Loving Competition

Orange zest sourdough.
Sven is now 3.5 months old.

Claggy. Stodgy. Squidgy. Prove, not proof.

Daughter and I are learning the language of British baking by binging the wonderful Netflix show. It’s the best reality TV there is, no question.

Every season starts with 12, sometimes 13 amateur bakers from all over the UK, men and women, old and young. Each themed week (cake, biscuit, pastry, bread, and others) they undertake three challenges, one of which is conducted blind, meaning they have no idea what it is until it starts, and the judges rank the identical attempts without knowing who made which. From the beginning, we the audience can relate to the bakers as friends, coworkers, and family, thanks to fun biography videos interspersed throughout the episodes. Daughter and I choose our champions early on.

One person gets eliminated every week for nine weeks, then the final three bake their butts off for the crystal cake stand trophy in week 10. That last contest ends in a great big garden party where friends and family, as well as previously eliminated bakers, gather to celebrate an entire summer of convectionary creations they never dreamed of making before.

Despite constant tension and suspense from time constraints, mixing failures, collapsing structures and the like, there is minimal, if any, drama. No sabotage, no trash talk, no passive aggression, condescension, or ad hominem of any kind. In fact, the bakers *help* one another every single episode. They cheer enthusiastically for each other’s successes. They rush to assist stragglers to present in time. They banter with ease. And there is a lot of hugging.

Make no mistake, they are each in it to win. Their projects span cultures, geography, seasons, and all genres and media of things bakable, and their flavor, texture, and height ambitions drop our jaws every episode. And though the premise of the show is competition and winning, its ethos is grounded solidly in love. The bakers simply love baking. It is their passion. They respect and admire the judges, one another, and the art of their craft. And by the end of the season, they love one another, as evidenced by post-production coda videos of cohort members cavorting, crisscrossing the UK to hang out, cook, travel, and karaoke together.

I binge this show because it lifts my spirits. The humor, the personalities, and the creativity, ohmygod! But much more than any of that, it’s the relationships and connections that mean the most to me. Somehow the show leaders have created a culture wherein it’s okay—expected, even—to show vulnerability, to admit to fear, self-doubt, and struggle. And in so doing, the bakers form a tight tribe of safety and mutual support in the striving. While in competition, there is no conflict. I do my best and you do yours. We each show up to give it our all, and we leave it all on the table, literally. At the end of the weekend we trust that the elimination process is fair. We celebrate those who make it through to next week, and we surround the one saying so long with tears of empathy and gratitude for such a worthy rival, who elevates our own game. Group hug!

I write “we” as if I’m one of them, as if I could dream of joining this loving tribe. I wish! But don’t we all wish for this? Wouldn’t we all benefit and grow from the nudging and pushing of loving competition and rivalry, from showing one another what might be possible if we dream a little bigger, take a little more risk, and show up all and only ourselves? We have nothing to prove to anyone but our best selves, and even though only one can take home the prize, we know that that person truly earned it, and we all became better in the process. No grudges, no bitterness. Only love, growth, and friendship.

I wonder if the Olympics are like this? Higher, faster, stronger! Elite athletes. Star bakers. Regular folks.

Who pushes you by pushing themselves, leading you by this example? How do you do this for others? In the end our most important competition is the one against our former selves. We play the infinite game of growth and self-improvement alongside one another, each with our own goal posts. We ourselves may be great. But without each other, we won’t ever get far.

The Optimistic Nihilist

“The death rate from life is 100%,” my very wise patient once said.

No matter what, you and I will eventually die. 

Humans, as a species, will also die, I’m convinced.  I’ve said it before:  We are the pathogen.

I believe the current vector of collective human action points squarely toward self-induced extinction.  I’m also convinced we’ll take a good many other species with us before we’re through.  But Earth herself will outlive us, and thrive in our absence.  …Unless we figure out a better balance with nature, within and around us, as individuals and as intersecting collectives, before our spectacular self-destruction.

