The Terrible Talent Trade-off

by Ranim Elborai

Today I’m going to talk about my feelings. It might make you uncomfortable.

Having attended a fancy culinary school for the duration of 9 months, in social settings I’m often introduced as “a chef” by friends who find themselves unable to describe what I do for a living.

I would like to disabuse everyone of that notion — I was an average culinary student; a mediocre employee in the three commercial kitchens I worked at; and my home cooking seems to be headed down the drain.

I could swear that the better my writing gets (and I daresay it’s getting quite good), the worse my cooking becomes. I am now as capable a chef as I am a lawyer, which is to say not very capable at all.

It’s as though there is a finite pool of talent I can draw on. Once a week’s allotted talent quota has been used up, that’s it, I’m drained. There’s nothing else to give over. I’ve come to accept this talent-tradeoff as a fact of life.

Unfortunately, everyone expects me to still have the same prowess in the kitchen I once possessed. There was a time when I made canapés for our house party. There was a period when I would host dinners once a month. Alas, no more.

One of the biggest offenders when it comes to this refusal to acknowledge that I now lack culinary talent is My Fabulous Cousin.

M.F.C. splits her time between London, Dubai and Los Angeles. Constantly on the go, she’s the proud mother of gorgeous toddler twins. She’s the talented designer of a bespoke jewellery line. Throw in a flourishing social life and you could say she’s got a lot on her plate. She’s all over the place and is able to channel all her talents along a variety of conduits with style and vim.

stock-photo-pretty-very-busy-multitasking-housewife-on-white-background-145572748UnknownSearch Google Images for “multitasking mom” and you get a lot of images that mimic the multi-limbed Hindu goddess Durga. I guess India caught onto the concept of the super-mom super early.

M.F.C. also harbours the entrepreneurial streak that seems to run in my mother’s side of the family and is constantly thinking of business ideas. The proposals she pitches at me invariably revolve around food, namely because she finds often fault with the state of the catering industry here in London. Monday’s dessert popularity contest post was in fact inspired by her — she wants to come up with the new sugary treat concept that’ll have yummy-mummies and fashionable 20-somethings queuing round the block. Because I managed to make it through two semesters of a patisserie programme at a French culinary school, surely I’m the go-to person on this.

I hate to disappoint her, as well as everyone else around me. But it feels as though that’s what I’m bound to do.

M.F.C. wants me to start up an exclusive catering business to create delicious goodies to market to the posh crowd here in London. Even during my culinary phase I never found that idea exciting; now that my talent-pool has been consumed by writing, I’m too crappy a cook to consider it as an option.

Then there are my benevolent, loving parents. They want me to find a respectable office job and do the writing thing on the side — like a sensible person would. I agree with them on principle, because I do believe a career can help define one’s sense of self-worth, and earning money is a good thing. Plus, interacting with people at an office (or any job really) would yield a stockpile of material for my writing. They are constantly suggesting jobs to apply to and have told me more than once that I ought to move to Dubai, like every other person my age. Surely I could get a job there!

Unfortunately, one look at my pastiche of a resumé and employers shy away, labelling me unreliable and feckless at worst, perceiving me to be delightfully mercurial but unemployable at best. And I really, really, really don’t want to move to Dubai. Like, really.

My sister (another fabulous female) wants me to be successful, to develop a following, to go viral. These are all things that I want desperately as well, but I’m at a loss at how to accomplish them. She’s gone to the trouble of buying me 7 or 8 books on blogging and social media in an attempt to tap into the secret to online success. And read them I will, because I appreciate the gesture.

Still, I think drumming up popularity ought to be instinctive. But I’ve never been “popular,” either online or in real life, so perhaps I lack the instinct. I’m supposed to be tweeting non-stop, Instagramming everything, FourSquaring my whereabouts and Facebooking my feelings, until these actions become second nature to me. I have to get up in your face, everybody’s face. These are things that I’m not very comfortable doing — not just because they clash with my misanthropic tendencies, but because I’m a complete tech noob. I only figured out how to use Instagram yesterday, and just barely.a

I appreciate all the concern I generate amongst my friends and family. Lots of black sheep are designated as “lost causes” and “given up on”. But sometimes it’s exhausting to be at the receiving end of so much unsolicited advice.

This is all sounds kind of emo isn’t it? I assure you, I am soooo not emo.

All I’d like to do is do I what I do best: make use of the one talent I do have. Which is the ability to write articles mulling really useless things that may, or may not, make someone somewhere smile and nod in agreement.

  1. You can follow me — I think I’m @thebobohandbook or #thebobohandbook or whatever the symbol is you’re supposed to use for that — but I can’t promise that I’ll be any good at it.  (back)