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  • On my first date with The Chef, I told him about my tentative plan to escape to Costa Rica this summer. I would be volunteering on a cocoa farm, and when I wasn't doing that I would be dipping into hot springs, walking in rain forests, chatting with other volunteers and sleeping in a tree house. I told him that said farm even made meals for volunteers with local fresh produce. With brownies for dessert, because they primarily make cocoa powder.

    He responded that a friend of his worked on a cocoa farm, and that cocoa pods are surprisingly repulsive - gross, gooey plant flesh that needs to be dried and fermented before it can be turned into a desirable product.

    "Are you one of those girls who are really, really into chocolate?," he asked. "I don't know what you mean by 'into chocolate'," I said. "Especially because of your job. I like chocolate, but I'm not a person who will judge chocolate the same way I judge wine, chewing it slowly and saying things like 'oooh, this has floral notes.'"

    He laughed appreciatively. "South America isn't really on my travel list," he said. He caught my gaze and held it. He had character, I thought. I wasn't attracted to him, but I found him dignified in his pressed white shirt and rolled cuffs. He also wasn't shy. Most appealing was his thoughtful and articulate way of speaking. If he wasn't romantically interested in me, maybe we could be friends.

    "What's on your list?," he asked.
    "I have so many lists. You'll need to narrow it down to a category."
    "What do you spend the most time thinking about?"
    "Writing," I said honestly. "I do some of it at my day job, and for a little while I was also doing some freelance copywriting at night. It wasn't sustainable. I couldn't tolerate fourteen hours of sitting at a desk. But I need to do some creative writing. So I'm trying to make a space for it."

    Trying. I kept saying that word. "That's what everyone's trying to do, right? Do less of what they don't like, and more of what they do like?"

    "That's true," he said. And then, unexpectedly, he said some words that I really needed to hear, and have been waiting to hear, for quite some time.

    "You need to take a great leap. What's the worst that could happen? That the thing that you thought you wanted to do isn't at all what you thought it would be like? So what? Do something else.You'll still have a roof over your head. The only thing that matters is finding something that you really love to do."

    It was such a fearless statement, and already I was protesting inside. Of course I'm worried about having a roof over my head. I'm Cancerian. It is completely within the realm of possibility for the sky to fall at any given time. And also, do something else? Again? I've tried so many things, lived so many versions of myself.

    But he struck a nerve. I felt bad for being unfaithful to what I really wanted to do, for not taking risks, in favor of an ill-fitting 9-5 desk job and benefits. It was time to do a Great Leap - to keep the faith and have courage. Buckling down and accepting the stuff that does not fit does not make you a grown-up. I used to think it did, but I don't anymore.

    A mentor once told me that doing work that isn't meant for you is like lifting a chair above your head while performing all your tasks. You're never at full capacity. You don't grow the way you're meant to.

    Steadfast Mr.Chef graduated with an English degree in to a tough economy, like so many people my age. He worked with mutual funds to start paying his student loans (even though he his degree was in English), but transitioned seamlessly into a restaurant job. For a while, he was working full-time at both places.

    He had to sacrifice his social life, because of all the crazy hours he worked, but it seems like such a small thing to give up for what he got out of it. With his accumulated vacation hours, he quit both jobs and did his own version of a spirit walk across Europe. Now that he's back in Boston, he works hard at a job he loves and is the sous chef for a hip new tapas lounge, managing for the first time, hiring, firing, and training line cooks. Maybe one day he'll even have his own kitchen, where he's the head chef.

    Turning your life around: It can be done, if you're willing to work like a motherfucker to do it.
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