Something to Show for Myself
January 13th, 2010

Sometimes, in the recesses of my mind, I dream about being a painter, or a sculptor, or a brick layer, or a florist.  Sometimes I think rather longingly about these types of professions.  I see the palette of colors in front of me and I picture the canvas as the scene emerges.  I feel the clay in my hands, cool and damp, and the way it takes shape slowly and deliberately.  I feel the rough texture of the brick scratch against my gloved hand as I set it into its place in the wall, and I hear the scrape of the spade as I wipe away the mortar.  I smell the flowers around me, and I arrange them into something beautiful, harmonious, and organized.

No, I’m not having a massive identity crisis. 

But here’s the thing about my career: It is completely and wholly intangible.  I am a marketing director for a medium-sized company.  Each day I spend hours tweaking spreadsheets, writing strategic planning documents, building consensus, and planning new “features and functionality”.  When I leave the office each evening I walk out with the same darling brown poka-dotted computer bag that I carried in several hours earlier.  My office looks the same, the building looks the same, I look the same. 

If I do my job well, in about 15- to 18-months’ time, my company will have envisioned, created, marketed, and sold a new product that will be used effectively by members of our industry to help better the lives of their end-customers.  

Huh?  What does that even mean? 

For reasons of privacy, I’ve been intentionally vague in my description.  But even if I’d gotten into specifics about our market, our clients, and their customers, the net effect of the statement wouldn’t be that much more concrete.  The fact of the matter is, my job is incredibly abstract.  Most of the time, that doesn’t bother me at all.  I enjoy the problem solving, relationship building, and priority juggling that I do every day.

But sometimes, at the end of a day, I wish I had something to show for myself. 

And so it is that I love to cook.  I cook, well, a lot.  I cook from scratch.  I cook from recipes.  I cook from ideas that spring into my mind out of nowhere.  I bake bread and bagels.  I sear chicken and sautee scallops.  I stir risottos and soups and bechamels.  I freeze ice creams.  I temper chocolate and eggs.  I whisk salad dressings into perfectly smooth emulsions.  I know that a soft-boiled egg is perfect after four and a half minutes.  I know that pork tenderloin is medium rare when pulled from the oven at 135 degrees.  I’ve made marshmallows, for crying out loud.

And at the end of the process, there is a completed product.  I see it in front of me – something I whipped up all by myself.  I didn’t have to wait a year, or even a full day for it to materialize.  I didn’t have to form committees, or build credibility, or write a planning document (unless there’s a party involved, in which case I’m a sucker for a planning spreadsheet…)  It is immediate, and tangible, and my very own.  And there are many things to love about that.

I get to show off my talent and my labor.  I get to eat things that taste good.  I get to make people feel special.  I get to nourish myself and my family every day. 

Most nights GAP makes a point to tell me that dinner was yummy.  (I’m not going to lie, there have been some duds.)  Even IEP readily favors the dishes I’ve made myself over the those (very few!) that came home from the store ready-made.  And while the praise and approval of others isn’t anything to shake off, it’s only a small part of the reason I spend so many hours in my kitchen.

I need to see something completed.  I need to have something to show for myself.  And I need to feel that it was worth it.

As I think about it, I don’t know many people whose jobs provide tangible results.  I wonder if I’m the only one with this gap to fill; this need to create something I can see, and touch, and smell (and eat!).  I wonder if I’m the outlier here, or if others are addressing the same need via other creative outlets.  Either way, I don’t plan to stop cooking any time soon.  Despite being psychologically fulfilling… it’s delicious!

10 Responses to “Something to Show for Myself”

  1. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    Gale, I really love this post because in it you tapped into a longing I didn’t even realize I had: To create something tangible. Evidence of agency, activity, thought, work. I think in large part this is why I blog. For a couple of years, I would sit in my study or at Starbucks and write and write. And, yes, there were words on pages, but for so long I didn’t show them to anyone. By blogging, I create something tangible each day I do it and this feels good. Maybe, just maybe, this is why you are blogging too? Or maybe, just maybe, I am projecting my psychology onto you? It doesn’t really matter, does it? I am just happy you are whipping up these tri-weekly word feasts. Yummy!

  2. Anne Says:

    I think it’s so important to find ways to fulfill our emotional needs outside of our jobs…so bravo for finding that! Hobbies are a totally legit way of meeting our needs. It’s funny…for me, I adore cooking because it allows me to work with my hands, but I don’t care so much about the finished product. I just love the process of buzzing around the kitchen, hearing all the chops, slices, and sizzling pans. It’s a break from the noise in my head.

  3. christina Says:

    Interesting to read about your job. My “career” was/is interior design and I LOVE seeing my brainwork become reality. I also taught high school for a while and there was something very fulfilling about students learning and semesters passing. I require beginnings and endings and things that can be seen, for the most part.