So assuming and accepting that our taxonomic lifespan is finite, I propose to embrace a beautiful and exhilarating paradox: As individuals at any given time, in any given place or situation, none of what we do may matter at all, and it all matters like life or death. Everything about our survival depends on how we relate—to ourselves, one another, our environment, our times—everything! How can I, myself, bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice? I grab it when it swings my way, and hang on with all my might—in all that I do. I call on my friends to grab on, too. Iterative, incremental change, a fraction of a degree at a time, nudges the vector’s direction toward something better. As I imagine sailors know: a small shift in tack here and now translates to a very different destination over a long enough distance and time. What might it look like? I think it has to be better polar reconciliation–letting go either/or and embracing both/all/and: Purpose and profit, humility and recognition, freedom and responsibility, diversity and inclusion, individual and collective health and well-being.

Every day we live is another day closer to our eventual demise.  And every day we wake, we have so many breaths, encounters, and opportunities with which to shift the vector, to bend that arc.

Until such time as humanity actually succeeds in killing ourselves, and I really think we will, we still have a chance.  We can still work to be our best, most creative, generative, communal, and symbiotic selves.

Onward, friends, ODOMOBaaT!



NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

 “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Thankfully, growing up I never heard adults say this too seriously. It was always tongue in cheek, almost with a wink, acknowledging the inevitable inconsistencies between parental admonishments and actions. I took the implication as, “Be better than us; we want better for you.” There was also a sense of unfairness, a double standard lurking. But I think I forgave it quickly, understanding that parents are imperfect beings doing their best.

“Shame on you,” a patient once said to me when, in an attempt to empathize with his perfectionism, I admitted to some lapse in discipline I had committed around some health habit. It was early yet in my study of self-compassion, but I managed to not take his shaming as a reflection of my own character. He might be ashamed of himself if he were me, but I did not have to accept that projection.

Hypocrisy: Oxford Languages defines it as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” The opposite of ‘walking the talk’. A friend very gently challenged my current sleeping patterns, pointing to the inconsistency in what I practice with what I preach (nightly blogging does that to me, and I’m a night owl in general anyway). Does that make me a hypocrite?

I have always been a hoarder. I buy clothes I love and don’t wear them, in case they get dirty or ruined. I stockpile stickers, stationery, stamps, journals, essential oils, socks, scarves, washi tape, and now, (*sigh*) sourdough starter (seriously, that realization today was eye opening).  Ever since I read The Art of Possibility, I have honestly embraced an abundance mindset, evangelized for it.  There is enough of everything; we can all get our needs met.  And yet, if I look at my habits and patterns of behavior, it is quite obvious that I live in an internal world of scarcity. Otherwise why would I hoard?  Is it because I’m a hoarder, I know it, and I don’t like it, that the message of abundance resonates so strongly? Maybe this is another example of cognitive understanding and acceptance, coupled with considerable lag in limbic apprehension and realization? 

So do I still get to speak and write about abundance, even as I grapple to live into it fully in my own head?  Do I have the right to counsel patients about healthy habits in sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management, and relationships, even as I fall down every day in each of these domains? 

Yes, I do.  Because I persist in my own efforts, continuously, courageously, despite my recurrent failures.  I’m getting better—last week I wore ‘new’ skirt, boots, and coat (ranging from 2 to 7+ years old) to afternoon tea.  I can slow and divert from hoarding impulses better today than a few years ago…sometimes.  Progress is detectable over the long arc of my lifetime thus far, and I’m confident I can stay the course.  Persistence pays rewards, even if long delayed.

We are all in the same boat here.  Old, entrenched habits of thought and action are hard to break.  Perfection is a myth.  Outcomes vary according to so many factors, and intent still matters.  Despite my humbling realization today (I now have a plan for using my copious Discards of Sven), I believe I still walk my talk.  Because my talk is not, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  It’s, “I know how hard it is.  I struggle too.  I’ll keep going with you; we are all here doing our best.”