A Recipe for Success

Success sign

It’s extremely difficult for me to follow a recipe. For some reason I don’t trust recipes. Maybe it’s a fear of authority or maybe when they were handing out DNA, Julia Child got the cooking genes that I should have had.

My cooking is so bad that I’ve seen a dog spit out something I made. And you know how fussy dogs are. They dine in garbage dumps and eat rotten fish, and then wash it down with a good swig of stagnant pond water or a drink from the toilet.

After the dog spit out what I cooked, he ate a small plastic dishpan—maybe trying to get the taste out of his mouth?

My brother tells me he’d rather eat goats’ eyeballs than my cooking, and he knows what he’s talking about. He lived for a few years in a country where people really do eat goats’ eyeballs.

At potluck dinners people ask me to bring hard boiled eggs—still in the shells so I can’t mess with them.


In the kitchen I’m all three stooges rolled into one. The other day I was struggling through a stuffed green-pepper dish with mint, pine nuts, and Feta cheese. I didn’t remember the recipe calling for olives, but there it was in print so I scurried off to the pantry to fetch a jar of olives and, upon returning, discovered the recipe now calling for peanut butter. Just in time I realized that the fan on the counter was turning the pages of the cookbook.

Making bread. I start out okay, but somewhere into the procedure I panic or give in to curiosity. The glob of dough doesn’t look right sulking in the bread machine. So I add more yeast, then more liquid. Then it’s too soupy so I add more dry ingredients to sop up the liquid and, soon, the ingredients exceed the capacity of the machine and the whole mess rises up like the Blob, pours over onto the coils, catches fire, and sets off the smoke alarm.

And the First Prize Goes to …. Oh, Really?

What you can say of me is that I take risks. In fact, as a recovering perfectionist, I’m especially proud of taking risks.

So how do I survive the blows to my ego from the mean things people say about my cooking and from the dog whimpering for something palatable? Well, get this. I’m an award-winning cook. That’s right, me! I won first prize in the “Main Dish” category of a cooking contest. Don’t ask what the dish was—I don’t remember the exact recipe—just that it was a meat dish with fruit.

As in the Kitchen, So in Life

I rarely take physical risks—you won’t catch me climbing a mountain, sky diving, or skiing Dead-Man’s Curve—but you will see me take risks of creativity, curiosity, imagination, intellect, and recipes. And, more often than not, it pays off. Here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Have a goal worth taking risks for. When you do, your life will have meaning and make more sense.

2. Have a recipe, road map, or action plan. Then deviate from the plan occasionally. Schedule “side trips” and “rest stops,” and explore alternative routes.

3. Take calculated risks. What are you willing to give up to get ahead without a guarantee that the outcome will be better than what you had? Minimize your losses while increasing your chances of succeeding. Answer, “What’s the best that can happen if I achieve my goal, and what’s the worst?” and “What’s the best that can happen if I don’t achieve my goal, and what’s the worst?”

4. Place a “bet” every day. Horse trainer Jimmy Jones said, “A man’s got to place a bet every day or else he could be walking around lucky and never know it.” Please note that I’m not suggesting you gamble, play the lottery, or bet the rent money. I mean to bet your creativity, talent, intelligence, insights, and compassion.

5. Cultivate many interests, such as philosophy, psychology, health, science, and self-development. Network with fascinating people. Take classes, read books, and attend conventions, conferences, and workshops. The rich mixture of knowledge percolates through your unconsciousness mind and might reward you with useful insights.

Because I take risks as a writer I know the agony of going for months (okay, a couple years) without any income from my writing, and I know the ecstasy of being a working writer who makes a good living doing work she loves. And I know the satisfaction of winning a cooking contest.

So when the scoop of vanilla ice cream I plop into a Margarita Cooler turns out less than tasty (they make root beer floats, don’t they?) I hold my head high. If a particular dish didn’t turn out, it wasn’t meant to. The possibility of winning “First Place” in another cooking contest is worth the trouble.

Me, Alex, and Tom

I’m in good company in the risking taking, mistake-making department. Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone by mistake while trying to invent the hearing aid. And Thomas Edison tried more than 1,000 filaments for his light bulb before he found one that worked. When asked about his “failures,” he said he hadn’t failed, he succeeded in discovering more than 1,000 filaments that didn’t work. Thanks to his persistence he lit the world. And so can you.

by Kathleen Hawkins