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Six years ago, I did one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life…
Every morning, the alarm – sometimes set in vain, sometimes forgotton to be set at all – never rang. The clock would only ever go off in my imagination because really, I never slept all the way through the night. I never even gave my alarm clock a chance. Hours before any other normal person would wake to a noxious beeping, I exploded out of the last traces of an always restless slumber. Wild-eyed and confused under a blindfold, I was the picture of insanity, fighting, but failing, to escape the jacket.
Only in my nightmare was I mistaken for a lunatic, captured, wrapped and strapped in asylum white. Awake. Sitting bolt upright. I had to unravel myself from pristine white way-too-expensive 800-thread-count sheets that were twisted into chains. No blindfold, but I was doing it blindly. Always, it was darkest in the pre-dawn. Almost always, I fell asleep against my blogging will so eyes are coated with mucus and contact lenses are glued, like yesterday’s steamed white rice in the unwashed cooker, to the inside of my upper eyelids.
In other words, I couldn’t see a fucking a thing.
“Baby, they’ve been waiting for you.”
Almost every morning, I said it – sometimes out loud, sometimes whispered inside my head – “Baby, they’ve been waiting for you.” I did. I don’t know who “they” are, nor do I have a real sense of why I would say this, but at the very least I did know that “Baby” referred to me.
Yes, I called myself “Baby.”
Yes, Baby, I know I’m crazy.
It’s what I’d been saying for a while. A way to pump myself up. Psyche myself into excitement. Internally cheer for myself with that little boost of confidence that didn’t really exist. I knew that at some point in my life, maybe not by the time I graduated college, maybe not by the age of 30, but at some point, I would be able to tell myself that the world has been waiting for me.
For the previous year, I had mistaken “they” for a job that toward the end, was killing my soul. I was grateful when the opportunity first arose. I was intrigued by the concept, then fell in love with the promise of revolutionizing the world. The bitter MBA I thought I had neatly tucked away in my past was unfolding to reveal a future career so perfect that I thought it couldn’t possibly exist. It existed as marketing on the social web. “Baby,” I told myself, “they – this concept, this dynamic company, this perfect job – they have been waiting for you to come and change the world (wide web).” I blindly gave my entire life to it, saving only a tiny corner for the personal passions that without which, I would die.
Perhaps things were not what they seemed. Maybe it was just the natural evolution of a job. The beauty of my work was decomposing into a fetid mess, an unnatural mix of extraordinary performance pressure, personal (or rather, personnel) drama, and boredom. I had no joy.
Yet, I couldn’t let go.
I knew I was unhappy. I could feel the stress breaking me, but something inside wouldn’t let me walk away. Many nights, I would leave the office close to midnight, trying to identify the internal force that was so strong it could stand up to friends and family who were encouraging me to move on, so powerful that it wouldn’t dissolve in a flood of tears. It wasn’t money. It wasn’t personal relationships. It wasn’t even pride.
I had actually known all along, but didn’t want to admit it.
It was fear.
One of the most powerful motivating factors in life is fear, and though I wanted to believe that I was always motivated by more positive things, somewhere I had opened up my life to fear and allowed it to wrap its ugly barbed tentacles around my soul. Fear squeezed my soul until all the peace bled out of it, leaving nothing but a hollow box that echoed with pessimism.
What if I never find a job with this kind of (non)commute, pseudo-flexibility and perceived benefits?
What if I don’t even find another job?
What if I can’t afford my rent?
What if I can’t afford anything?
What if my family is disappointed?
“What if…?” beat my passion down into an unidentifiable pulp.
I was afraid of uncertain future. Not knowing Tomorrow gave me laser-focus on the security of the job I had RightNow.
Some time in the Spring of 2007 – I don’t know how or why – whatever blindfold of fear that I had pulled tight across my plastic surgically enhanced eyes momentarily slipped off. I broke free. Almost. I almost rescued what was left of a soul that had shriveled into a vodka-soaked pickle. “They” reacted quickly to my attempted escape, though, and upwardly heaved armfuls of money in my direction. The money fell like a blinding snowstorm, and when the air finally settled, I let two little dollar signs staple both eyes closed. Again, I was fettered to my laptop, imprisoned in darkness the radius of a wi-fi connection, furiously fighting to keep up with work that was coming at me at the speed of the Internet.
My eyes were closed so I wouldn’t have to look at myself, at what I had let myself become, but they weren’t closed so tightly that they didn’t let fall a tear or two. Or three. All through the summer and into autumn, I was re-living that scenario in the first paragraph every morning.
Months after going back, I finally admitted to myself out loud what I tried to keep silent under a weak shell of “success.” Though I knew the industry inside and out, though I knew our product would be the one to breakthrough, though I knew the function in which I was working was the perfect 100% utilization of my natural talent, education, and passion, I knew I was in the wrong place. I didn’t belong.
They weren’t the “they” who have been waiting for me.
