The Folly of Youth

Edith and I were watching the first episode of Top Chef: Texas last night. One of the contestants was a young man named Tyler who was 22 years old. As soon as I saw his age I began to wonder what in the world he was doing there. This is a serious competition for some seriously talented chefs, how in the world did a 22 year old get in the door? Then he started talking – so Cocky! He thought he was God’s gift to cooking. He was ready to show the world how great he was.

The first challenge involved butchering a pig. Butchering requires some skill. Apparently there are some cuts of meat found within others so it’s important to know what you’re doing. Tyler had no butchering experience. He said that his catering company had a person who butchered the meat before he got it. That didn’t stop him from stepping up to the plate and volunteering to butcher a significant portion of the hog. As he failed to butcher the meat correctly with a cleaver, hacksaw and knife we were treated to an interview where he explains that he was the best person for the job because there was nobody else in the kitchen that could do a better job.

I wasn't kidding about the hacksaw

Tom Colicchio, the shows head judge and longtime restaurateur, stopped by to see how Tyler was doing. He immediately pointed out that the young man had completely ruined the tenderloin, one of the cuts of meat within another, and was doing a terrible job. The young man tried to play it off, but Tom had none of it and eliminated him from the show immediately.

I keep going back to Tyler’s statement that there was nobody else in the kitchen that could do a better job. It’s laughable. Why in the world would this kid think that he was the most qualified to do something even though he had never done it before? My friends, this is the folly of youth, and I am unfortunately well acquainted with it. When you’re in a room full of experts it is very difficult to believe that you are the best, unless you’re just a kid.

Young people typically lack wisdom because they lack the experience that is necessary to acquire it. In the small pond of his experience Tyler had always seen himself as the biggest fish. It’s likely that he wasn’t even the biggest fish there, but he had experienced enough positive feedback and success to believe that he was. Now, dumped into a veritable ocean, he could not comprehend exactly how small of a fish he was compared to his masterful opponents.

I remember thinking just like Tyler. When I was in the 6th and 7th grade I didn’t understand why I hadn’t been selected to be a crossing guard. When I was in the 11th grade I didn’t understand why I wasn’t invited into the National Honors Society. I thought I was smarter than all of the people who got invites…why wasn’t I included? I should have learned then that brains without effort are just about as useless as a rowboat with nobody in it to row. But I didn’t. In fact, I continued to experience failure again and again until my mid-twenties, when I finally began to apply myself to success after watching other people get opportunities while I was stagnant.

I should have learned this lesson during my time at Mississippi State. My peer group there was so smart as to put me to shame. Looking back, I very well might have been near the back of the pack when it came to brains in that group. That was the first time that I had been exposed to people who were on a completely different level than I was. But this didn’t shake me up like it should have. Seeing this should have revealed to me that I wasn’t super-special and that I would need to work hard if I wanted to achieve anything, but it didn’t. Apparently I needed to get more intimately acquainted with failure first.

Tyler’s not unique. I think a lot of us shared the same personality trait. I think the real question is, can we help our young friends and our children avoid similar mistakes. I think the answer is yes. I had so much positive reinforcement about my smarts growing up. Too much I think. I would have been better served by a few more lessons in humility, failures that could have been used to wake me up. I would have also benefited from a few experiences as a small fish in a big pond.  I don’t remember having a mentor as a young person. I think that it would have been very useful because he could have shown me that it takes hard work to achieve anything worthwhile.

I feel bad for Tyler. I’m betting that he has a few very rough years ahead of him. I’m hopeful that this experience will wake him up and shake him up. What about you? Do you think highly of yourself but find that you’re lacking achievement and are stuck in a rut. This might be your wakeup call. Find yourself a role model. Someone who has already achieved what you want to achieve and recruit their help. You don’t have to fail to learn your lessons. It’s much easier to learn from someone else’s failures and experience.

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Posted on November 12, 2011, in Personal Development and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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