I wrote this piece last year, and it was lost in when the site had to be overhauled. It was brought up in an online conversation, so I thought I’d put it back up again.
Some people snub reality TV; I love it. At its best, a reality show is a perfect example of story construction necessities (I’ve already written about how CHOPPED is full of lessons), and revealing elements of human nature. One moment in a particular CUTTHROAT KITCHEN struck me so deeply it is now become shorthand in my daily lexicon.
The element that makes CUTTHROAT KITCHEN compelling—beyond host Alton Brown’s fantastic suits and ties—is that the contestants are given easy dishes to cook but ridiculous impediments to deal with while they do so. Tiny cookware is a recurring challenge, as is having to fish knives or an essential ingredient out of a pile of something else. The challenge that stuck with me was one chef who was told to make an omelet, but with his pan upside down.
“This doesn’t bother me,” he said, trying to keep his eggs from sliding off the back of his frying pan. “I’m still going to make the best omelet.”
And there was the heart of his problem, which doomed him to failure. Because like CHOPPED, each round of CUTTHROAT KITCHEN only provides a loser, not a winner. He was so focused on making the best omelet he didn’t realize all he had do was not make the worst. Which is why he presented the judge with a very sophisticated batch of scrambled eggs—that had a piece of plastic inside.
All he had to do was make an omelet. As hard as it would have been to keep an egg on top of the wrong side of a flipped-over pan, he could have done it if he scaled back on his presentation. If he had decided just to make an omelet. But because he was focused on making something mind-blowing, he ended up botching the whole thing. Not to mention the fact he didn’t even make an omelet at all.
I so knew he was going to fail that the moment he said that, I turned to JR and said “That’s not the point of the game. You don’t have to make the best omelet. You just have to not make the worst one.”
So is it with life.
Recently I’ve been focused on making the Best Omelet, the one piece of work that will blow everyone’s minds and change everything. Rather than make perfectly delicious metaphorical omelets, and thereby gain a reputation for making quality omelets on a regular basis, I am instead focused on the idea of One Omelet To Rule Them All. Which is an overwhelming task, and makes it extremely difficult to start.
The result has been a few dishes of scrambled eggs with plastic in them. Which is not to say I haven’t also created some pretty amazing omelets, but those were treated no differently than if I had done a simpler, less bells-and-whistley version of the same thing. More than that, I was never satisfied with the work. Because while each of them were amazing omelets, none of them were the best, because that is a title that is literally unobtainable.
I honestly don’t know why I do this myself. Part of it, I imagine, is related to my depression. Setting an impossible goal is an old trick my depression has pulled many times in the past, so this is old hat indeed.
The Best Omelet is a impossibility. Luckily, I don’t have to make the best omelet. I just have to make not the worst one. I just have to be satisfied with accomplishing what I set out to do, and not be disappointed when it doesn’t set the world on fire.
And I have no idea why that is so hard to remember.