Several years ago I found myself at a crossroads. I had given up my career in the high-tech industry to raise my daughter in the very way I had wished my mother had raised me. I went from a life that was defined by deadlines and responsibilities to one that was filled with carpooling, cooking, cleaning, and tending to my child’s every need.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, my daughter matured. She was smart, efficient, responsible, and independent. She was thriving in high school, dogged in her determination to get into a terrific college, and no longer needed me in the way she once did. With the surprising amount of extra time I suddenly had, I decided to take the skills I honed as a mother—namely, those that were performed in the kitchen—and started teaching a cooking class out of my home. The title of my course? Nothing is impossible.
One of the most common complaints I heard from my students was “I can’t cook,” which, whenever it was uttered, caught me completely off guard. Of course you can cook, the optimistic Italian in me would think—for Italians, cooking is as natural as breathing is for the rest of the world, and it’s certainly second nature for me. What struck me more about this protest was the notion that people believed there were things he or she simply Could Not Do. I chose the title because I wanted to lead a class that would instill lessons in my students that would extend far beyond the walls of a kitchen.
My childhood, which was marred by numerous difficulties, led to the cultivation of the same persistence I saw in my daughter as she studied for her SATs and worked diligently to achieve high grades and perform impeccably in sports. Like cooking, overcoming challenges is second nature to me. I could always find a solution to problems. I could always find the desire and ability to succeed. I would not leave the kitchen until my dish was complete and as close to perfection as possible.
Along with instructions on how to prepare pasta Bolgnese, tiramisu, and savory meatballs, I encouraged my students to follow these steps in anything they set out to do:
1) Define your goals. Motivation sets our pace and fuels the passion and effort we put into a project. If our goals are uncertain or aren’t in tune with what we truly desire, our ability to do our best falls flat. Let your mind wander and allow yourself to dream until you’ve determined a target that will fulfill your wishes.
2) Envision what your future will look like if you achieve what you’re striving for. Steep yourself in the senses that will come along with it, and imagine the person you will be if you accomplish what you had to set out to do.
3) Develop a path that will lead to the realization of your goals. Think about the scenarios you’ll encounter along your way. What obstacles will you face? What objections—from yourself and from others—will you hear? How will you handle them? Creating a thoughtful plan to deal with potential problems will ensure that they’re met with competence and dignity.
4) Put your goals down on paper. Write down what you hope to achieve and how you’ll arrive at the realization of your dreams. Create a list of the steps that will be necessary to attain them, and enforce deadlines on yourself to guarantee forward momentum. Seeing what you want and how you’ll achieve it spelled out in front of you will deepen your motivation and give you more conviction.
5) Ignore your inner critic. Attempting anything new will naturally trigger reservations but if you give in to your doubts for too long, your self-confidence will decline and your handle on your goal will slip. When your inner critic steps forward, step outside: Go for a walk in nature, take a yoga class, or meditate in your garden for five minutes. Clearing your head will give you the boost you need to approach your goals afresh.
Here’s a brief anecdote to illustrate how these steps work: Several years ago I was responsible for selling 1.5 million dollars’ worth of computer equipment to a brokerage house. The sheer number of the sale initially paralyzed me with panic. But I broke down precisely what I would have to do in order to ensure the sale. I put it down on paper. I went over the potential problems I might face and how I would deal with them. I imagined fulfilling the sale, and what that would mean for my company—and myself. I took a day off from work and allowed myself to relax while keeping my goal on the forefront of my mind. The strategies I would employ to guarantee a sale fell into place, and I managed to execute my plan flawlessly. I succeeded in what I had set out to do; moreover, I proved to myself that I possessed the qualities needed to find success in many aspects of life.
I didn’t teach cooking for long. Life got in the way, and a new opportunity arose. But “Nothing is Impossible” allowed me to hone these steps and share them with others. And several of those students who were convinced they couldn’t cook? They mastered dishes that would put my culinary genius of a grandmother to shame.
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