I'm not usually entertained by food network tv - never having had much interest in cooking myself and put off by the frequent wastefulness they seem to exhibit. My partner, however, loves to cook, and on one slow Saturday night, when the option to watch Masterchef popped up on a streaming service, I was coaxed into watching a whole season of competitive cooking.
For the first time, I found I could just about stomach the repetitive motions of frantic cooking and judging, cooking and judging, baking and judging, cooking and judging… because I began zeroing in on each contestant's unique characteristics perfectly expressed in what and how they cook. It's not just basic foundations such as class/cultural background and what food they favored growing up. It ran right down to their mannerisms, how they dressed and carried themselves, the very energy they seemed to emit… all served up on a series of artful plates. This strange personal-cuisine-fingerprint changed the way I think about that question that often comes up in anyone trying to live in a fulfilled, purposeful way: "What are you good at?"
Behind the scenes at VAWAA, I became quite enamored with the Japanese concept of Ikigai not too long ago. I'll summarize again if you haven't read our previous blog post. Ikigai describes "a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living" and asks four questions to help you identify that motivating force - What do you like to do? What are you good at? What can you get paid for? What does the world need?
Watching people passionate about cooking in action illustrates how what we are good at is very much an extension of ourselves - rather than some external floating thing we try to attach ourselves to. It's the best of us. Our natural gifts. Our fun personality quirks. Our childhoods, family and ancestral ties, and the things that light us up inside all work together in this magical flowing tandem.
Even when it's not something obviously creative or artistic, when we meet people doing the thing they are passionate about, it's like an extension of them. VAWAA founder Geetika for example; culturally eclectic and artfully organized with a clear, steadfast vision. As she leads our small team, these personality traits are threaded through the company. I feel a distinct VAWAA energy or mood when I sit down to work in the morning. We holistically embody the work we're passionate about, and a flow of energy is created between us and it.
There's this quote from the renowned Persian poet Rumi… "When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy." Echoed and elaborated on much later by Joseph Campbell… "If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living.
When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss, and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
Trusting that by listening to yourself and being open to new experiences and forming new connections, it will find you.”
How to discover what you’re good at
Applying this wisdom to the practical, literal search of figuring out what it is you’re good at and enjoy doing, it’s clear we have to be open and curious. Trying new things while listening to ourselves and figuring out if something within is resonating. If it is resonating, why is that? Surely it’s because it’s reflecting and answering something that’s been there all along. This leads to an end picture or mural of a life and work that’s as unique as we are.
I’m constantly inspired by old photographs of the artist Moki Cherry for this very reason. She’s just in her home, with her family. But you can see the richness of her interests and the various creative projects she pursued are flowing all around her, creating a kind of wonderland never-before-seen on this Earth.
The Swedish interdisciplinary artist seemed to work with whatever material she could get her hands on, finding that each presented a new lesson that gave her creative dreams a new dimension.
“I cut out shapes with different tools - in a variety of materials - wood - birch plywood - chicken wire tin - fabric - fabric - paper. Clay is different - because what hides inside comes out.” - Moki Cherry
I think the main lesson I take away from Moki Cherry is that play is important and valid, no matter how much our fast-paced world seems to devalue it. Carving out time to be in an honest state of ‘I would like to try this’ ‘I would like to have a go at building this and seeing what happens’.
By valuing and tending to all these different passions and interests, from ceramics to fashion design to collage, she enabled a career to blossom in a way that was truly fulfilling for her and brightened the lives of others. Moki Cherry’s colorful home was where she ran a children’s theater group, creating sets and costumes for their productions.
Honoring our creative instincts and desire to play can be difficult in practice, as so many of us are locked into routines that don’t allow us much time. Exploring and playing and dreaming aren’t always easy to regularly work into a schedule. I think that’s what makes a mini apprenticeship so appealing for the curious creative. You’re utterly immersed in an artform for a few days, and that can make all the difference.
Beginning that journey to identifying what really resonates with you and honing in on your creative strength doesn’t necessarily have to lead to some out-of-the-box career change. Who knows how it will infuse your life with more meaning and enjoyment. The focus is on whatever material you have in your hands and how you want to transform it.
Those Masterchef contestants proudly presenting a top-notch dish on TV to celebrity chefs… that traces back to someone simply enjoying food and following that enjoyment. They followed that inner river, or bliss as Campbell would say, and it led them deeper, literally and metaphorically, into the heart of the home.
Written by VAWAA team member, Kat Ali