On December 21, 2007, I gave notice. Again. For real. Seriously.
I didn’t have another perfectly MBA-meets-social-web job lined up; I didn’t even have a job search in process. The future was more than uncertain. It made “notice” one of the hardest and scariest things I’d had to do in a very long time.
It was also one of the most invigorating.
After work that day I quit-quit, I drove the long way home along the ocean. I couldn’t see the water in the winter’s early darkness, but I knew it was there. I got home, toasted myself with a congratulatory glass of Champagne that was already chilling in the refrigerator, spent four long-overdue hours in the kitchen braising short ribs, researched recipes, flipped through fashion magazines, and blogged my joyful little heart out.
“Baby, they’ve been waiting for you.”
And yes, though slightly disheveled, wild-eyed, and totally terrified, I had finally arrived.
My whole life up until that day I quit, I had been allowing fear to drive almost all of my big (and even little) decisions. Sound pretty familiar, right? Like nothing has really changed in the last six years, right? Granted, I didn’t pop into a telephone booth that fateful day six years ago and emerge moments later a fearless superhero. I’ve been I’ve been living (and working) the life that I should have had from the beginning and though I am nowhere near the strong, brave warrior soul you read about in novels and poems and MindBodyGreen blog posts, I have been working toward it in bits and pieces, in stops and starts, for the last six years.
Or rather, the last six years up until about five months ago.
I don’t know exactly how long it had been before that, but about five months ago, I actually realized that I had opened the door and let fear and unhappiness creep back into my life. Sure, I had never completely eradicated them, no one ever does, but I had been making progress, albeit slowly, all along. Progress had slowed down, stopped, and reversed. I couldn’t eat for fear of food poisoning. I couldn’t cook for fear of failure. I couldn’t go out for fear of contracting communicable diseases. I couldn’t sleep for fear of nightmares about spiders. I couldn’t make the littlest decisions about what to order from Chinese takeout, if I had even gotten to the point of deciding on Chinese over Thai, Pizza, and Indian, let alone make big decisions about a new car, where to live, buying a house or renting, about LIFE. I couldn’t work for fear of failure, not being able to produce made me unhappy, but I was too afraid to make any change that would jeopardize the sweet security of a monthly revenue check.
No, no, I am not about to quit my “job” with TasteSpotting. I am not about to “quit” blogging on The Delicious Life. But I decided to do something this week that exists in the same realm of dramatic, somewhat drastic, and totally scary LIFE decisions. Right afterward, I braised shortribs. I do not know if it is coincidence that this is the third time in the last six years I have braised shortribs, all three times in the context of (overcoming) fear.
I stopped myself before starting though. What is this recipe is flawed? What if the pot is too big? What if the meat is bad? What if I can’t afford my rent? What if I can’t afford anything? What if I have to go back to a corporate job? What if I can’t even get a job? What if I disappoint my family?
I don’t have a real plan; just an idea, a lot of passion, and even more to lose. I am fucking terrified.
The galbi jjim was to die for.
Galbi Jjim Recipe (Korean Braised Shortribs)
The braising liquid is basically the same thing as the marinade for galbi, but in slightly different proportions. Some people use sugar in the braising liquid, but I rely on the slight sweetness from the vegetables and candied ginger.
Trim fat from 5 lbs. beef short ribs and rinse under cold water. Soak shortribs in large pot of cold water for one hour, changing to fresh water every 15 minutes. (This step removes some of the overly strong beef and blood smell.)
After last drain of soaking water, fill pot with cold water to just cover the ribs. Bring the ribs and water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Drain the boiling water, rinse boiled ribs with cold water and remove them to a large bowl. Wash out the pot. Return the shortribs to the pot. (This step knocks out the rest of the shortrib bone and marrow “gunk.”)
In a small bowl, combine 4 cups cold water, ½ c soy sauce, ¼ c sesame oil, 2 Tbsp rice vinegar, and 1 tsp black pepper. Add to pot with ribs. Bring ribs to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 45 minutes. Every once in a while, ladle some of the braising liquid over the top of the ribs.
After 45 minutes, add to the pot: 3-4 peeled carrots cut into 2″ pieces, 8-10 small red potatoes washed and halved OR a 1 large sweet potato cut into 1-inch cubes, 2 cups peeled pearl onions, 1 cup daikon radish cut into 1-inch cubes OR regular radishes, 5-6 whole peeled cloves garlic, and 4-5 pieces of candied ginger.
Bring contents of pot to a boil again, then reduce heat to low and simmer everything for another 45 minutes to an hour, or until the meat is tender. You can check this by sticking a chopstick or fork into the meat.
Serve with an extra little drizzle of sesame oil, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, and sliced scallions.
You can eat this right away, but it’s better to cook this one day in advance, let it cool, refrigerate overnight, then heat up the next day. (And if there is any beef fat, it will have solidified and you can remove it before re-heating). Requires advance planning, then, so think ahead.