What I learned from a loaf of bread…
We have all been on quite a roller coaster. Throughout this whole process, I have discovered a very important human need to help me keep my wits about me. And… believe it or not; I discovered it by making a loaf of bread.
Recently, I was desperate to find something to do with all my free time, so I decided to tackle the daunting task of making my own homemade bread! This task meant following a recipe teaspoon by teaspoon, and since my body rather dislikes gluten, it had to be a gluten-free bread recipe. I have heard these recipes are even more strict and require lots of focus. Since I have not done anything very productive in a few days, I was up for the challenge! I walked to the nearest grocery store, while practicing social distancing, of course, gathered all the necessary items, and got the recipe started in my kitchen. I followed the recipe, step-by-step, and it was really coming together! I let the dough rise, and then plopped it into the oven to bake.
And then I waited.
And I watched.
And I waited some more.
Finally, the timer went off, and my masterpiece was truly looking splendid. It was puffy, golden, and looked absolutely incredible… if I do say so myself! I nervously slid it out of the pan and onto a cooling rack, while my excitement mounted. It looked perfect!
Now for the most important part… taste-testing.
I let the loaf cool, and then I sliced off a fluffy, golden… half-cooked, sticky piece of bread?!
In that moment, I felt my excitement start to deflate; all of my hard work seemed like it was for nothing! (Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but maybe you will change your mind by the end of this post!) I quickly tried to salvage the bread by putting it back in the oven, but this did not work, because my bread was kaput and refused to bake anymore even after 25 extra minutes of baking!
I stared at the loaf feeling miserable and felt like I was going to cry. But then I thought, “Oh my goodness, Emma, this is ridiculous. Pull yourself together. It’s just bread!”
Here is the whole point of my story; it wasn’t just bread. It was so much more than just bread. As I laid on my couch that evening, I was moping around about all the stuff happening around me, while never consciously tying everything to the whole bread fiasco. I realized how incredibly purposeless I felt. After talking with my husband, I realized that I felt as though all of my normalcy and purpose as well as my goals and consistency had been stripped from me. I was forced to create a new normal. I was actually grieving.
And then it hit me… the loaf! I looked at my husband and said, “That stupid loaf of bread! I actually took the time to plan all of the details of that day and felt like I was doing something cool and creative. I was going to be rewarded with the product of all the work I put into it!” I realized that this spoke so much deeper into what it means to be human than any article I had read that week or any snippet of the book I was reading. I was desperate to find something meaningful to do with my day, and I believe many of us are facing that in one way or another during this pandemic. We are wired to make meaning out of our circumstances. We need to create beauty out of devastation. And I firmly believe that this desire to make meaning is so great that we will find it even in making something as seemingly meaningless as a loaf of gluten-free bread.
Wherever you end up finding meaning and purpose during this season, don’t judge yourself. Embrace the fact that your human ingenuity is so creative that you found a way to meet the deep need for purpose and meaning. Be proud of the small (and big) things you accomplish during this uncertain time. Give yourself space to grieve the losses you have endured and the things you will miss out on. Trust that the little things really do matter. And most importantly… trust that you really do matter right now during all of this chaos and for as long as you live.
At Mended Wing Counseling, we know that this is a stressful time for all, and we are committed to continuing to provide you with the care you need. Each of our therapists are trained to provide coaching opportunities in Emotion-Focused Family interventions and are available for one-on-one support. We are offering a sliding-fee for those who have lost income or their healthcare benefits. If you need an appointment, please connect with us on our web page mendedwingcounseling.com to schedule an appointment. We are all in this together… one day and one breath at a time.
Brennan A. Wheeler, BS, MS is a technology consultant and sometimes blogger, writing about his travels and microblogging his every opinion. He also moonlights as a philosopher, economist, and freelance humanitarian. He is currently on sabbatical is Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he is learning Spanish and also that there are people who think, feel, and live differently than he does. As you may have guessed, Brennan is also my brother, younger specifically. I have asked Brennan to contribute a post because he has developed a very raw and interesting approach to life. We have both struggled with perfectionism but have sought very different resolutions. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do. Without further ado, here he is in his own words…
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” “A stitch in time saves nine.” And other such phrases. Absolutely they are valuable and make sense. They wouldn’t be sayings if they weren’t worth their salt. They just aren’t for me.
For me, there are two types of activities: things I know I can do well, no matter the amount of preparation, and things I know I can’t do well, no matter the amount of preparation. Regarding the latter, these are things that I know that, no matter how much I think about them, no matter how much brainpower I use, my hands and muscles aren’t trained well enough to do what my brain says. Imagine a surgeon on his first day. So I don’t have patience. I lack it. I know that no matter how much I prepare, I will still mess up whatever I’m doing and have to do it one more time. I don’t want to prepare; I want to get in there and get my hands dirty. I don’t want to wait. I want to do.
This may seem silly, like a waste. Everyone knows you should prepare. It saves a lot of time, effort, frustration, and money. I know this. I know this and despite this, I still want to get in there and mess up. I learn by mistakes when I don’t know better. I’ll do something hastily the first time and learn where all my mistakes would have been anyway, no matter the amount of preparation I had put into something. So I jump in, make my mistakes, and do it right the second time.
I suppose an example would be useful. I am terrible. No, wait, let me underline it. I am terrible at doing work with my hands, things around the house. I mean typically wood work. Like working with putty and bondo. Fixing a hole in a door. Putting down new flooring or quarter round. So if I know I am going to do something that I’m not good at, I hardly prepare. I know it won’t make any difference, I’m still going to mess it up. No matter how careful I am. But by doing it once and messing it up, I get a feel for how to do something.
Once I needed to replace a piece of wood on the threshold of my front door. Termites, you see. Taking it up is not hard, of course. Use a hammer or a crowbar and pull it up. Be careful not to scratch the door, framing, or other parts of the wood floor. You can see the caulk come up with it. A lesson on entropy here. That’s how easy it is to pull up. To put down, you have to find the same type of wood, the same style, get it cut exactly the same length, maybe one or both of the end needs to be a 45° angle. You then need to nail it down with finishing nails. Paint it. Then caulk it. And you’ve needed to buy all this stuff, along with the paintbrush and caulk gun if you didn’t have them already. It’s a lot of more time and effort. So I do it twice. I know I’m going to mess this up somewhere. The cutting of the wood (the length and/or the angles). Of course, if you cut it too short, you need more wood. It may be a good idea to get extra on your run to Home Depot. I would mess up the nails. The painting. The caulk. Something, somewhere. So I do it once, get in some practice, and do it again much better the second time.
That is my whole point. Do it once to learn from your mistakes without the heavy investment of proper preparation.
I do this at work as well. When I’m in a situation I haven’t been in before or don’t know how to handle, I do my best, make my best decision given the information in front of me. I know it’s good but it never feels quite right. But I pay very close attention to what I do, what others do, including their reaction to my actions, and I learn from it. I do it better the next time. What else can I do?
This is my point about perfection. It’s not about getting it right the first time. I play the long game. I get it right the second time, or at least eventually. But you don’t stop until it’s right. And you’ll never get it perfect. Humans aren’t robots. There is something to be said for perfection and I’m not suggesting you stop at pretty good. But you have to adjust your expectations to fit reality. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just humanly perfect.