was back during my early reign of kitchen terror. But don’t automatically rule out the possibility that those lesser goals may be part of the price you have to pay to get the big one. Sometimes, the big one is worth it.
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