I’m standing in this massive kitchen within this enormous log home chopping herbs like my life depends on it. Blue goop is falling from slurpee machines above and I’ve got to find a way to catch it before it gets into the mushroom soup I’ve got brewing in a pot. A blond, rough-faced chef in whites is yelling at me. I don’t know what he’s saying but it always amounts to the same – you’re not doing enough, you’re not doing well enough.
I awake suddenly. I guess I’ve been watching so much Gordon Ramsay lately that he’s seeped into my dreams. First I got hooked on Master Chef, then found some Kitchen Nightmares to devour, and this week, Hell's Kitchen drew me in. He's been around for years and millions of people are drawn to him, but I can't help but wonder - why me? why now? I'm pretty selective about consuming mass media, after all, normally sticking my nose up at reality television, and definitely not a regular on FOX.
I do love his story - how he's battled poverty, abuse, and adversity and worked like hell to reach great success. I love that he's using his fame to help restaurants turn themselves around and home cooks reach their dreams. But still, I've been sheepish and baffled about my sudden obsession with this irate chef with perfectionist expectations.
But seeing him appear in my dreams last night gave me a clue.
I think it's because my own inner taskmaster has taken a holiday.
This is the taskmaster that pushed me upwards, pressures me on, and expects more and more and more. He's the one who got me through the brutal year of new motherhood, finishing a master's degree, and working full-time. He's relentlessly driven me to write, to submit and to publish, dangling my ego's ambitions far ahead of what I allow myself to imagine. He's continually scrutinizing my career aspirations and carving out paths to shift me into a line of work in line with my desires. He craftily pulls out the cards of guilt, anxiety, and judgement to keep my parenting in check.
Don't get me wrong - I told him to go. We achieved great success this year and I told him I wanted us to take the summer off. He scowled at me with his piercing blue eyes, grunted and shook his head. "You don't want to lose momentum," he told me, inferring that stopping might mean I'd reached the pinnacle of my dreams and it was all downhill from here. "I need a break," I implored him. He shrugged, turned away, and went. And now I'm not exactly sure when he's going to be back.
And a big part of me sighs in relief that I can finally relax, read a book, contemplate my navel. I can turn some much-needed attention to my husband, my son, my parents. I can unpack boxes that have been in our house more than a year, pull weeds from my garden, and consider how I might get the courage to paint our fence. I can pull my son out of school and go to the beach and just sit there soaking in rays while he takes endless trips to the water's edge to fill up his watering can.
This is what people do, right?
And yet, after five minutes of this, I get restless.
- Shouldn't I be writing a book now? I've finally gotten published in books - a dream come true, so isn't it the perfect time to start working on my own manuscript now?
- What will I do when this contract ends at work? I've got 10 years at this university - am I going to give it up for part-time work?
- Is it time to have another baby? Yes, after years of being adament against expanding our family, am I opening up to the idea?
- Where am I spiritually? Do I need to find a church or articulate my beliefs in a way I can express them to my son?
- What about money? Are we going to have to readjust our budget for the long-term?
And damnit if I don't need that inner voice back to get me refocussed, to negotiate the "what now's?", to get me back on track. Can I not just take an effing break?
But visionless, I am lost.
And without the next dream to pursue, I find my life holds less meaning. And as I delve into laziness in the form of reality television and summer novels, I start eating again, and justify my lack of effort by the fact I should deserve some reward after all the work I've put in. I let myself off the hook, and tell myself that for a few weeks I don't need to strive for excellence or publications or prosperity.
And so I fill this gap with... Gordon Ramsay? And while that sounds completely bizarre, I realize that he's become exactly what I needed. Reading his autobiography, I am reminded of what it takes to make success - hard, hard work, constant striving for perfection, holding expectations high for those around you, and the genuine belief that you actually are going to be the best.
I think of my father and his relentless pursuit of his dreams. I have seen what it takes to literally become rich and famous. And I know I have that same drive inside me if I wish to follow suit. But in all honestly, it used to tire me watching him take on so much, and I have therefore crafted my life such that it asks less of me. But the problem is, I see now, that the drive doesn't go away, the dreams don't stop because I do.
While my taskmaster sleeps, I get a vision of Gordon Ramsay in my dreams saying, "You're not doing enough. You're not doing well enough."
And he's right. And like it or not, its time to get this dreamer back on track. Come on home, taskmaster, there are big things to be done.