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.

1 reply
  1. Carl Dierschow
    Carl Dierschow says:

    Powerful message today, Liv! It occurs to me that “work” wasn’t a 4 letter word for previous generations. The fact is that there’s a joy in good, hard, honest work – and that may not even return tangible rewards and pleasure at the end of the day. Sometimes it’s about the satisfaction of devoting yourself to something important. Important to you, at least – even if it’s not recognized by others.


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