6 months ago my wife and I ate two very different meals at different restaurants within 24 hours. The first, dinner, was date night. We’d been looking forward to going out and eating some nice pasta alone (our daughter was at her grandparents), so we went to a small local place that was always busy. We both settled on a linguini with bacon, prawns, garlic, chilli, olive oil and parsley. I’d made something similar a few days before after watching Chef on Netflix and it was totally bangin, so we sat with our wine and waited for our delicious pasta to arrive.
It wasn’t that it tasted bad per se, it just reeked of a lack of care and thought. It was under seasoned, there was barely any parsley in it, it needed a squeeze of lemon and the olive oil — which was mentioned in the description, didn’t seem to be there. I’m not a trained chef but merely an enthusiastic home cook and not only do I make better on a regular basis, it’s not even that hard. That’s what pissed me off so much. I thought, this is your job, how can you suck so much at it? Don’t you care?
For lunch the next day we went to a small Mexican place. It was in an out of the way spot that looked kind of dodgy from the outside, but upon entering you could tell whoever owned it had taken time and care on it. The decor and dining room looked and felt like a cantina without being kitschy, and the food was fantastic. The little touches were really there too — you could tell they’d worked on their flavour combinations, everything was well seasoned, they’d gone to extra effort on their plating and the food in general was just delicious.
The first meal left me pissed off that I’d paid money for something that was so sub standard. The second meal left me so happy that I didn’t even care about the first one anymore.
It set me off thinking about why I’m so critical, especially when it comes to food. It’s because when I cook at home, I put a lot of effort into it. If I’m making a bolognese, I don’t just throw a can of tomatoes and some onions in with minced beef. There’s anchovies for saltiness and umami. A bit of red wine. Plenty of oregano. Garlic. Olive oil. Salt. I don’t choose the lean beef, because the lack of fat means the flavour doesn’t carry through. I’m tasting the whole time, making sure the flavours develop.
It doesn’t matter whether I’m making bolognese, ramen, or a freaking grilled cheese sandwich, I put a lot of care into what I’m cooking. That’s what makes the end result sing. It’s what makes me satisfied when I bite into it, and why I had the warmest feeling inside once when a dinner guest grabbed the bowl and drank the remainder of her broth when I’d made ramen for her.
But here’s the thing — this doesn’t just apply to cooking, it applies to everything I’ve done in my life over the last 15 years or so, and I strongly believe it’s the reason that I’ve steadily gotten better and achieved what I have, whether it was in my job, as a writer, in sports or cooking. I’ve had crappy jobs that I hated, but that didn’t mean that I checked out and did the bare minimum. I worked just as hard and cared just as much about results, with the intention of using them to get the job I deserved. That laid a platform for when I finally did get that job to become even better.
Society and the media seems to love the idea of being effortlessly good at things. Look at pop culture and movies especially and you see it everywhere. There’s no montage of Tony Stark studying hard and trying to work things out, he just creates an impossible fusion reactor in a cave from a box of scraps. The Social Network makes Zuckerberg out to be a guy so damn smart that he just came up with the next big thing. Daniel doesn’t train for years in The Karate Kid, enduring the punishment of what being an actual fighter is, he just paints fences and learns a stupid crane kick to beat the Cobra Kai.
Being effortlessly good at anything just doesn’t exist. It’s not just about putting in a lot of work either (though that’s always a prerequisite), because anyone can churn out crappy blog posts every day, or go through the motions at the gym, or spend 10 hours at the office every day. It’s the care and passion that goes into the work that makes the difference.
Which begs the question: if you don’t really care about the big things that make up your life, why even do them? Why just go through the motions? When you make it to the end of your life, you aren’t going to look back on it with fondness if you never put any effort into any of it.
The funny thing is, the media love to make a thing of arrogance, whether it’s in movies or real life. Steve Jobs, Tony Stark, Dr Strange, Gordon Ramsey. They’re held up as both messiahs and complete douches — something to aspire to without becoming. It completely misses the point. Gordon Ramsey doesn’t swear at people and get angry about dirty kitchens because he’s an a-hole, he does it because the kitchen is his life and he really freaking cares about it. To under season a basic dish to him is an insult to his profession — never mind having visible mould in your kitchen because you can’t be bothered cleaning properly.
I recall a story about Mark Zuckerberg from Noah Kagan in the very early days of Facebook, where a team had been working on a feature for three weeks. Zuck took a look at it, and in front of everyone, threw his water bottle at the guy’s laptop and said “this is f... s...” before telling them to do it again. Now, I’m not advocating such behaviour, but it sure as hell doesn’t come from kicking back chilling every day as the CEO. It happens because he cares about the company more than anyone and spends all his waking hours working.
You can really tell the people who have that kind of thinking and passion, whatever their job is, because they’re pedantic about certain things. They don’t need to be a CEO or at the top of the world, they just need to be the type of person who really cares about what they do. Find the aspect of their job or career that they really care about and all of a sudden you’ll uncover a difficult person, because they’ll dig in and not compromise. It’s why I get hypercritical when I eat out, or when someone brings me a university essay to mark with spelling and grammar mistakes.
A lot of people find such types to be high maintenance and a pain in the butt. Personally, aside from being that pain in the butt myself, I love hanging around those people. That’s what most of my friends are like and I truly appreciate it, because it means they have a deep passion for something in life. I especially love working with them, because they have energy that other people lack, and you know you’re going to get something great from them.
It’s unfortunate that not caring has always been portrayed in our society as being the “cool” thing, but from all the experiences I’ve had, the people that don’t care about anything are generally the douchey hipster types that no one wants to hang around. I’d encourage anyone whose struggling to find meaning in life to up their care factor. Whether it’s work or a hobby, take that thing that you like or find a bit of meaning in and 10X your effort on it. Not because it will earn you money, get you famous or get you noticed, but because it will change the way you look at life. It will make you excited, it will make you lose hours of time because you’re so engrossed and most importantly, it will bring back your spark.