I’m dedicating this post to one reader, Mark, because it was his question that inspired it.
He asked, after reading that I had returned to Oxford to do my MBA, what I planned to do with all this education. Back weeks ago, full of pluck and tenacity, I stood tall, peering with shaded eyes across my vast aspirations, sure that I, writer and eater and cook, could never bite off more than I could chew. My appetites, I admit—for food, for life, for success—are greater than the ocean that separates me from my home.
I must admit that I have overdone it before, snacking on frites past midnight, slathering my morning baguette in a winter-thick blanket of ivory butter. And then, I had to go on a diet—which I hated! And though I hope I’ve upheld the adage French women don’t get fat through responsible consumption, the diet I’ve never been able to keep is rationing ideals, dreams, hopes, goals. Perhaps it is a contagion that racks all first generation Americans. Both my theses are on the American Dream, so has it fascinated me ever since I first heard the two words consecutively uttered. I cannot live without work. I am too hungry.
So, here I am, in the den of the hungriest lions in the world: business school. I will write cookbooks, I told myself, and be the greatest literary and culinary entrepreneur of all time! Sophomoric was the word invented for just such idiocy. I suppose the benefit of an expensive education is hearing over and over again that you can do anything—which translates to you can do everything. Yet, so far am I from being a master of the universe that I am not even master of my own universe.
And so the education that I thought would catapult me to the highest heights of personal capability has me licking the dregs of the lowest lows. Every day I sit in the same seat, under the same fluorescent lights, as one professor after another equivocates about the Capital Asset Pricing Model. They pontificate about where supply meets demand, and I surreptitiously stretch my legs under my desk and ask myself whether I will ever find an equilibrium that satisfies my own market conditions. I have realized, for the first time, that there is only so much of myself I can supply, and so many, many forces demanding.
I have only a microwave during the week in my little room. And I have found myself, that hungry, hungry tiger, feeling caged. I always thought that caged animals would turn tame, but they won’t. They turn angry. Which is why with every hour I spend balancing accounts, I curse the fact that I’m not balancing the weights of butter, flour, and water in choux pastry. I realized that I haven’t done anything that I love—I haven’t cooked, I haven’t written, in weeks.
Every day, a little knot of us eat three meals under the same fluorescent lights of the business school. Sometimes I play a little game with myself: is that fennel, or just tarragon in the soup? My friend Jeff asks for an extracurricular education in spices that I am happy to provide, as the cafeteria staff leaves dangerous, whole spikes of anise and cinnamon in its “fragrant” rice. But never before has food comprised such a little portion of my life. And now I am not just hungry, I am starving. Hungry for success, yes, but also starving to do that which I love more than that which I felt I should love.
How could a plate so full appear, feel, be so very empty?
I am not a religious girl, but another part of expensive education is religious training, and one line has always stuck with me: “When I became a man, I put away childish things.” I used to listen to all the voices that bombarded me telling me that following a dream, doing what you love, was childish. But that same passage reads, “love never fails,” and I have found what I love, and love is an investment, one that my professors would agree produces an excellent rate of return. I turned 27 last week, and so now that I am a woman, I put away childish things, and I am putting myself on a diet. Less strategy and accounting–more cooking and writing. More love.