The path is the gift.
I said this sentence aloud in the car because Marcus and I had been watching season after season of the TV cooking competition Top Chef and we both noticed how so many of the contestants would say that being away from their jobs and their families for a month to be on the show would only be worth it if they won Top Chef.
Chef after chef said this during every single season. It baffled me.
If I met these chefs, this is what I would ask them.
Have you already won just by being chosen for Top Chef?
Does cooking your best food alongside other talented chefs make it worth it?
Could it be possible that winning Top Chef is the icing and not the cake?
Is it possible that this process is the prize?
Talking about the Top Chef contestants with Marcus made me realize that if I don’t like what I’m doing right now, then why am I still self employed?
If I don’t like what I’m doing every day–a schedule that I control–I should get a job where I don’t have control over my daily schedule. I already know what that’s like and I got a regular paycheck too. Right now, I often do things that I don’t like to do and I often don’t get paid either.
Where’s the logic in that?
When I stand back and think about it, where I’m currently at in my life is like being chosen to be a contestant on Top Chef.
I’ve made it to this amazing place of being self employed and having freedom over my daily schedule. So many people never get here. But by the grace of the Universe and a lot of luck and privilege, I’m here!
I AM HERE.
Instead of torturing myself with so many minute tasks that cause annoyance, fear, and doubt, I’m going to turn things around…and upside down.
The path is the gift.
I thought I had found my dream path when I became a full-time writer in 2016. But then I fell into a pattern of procrastinating, fearing, doubting, and feeling like getting an agent and having my novels traditionally published was the key to success. Even when it felt like pulling teeth, I still went after this path for three years, thinking it was the only way.
But it wasn’t.
I’m unlearning what I’ve learned my whole life.
For the majority of my life I thought I had to do things that I didn’t like to do in order to get a big prize at the end.
School was like this. Not so much K-6, but starting in seventh grade, I started to feel like I was only going to junior high so I could do well in high school, so I could get into a good college, and so I could get a good job, and on and on.
Then work became like school.
Do this job so you can get this other better job. Do this better job so you can get that even better job. Do all this while trying to make more money. Make more money so you can save for retirement. Work and save money for 40 years so that you can retire and finally do what you really want to do.
No wonder they call it a rat race!
I may be baffled by the chefs on Top Chef, but for much of my life, I have been just like them. Like many of them, I was only willing to spend time on something if and only if I won at the end. I was willing to be in the rat race if and only if I won the cheese at the end.
I’m realizing now that the prize isn’t at the end.
The prize is right now.
As so many people have said before me, the present moment is the gift.
My prize is using my mind, body, and soul to express myself. My prize also involves being of service to people through communication, connection, and transformation.
I’m currently standing at the intersection of public service and creative expression. I’m not totally sure what’s next, but I do know that some old ways of doing things have got to go in order for new things to come in.
Another thing I know is that my path lies somewhere in my past, back to when I was a kid and used to while away the hours drawing, writing, and making up stories with my brother and my stuffed animals. I need to walk backwards for a while in order to walk forwards.
Walking the path is disconcerting, exciting, and often confusing, but I’m okay with it. I’m okay with the twists and turns and plateaus because I now know this is all part of it. This is why I’m here.
The path is the gift.
Peg Cheng is the author of The Contenders, a middle-grade novel centered on the question, can enemies become friends? She is currently writing a book about how she will be a millionaire when she retires even though she’s made an average of $27,000 per year. Peg is also the creator of Fear & Writing, a workshop for procrastinating writers from all walks of life.
Photo: Path by Seljalandsfoss in Iceland by Peg Cheng (that’s me).