When I was 16 years old my mother asked me what I wanted to do.  While I loved my mother immensely, I do not think that, over the entirety of my life, I was ever more annoyed with her for asking that question.  For goodness sake, I was 16 years old and barely more than a decade away from wetting my pants. What did I know of the world, and now I am supposed to decided what career I want for the rest of my life?  The best advice about earning a living that I was ever given, immediately followed that question: You can either go to college or go into the trades. Either one will allow you to buy a house and provide for your family. This was definitely true in the 60’ and 70’s when unions were at their peak.

There are two companion words which, for the life of me I cannot recall. I promise a bottle of wine to the first one who will leave me the answer in the comments below. These words I read only once in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, David and Goliath. I would look them up myself but my book bag was taken from my car just as I was on the last chapter. Here-in-follows my best description of them.

  • There is a word that defines when you study something that is easy or natural for you to learn.
  • The companion word defines when you study something that is hard for you to learn.

I have been fortunate to have studied things that were my natural predilection. Things that were easy for me to grasp. I became frustrated, and embarrassingly quit, when they were too challenging for me to learn.

An aside on commitment: I have learned this again from a very close friend who had a vice that they were constantly leaning on to escape. Recently they committed to giving up that vice and it has been a joy to watch their life bloom.  You see, we all think something like; I am going to quit this job and open a bar on the beach. Now this sound innocuous enough but the simple act of allowing yourself a mental escape truly prevents you from committing. By not allowing yourself any thoughts of quitting, the energy you would have spent imagining that seaside bar now goes into the task at hand.  Another personal embarrassing fact, it has taken me way too long to learn this lesson. To that point, I ended up studying those things that came easy to me and eschewed the things that were difficult to learn. Quitting for the greener grass. I became a walking poster boy for: Easy to learn, difficult to master.

Now my frustration as a younger man, at having to make such an important decision so early in my life, has yielded both reward and failure, although not in equal sums. I have traveled many parts of the world, speak small bits of several different languages, trained in more than a few professions, studied from renowned scholars and still manage to fall flat on my face. The joy, that this approach to life has given me, is measurable in every airplane lounge conversation I have ever gotten myself into. The sorrow can be found in my never really playing a long game. Now, off with this melancholy and onto the thrust of my point.

As a man of my years is want to do, I daydream a mindful of what ifs. What if I did this? What if I had done that? When I have these daydreams it means that it is time for me to pick up a new book. A lovely thing about reading in particular, and watching videos to some degree, is that as you imagine yourself in the situation that you are experiencing on your couch, you are stimulating the very same neural pathways that you would do if you were out actually doing that thing. It is crazy, I know. You can literally get an understanding, and mentally walk in another person’s shoes, just by reading about it.  Sometimes during the day I stop and think of what else I might have done as a young man. What other path could I have chosen? What experiences would I have to share now? Would my conversation be that much different? Today I watched a video of a company in France that still makes butter with 19th century techniques. Sitting back I wonder if I had just focused a little differently in culinary school, what my life would be like if I had gone to France to learn how to make butter. Or, if I had perhaps become a dive master and surfer and travelled the world’s beaches. Or, if I had joined the merchant marines, lived my life at sea and become a ship’s captain.

After graduating from culinary school I would often say, I would like to own a restaurant that does this. Or I would like to own a restaurant that does that. In truth, after opening and closing my own place, I learned to say, I would like to go to a place that does this, or that and not actually own it. Thankfully I still enjoy reading, and with each new read I can do both. I can both go to that new thing and do it at the very same time.

I wish you many happy reads.

Until tomorrow,

Tommy Judt

2 Replies to “A BIT OF BUTTER”

  1. Tallulah Bankhead said if she had her life to do over again, she would have made the same mistakes sooner. Agree and not necessarily mistakes but I just stopped what ifs. You have experienced life in so many ways and I think that is living. So agree on reading too.

  2. “Most of the learning that we do is capitalization learning. It is easy and obvious… “Compensation learning”, on the other hand, is really hard. Memorizing what your mother says while she reads to you and then reproducing the words later in such a way that it sounds convincing to all those around you requires that you confront your limitations. It requires that you overcome your insecurity and humiliation. It requires that you focus hard enough to memorize the words, and then have the panache to put on a successful performance. Most people with serious disabilities cannot master all those steps. But those who can are better off than they would have been otherwise, because what is learned out of necessity is inevitably more powerful than the learning that comes easily.”
    ― Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

    (Looking forward to getting together for a drink when this is over. Keep up the great writing!)

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