A few reasons why I prefer to travel with intention:
I realize how little I actually know about anything. Experience is the best teacher.
I discover more about who I am when I see myself through the eyes of an entirely different culture.
I get to see things from an entirely different perspective, and am reminded that there is more than one version to a story.
Nothing I’ve yet experienced builds empathy like being immersed in a different language and culture. I appreciate how kind and forgiving people are when I only know a few words of their language or don’t know social norms. These experiences help me respond with greater empathy to others.
Many stereotypes I carry are often hidden far below my consciousness. Traveling purposefully often exposes them, which helps me break through misperceptions to see the unique person in front of me.
My time on earth is limited. I find joy in doing things that are meaningful for others.
My wish is to make every day count. In Bulgaria I will do more than dream, I will use my time to do something meaningful for a stranger.
An interesting email appeared in my inbox this week from Chip and Dan Heath, authors of two of my favorite books, Switch and Made to Stick. In the email Chip and Dan shared a story, The Moment When You Suddenly Know…The Cubicle Epiphany. The story and their email ended with this question:
“Have you experienced a sudden moment of insight…that felt like a crystallization of discontentment or a crystallization of contentment?”
My answer is “yes” to both. In this post, which is the first of a three-part series, I reflect on a particularly memorable moment of crystallization and wonder, “Does crystallization automatically lead to the right decision?” and “Do these moments only happen once in a lifetime?”
MOMENTS OF CRYSTALLIZATION (Part 1 of a 3-part post)
If you think attending college classes is the difficult part, less than 25 years ago registering for college classes was not for the faint of heart! It required stamina, endurance, and perseverance. There was only one way to register and it demanded several things of you:
* your physical presence on campus on a specific day usually designated by the first letter of your last name,
* the ability to stand in verrrrrry long lines with every student whose last name matched the day’s designated letter for registrants,
* the strength to carry a paper copy of the current course catalog for hours so you were prepared to make alternate choices as necessary, and
* patience – exhibited by your ability to wait hours for your turn to speak with a human being at the Registrar’s window without the amusement of Pokemon Go to pass the time.
The year was 1993. I was one of countless college students standing in the winding river of JCCC‘s registration line. Each of us hoping that by the time we inched our way forward to one of four registrar’s windows, the classes we wanted or needed would still be open.
JCCCwas about as progressive as any campus could be in the early ’90s, as evidenced by the appearance of televisions that had been strategically placed on top of tall rolling stands and situated in the corridors every 25 feet or so (yes, the line was actually that long). The screens silently displayed a continuously scrolling roster of all courses with section numbers and their status as open or filled. It was a bit like watching to see if your horse was going to cross the finish line, except you were the horse and you might discover you were out of the race before the finish line ever came into view.
That year I was standing in line for the sole purpose of registering for some general education credits with the intention of eventually transferring to a four-year university – ostensibly to ultimately study law. As I came within eyesight of each TV monitor along the route, I would watch to compare the course’s status on screen with the paper enrollment worksheet and course catalog I clutched in my hands. This meant that I had to keep a permanent eye on the hypnotizing scroll of course offerings that appeared in alphabetical order from every department (no personalized search feature). Inattention to the screens was bad form – God help the person who held up the line by arriving uninformed to the Registrar’s window, and was therefore unprepared to expedite their enrollment preferences. I had plenty of opportunities to read the listings several times over during the two-plus hours I stood in line on this particular day. And it was at the Registrar’s window that my moment of “crystallization” occurred!
It might come as a surprise given my history, but I had no idea that JCCC offered culinary classes. So it was completely unexpected when I started seeing course titles for Intro. to Baking and Intro. to Hospitality Management rise upward and off the screen. Had I seen that correctly?What were those courses all about? I thumbed through the paper course catalog looking for the mysterious titles and course descriptions – probably out of boredom as much as curiosity. Hmmmm. Who knew such classes existed? I only knew in that moment that general coursework and eventual law school didn’t sound nearly as interesting nor enjoyable as learning to bake.
I moved forward with the same slow shuffle as everyone in line around me, and continued to watch the TV monitors – mostly to assure myself of whether the hospitality courses were a figment of my imagination or real.
At last I arrived for my turn at the sacred window. I only remember the woman’s voice asking me through the narrow opening of the sliding glass, “What classes do you want?” And without any hesitation I also remember replying quite calmly, “Intro to Baking and Hospitality Management, please. Evening sections.” I wasn’t conflicted about the choices at all. The words just came out of my mouth as if I’d arrived on campus earlier that day with no other plan. Just as effortlessly, any thoughts of eventual law school entirely evaporated from my mind.
