Are you a Chef? Or a Cook?

Been reading Tim Ferriss’ latest behemoth of a book, Tribe of Mentors since Christmas. It’s a fascinating book, which coupled with Tim’s earlier book, Tools of Titans serve as my “operator’s manual” to living a stunning life!

Both the books are rich in analogies. One of the most recent ones is the analogy of a Chef and a Cook as rendered by Tim Urban of the WaitButWhy fame. While the original article focuses on Elon Musk and why he thinks the way he thinks, I use the analogy to highlight our mindset.

Urban explains how being a Chef is so different from being a Cook. While the latter is hell-bent on following recipes and eventually masters it. The former, however, strive for creativity, breaking rules and inventing these recipes.

That’s a HUGE divide! It goes without saying that becoming a good cook is a journey in itself. Think about it. Mastering hundreds of recipes and following it to the T. That’s not easy. And if you’re reading else you’re probably not a cook yourself. (You would be in the kitchen, alright? In case you were wondering.)

The chef on the other hand single-mindedly focuses on reasoning an existing process or deconstructing an already excellent dish to make it even better!

But here’s the kicker:

If you start looking for it, you’ll see the chef/cook thing happening everywhere. There are chefs and cooks in the worlds of music, art, technology, architecture,7 writing, business, comedy, marketing, app development, football coaching, teaching, and military strategy. And in each case, though both parties are usually just on autopilot, mindlessly playing the latest album again and again at concerts, it’s in those key moments when it’s time to write a new album—those moments of truth in front of a clean canvas, a blank Word doc, an empty playbook, a new sheet of blueprint paper, a fresh whiteboard—that the chef and the cook reveal their true colors. The chef creates while the cook, in some form or another, copies.

*Excerpt: Wait but Why

Essentially, being a Cook or a Chef boils down to the mindset. Let’s face it — not everyone wants to be a cook. But then, being a Chef isn’t for everyone either.

The cook is a conformist. The chef is a non-conformist. He doesn’t give a damn about your opinion about him. He knows he’s full of crap and knows that you’re any good either.

And this acceptance of being imperfect in a quasi-perfect world is what makes Chef’s (the good ones at least) tick. Feed it back to your situation and analyze yourself — are you a cook or a chef?

There’s nothing wrong with being a cook. In fact, we’re wired to follow recipes because that’s safe because our natural instinct is to survive. That said, my challenge to you is to not just survive but thrive. Not just as any cook, but a damn good one!

That doesn’t require the kind of energy a chef ends up expending (which is a lot!). Just a few thoughtful decisions on why you do what you do and what can you do to get better at it. And that’s about it.

If you happen to be a Chef… you’re probably not reading this. And I’m not wasting energy to give you advice. You know your stuff and that’s good enough. But if at all possible, try humility. It will help you leave a lasting legacy. (Though I know you don’t give a damn about that as well.)

For the rest of us, I’d rather have us focus on becoming a great cook than a chef. Why? Because it’s the most straightforward path to mastery. If that’s what you’re seeking.

If you just want to be average. Well, any path will take you there.

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