    We’re having a home built and in working with my builder I can see why he loves his job. He starts with dirt and grows a house. How satisfying is that! I am loving the process of taking my harbored ideas and letting them have a real life.

    Keep on cooking!

  4. Leigh Says:

    Gale…so enjoying your blog! I have been ruminating on your recent posting “BFF” regarding female friendships and will post some thoughts there separately. But, in the meanwhile, wanted to comment on today’s post.

    As you know I’ve worked in human capital, talent management, career counseling for the duration of my career. So, I’m thrilled to see you love what you do at work – it’s somewhat rare. But, recognizing that sometimes work alone isn’t going to fulfill all of your needs is important. So, finding another outlet – such as cooking for you – that is fulfilling but doesn’t demand that you do it for a full time job can be critical to having balance.

    As a former musician I often crave some sort of “output” as well – the creation of music with others or alone was a huge part of my life for many years and I funneled an enormous amount of time and energy into improving my skills. However, since I stopped playing there has been a huge void in my life – emptiness – leaving a desire to create something in its wake.

    I dream about having a house with a yard where I can dig my hands in the dirt, plant some seeds, nurture along the little sprouts and buds into ripe red peppers to take in my lunch or vaseful of fresh cut daisies. As you said…something tangible, something I can smell, touch, etc. SIGH.

    But, since I love my condo and have no yard or intentions of moving….I have adopted cooking as one avenue. I often joke that chopping vegetables is my zen meditation – kind of mindless yet it produces an end result and there is something rewarding about using my hands. I rarely make the same thing twice – mostly because I cook/bake on the fly – and am famous for doing “mash ups” combining 2-4 recipes to make something new. This past summer I started the Pie Chronicles – a series of photos marking my first foray into making authentic homemade lattice crust fruit pies – as an ode to my grandmother’s fantastic baking skills. Last year I also took ballroom dancing classes as a creative outlet. I love to move and feel rhythm so it was another great way to express myself creatively.

    But….I still yearn for something else. So, just know that you are neither an outlier nor alone in your desire to fill the gap – something to show for yourself – a physical manifestation of yourself……
    P.S. What’s for dinner? ;)

  5. Gale Says:

    Leigh – Welcome! And thanks for your comment! It’s good to know that I’m not an outlier in my need for the tangible. I suspected this might be the case, but it’s always good to hear.

    I loved reading about all the various outlets you have tried or considered. Your comment about your grandmother stood out to me. A few generations ago much of our labor was more tangible – homemaking, the industrial revolution, etc. Back then much of the work was physical, and less abstract that it is today. I think there’s a misconception that in order to be mentally challenging something has to be abstract. But I can be just as challenged – in patience especially – in something tangible as I can in something intangible.

    Thanks again for your thoughts. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

  6. Jeanna Says:

    I’ve often wondered why I enjoy doing things around the house that most people consider to be a chore such as doing laundry, cleaning the kitchen, and pulling weeds in the garden.

    Is it because these tasks provide immediate results that I can see? Probably.

    Is it because at work I usually don’t get to see an end product for many years? I’m not sure.

    Thanks for providing something to think about while I’m doing the dishes tonight!

    And for the record I don’t enjoy doing other people’s chores, so don’t plan on dropping your laundry off at my house.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Oh this is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I hear everything that you are saying. I feel everything that you are saying. Hell, I TASTE everything that you are saying.

    I, too, would like a finished product I am proud of. Some days I am fortunate enough to finish off a Financial Report that I can be proud of – because they are so complicated and detailed and tedious. But it is BECAUSE they are so tedious that I also abhor them. I have a job that I have not chosen. It has chosen me, due to timing and circumstance. For now, this is fine, but I would love love love to one day work on something of my own choosing, one day allows my creativity to pour through. Effectively.

    I wish I cooked. When I do, I enjoy it. I mean, well I cook, I just don’t COOK. Not so much anymore. Life is too busy and crazy and well, I can hardly get ten minutes in the kitchen just to heat up leftovers and dish them out before some boy has hit another boy and I’m stepping out of the kitchen and into the maelstrom yet again!

    I’m coming over for dinner. I’ll draw up a spreadsheet and you can execute! Do you have room for an extra five at your table? Or perhaps we could dine sans children. :)

  8. Gale Says:

    Sarah – Thanks so much for coming over, virtually, anyway. You and the boys are welcome any time – we have lots of room.

    I’m so lucky to be in a job of my choosing. And lucky to have the time and inclination to pursue my hobbies. These things may not always be true and you do me a service to remind me not to take them for granted.

  9. Jen Says:

    I love to cook, too. And although I’ve never really thought about the final product angle, it does make sense!

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