Chef’s Table Menu: Success, Satisfaction…and Suffering?

Is success a burden? Is there an element of torment in doing work that is deeply important to you?

I’ve been haunted by these and similar questions for months now. Ever since I watched the Dan Barber episode of the Netflix original series Chef’s Table

This episode highlights Dan’s work in the kitchen as well as his commitment to and investment in farming focused on the pure flavor experience of real food. He is clearly driven, focused, on a mission, and clearly someone who has created success and fulfillment on his own terms.

Like all of the Chef’s Table stories are for me, Dan’s success story is inspiring and intriguing on so many levels. On the basic level, I am drawn in by how food and the dining experience is for these chefs a true creative expression. I’m also attracted to what seems to clearly be success that’s born out of a drive from somewhere deep within these chef’s souls. And on a whole other level, I am captivated by the steps, decisions, and experiences that make up their path to success.

Every one of the chefs in this series have made bold and risky moves in the name of creating success in the ways that they defined it. They all zigged and zagged in their careers seeking to create the space to cook what and how they wanted to, to establish the dining experience they wanted for their guests, and to find ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction in their work. It’s truly the stuff of example and motivation for the rest of us.

But there was something more in Dan’s story that struck me. Almost hidden in the magnitude of his mission and purpose, and nearly covered up by the dramatic story of the early struggles that lead to his ultimate success, he made this one comment that frankly rocked my world. He said:

“I was attracted to cooking because it is so beautiful when you look at it from afar. What I didn’t understand when I was looking at the beauty is just how tortuous it is.”

That struck a chord with me. It caused me to question whether the work that I do, the very foundation of what I stand for in my work and life, could be setting people up for misery instead of happiness and fulfillment. It caused me to think about the role of struggle, discontent, even unhappiness in the pursuit of success—even the success that we define and pursue deliberately.

This months long internal debate has covered all manner of questions.

Could it be that by facilitating a deliberate engagement in the creation of success and fulfillment that I am actually spreading pain? Could I be participating in the further erosion of happiness and true success? Might I be leading the charge down a “no outlet” road that’s actually barren of fulfillment?

Alternatively, I also considered the possibility that Dan’s comment aligns perfectly to my work and that he could actually have a point that is supportive of the results I enable my clients to achieve.

At this point, after much deliberation, I’ve come to take this statement as an illustration of the inspiration and the drudgery that are both real elements of a conscious and deliberate engagement in creating success where and how you want it.   

I’ve come to see that what Mr. Barber is saying is not a denunciation of happiness in the pursuit of success, it’s a recognition of the full experience of creating success that contains the whole spectrum of feelings.

This statement has come to represent for me an honest and straight forward expression of what it means to:

  • Step up and actively steer our own course toward success rather than just see where we end up
  • Understand that as we take this driver’s seat we’ll sometimes have a headwind and at other times a tailwind and that because we’re driving we’re going to feel both intensely
  • Be aware of and responsive to what inspires, calls to us, or feels important no matter how daunting or exhausting it seems and be willing to do something about it
  • Recognize that when we’re deliberately plotting our path to success and truly owning the results the stakes are higher…which is that this can be exhausting
  • Accept that even when you’re doing work that you love, struggle and stress are still possible (even likely) but that when it’s satisfying some deep need for, say, meaning and purpose rather than just providing a pay check or a title, you know that not continuing is not an option
  • Stay the course in your effort, finding happiness and motivation even within the difficulties
  • Be consciously connected to the process and finding fulfillment in the process itself

The beautiful truth in Dan’s statement is that doing work in which we find purpose and meaning, and which gives us a level of satisfaction in the very doing of it, is both inspiring AND taxing. It’s realistic while also maintaining the promise of the possible. Ultimately it’s what I imagine the dining experience to be like at Dan’s Blue Hill Restaurants:  reverent of the pure integrity and potential of real food, in spite of the effort and attention it takes to produce it honestly.

What a delicious and nourishing metaphor!


Ready to step up, engage, and own YOUR full experience of success? Ready to create the fulfilling WHOLE life you know is possible? Then get in touch! Let’s have an honest conversation about what’s at stake so you can decide what your satisfying (even if somewhat tortuous) path to REAL success is going to be. Reach me at or 303.912.5726.

Why My Work Bums Me Out (and What YOU Can Do About it)

I make no secret of the fact that I thoroughly and totally dig my work. Whether it’s one-on-one with my private clients, facilitating group and team sessions, or connecting with seminar audiences, I am constantly inspired, challenged, and rewarded. Truth be told, though, underneath all of this that’s great, I do experience a pretty regular undercurrent of worry and dismay.

Here’s what happens.

Because of the deep and raw conversations that I get to have with people, I have a front row seat to men and women who are:

  • No longer ignoring their urge to experience success that’s more fulfilling and less soul-sucking
  • Feeling on the brink of some crisis-based decision that they’re not sure will really be what they want
  • Not doing anything despite the reality of the first two bullet points

Getting to the point where you know you need a change and feeling paralysis around that is a very hard, very real struggle. It’s rife with fear, anxiety, indecision, and stagnation. From my vantage point, I see many genuine and valiant efforts to explore ways, means, and opportunities to deliberately create a richer success. And then I also see a large share of retreat from that; a shrinking back into perceived safety, and sheltering from what is presumed to be certain failure. And that’s when my work is disheartening.

This pulling back comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s rejecting the option to even entertain the idea that there could be a way that brings professional achievement AND personal fulfillment. Sometimes its opting out of the inward search for what success WITH happiness would really mean. At other times it’s taking cover from some supposed threat to one’s identity, status, and comfort. And sometimes it’s the claim that it is just easier not to bother.

My dismay grows….

It’s easier and more comfortable to turn away from possibility, accept a level of day-in and day-out suffering? It’s safer to keep the burnout blaze roaring than it is to turn off the fan even briefly to consider another way? Digging with habitual self-doubt and denying opportunity protects our status and identity? Soldiering on, accepting that “reality just bites,”  and that “this is what it takes to earn success” is responsible?

It’s this collective throwing up our hands in this insidious way that troubles me. Thankfully it is possible to shift that, as evident in the achievements of my clients who make my work fantastic!

Even though there are too many professionals still unconsciously choosing to not actively manage and own their professional success and personal fulfillment, I get to partner with people who choose differently.

You can too!

Start by making the deliberate choice to believe that you have more control over your satisfaction than initially meets the eye. Choose to make the effort to uncover your unique needs and priorities that will make you truly successful. Then, choose to actually do something about meeting them.

Let me be clear that this “choice” is not about all of us jumping the corporate ship and buying a food truck or traveling the globe taking pictures of tree bark. Choosing to create real success and fulfillment does not have to be that outwardly dramatic. Truly some of the biggest shifts can come from things as seemingly small as being more deliberate in how you manage your communications with your boss. That’s not as sexy as a food truck full of falafel, or a coffee table book of your photos, but the resulting elevated experience of success can be just as freeing and satisfying!

So what do you choose? Be my inspiration!


If you’re ready to stop passively choosing a version of success that’s burning you out, boring you, or otherwise bringing you down. Let’s talk. You can choose differently. And you can create success that doesn’t bum you (or me) out. Contact me today at or 303.912.5726.