The classic fairy tale phrase, “And so she lived happily every after…” might seem appropriate because that moment is such a perfect example of a crystallized point in time. But the story doesn’t end there. So I have a couple of questions for Chip and Dan: Do we only experience one moment of crystallized contentment in a lifetime or can we find it again if we’ve once found it, but lost it? Or was I correct in that moment of crystallization that law school wasn’t my calling, but wrong about the path I found in front of me at the time? So what happened after that magical moment of enrolling in culinary school that has caused me to reflect on these questions for the past ten to fifteen years?
I was married during that time of my life (a.k.a. Diane Dougherty) when I signed up for those first two culinary classes. When I arrived home later that evening my husband asked me if I had gotten enrolled. Being uncertain about his reaction, I remember saying only one word, “Yes.” It was one of the few times I was grateful for his disinterest.
Weeks later when I arrived home from class bearing yet another box of cream puffs, scratch rolls, and assorted pastries, I finally came clean about the courses I’d actually enrolled in. By then there was no turning back. Let’s get real – would you complain if someone brought home fresh pastry from school every week? Or if their homework involved baking and scratch cooking? I fell in love that semester – with cooking!!
This love affair was interrupted for a semester when my husband wasband experienced a set back in his career that required me to postpone additional classes for a period of time. When I returned to culinary school, I came back with a voracious appetite for everything related to the craft and the artistry of cooking and baking. Classes were only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how the world opened up to me.
The decision to enroll in those culinary classes led me to my first entrepreneurial start-up which I leapt into during what was only my second semester of school. I left a full-time job working as an employee benefits specialist in an insurance brokerage to launch my catering company, Feasts of Fancy. I had never catered before much less ever held any position in the food service industry. How did I know what to do? I read a book, printed business cards, and somehow intuitively knew what I was doing. Sounds crazy, I know.
In only a few years, the business grew rapidly from a home based start-up into a 1,000 square-foot commercial space redesigned as a professional kitchen commissary, client tasting area, and sales office. I managed a staff of thirty-four full time and contracted personnel. At the height of its growth, I sold the operation to my largest competitor – the husband and wife team of Kathleen and Andy Jacot who, directly before the purchase, were running the catering operations for The American Restaurant. The sale went smoothly for the Jacot’s, my employees, and my customers, but failed miserably as an attempt to salvage my volatile marriage.
Looking back, all the indicators and warning signs for the depression that ensued were obvious. I was without the kitchen commissary I had custom designed and which had been my creative space, I missed the familiarity of my staff-family who helped me fulfill my vision and passion for creating world-class food experiences, I no longer had interactions with the clients and supporters that had given my work a sense of purpose, and I no longer had as many reasons to interact with my chef colleagues in the region and across the nation. Who was I if I wasn’t Chef Dougherty?
The sale of my business also preceded the death of my mentor from culinary school, Chef John Joyce, by only one month. At the time of his passing, the semester was in full tilt and students needed his charcuterie course in order to graduate. I postponed my grief and stepped into his classroom as instructor until the end of the semester. I didn’t feel ready to be an instructor, and I certainly didn’t feel adequate to following in his footsteps.
Amidst all these changes, my marriage was in a rapid decline. I was too proud to admit to anyone (including my parents) that anything was amiss. I was unaware that I was sliding into a serious depression. I was lost but I was a master at using busyness as a way to keep people at arms length and from recognizing just how lost, myself included.
I tried to sort out my feelings about what to do next with my career with one or two chef colleagues whose advice was that I was being too idealistic about my craft. That no one seemed to understand my need to produce food that was artistic yet made from the most unadulterated ingredients added to my sense of isolation as a craftsperson. Slowly and methodically, I began shutting myself off from anything related to the culinary world because I felt like there was no longer a place for me in it. Shortly thereafter the depression reached a point where it became evident to my sister-in-law that I was at risk of doing serious and permanent harm to myself. In reality, if it weren’t for her I don’t know that I would be here right now to tell this story. About a year after getting medical attention, my husband left and we divorced another year later. That last statement is meant to be read only as a fact, not an accusation. Depression is a serious condition. Its impact on spouses and family may be different, but it is certainly no less difficult than for the person experiencing it.
Although I alluded earlier that my foray into culinary school and my rapid magical ascent into the culinary world should have concluded with a fairy tale ending, Gregg LeVoy, author of my dog-eared and much marked up copy of Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, would likely point out the elements of myth and folktale in my journey:
“In myths and folktales…one of the most familiar…is Pan, the cloven-hoofed, classical god of forests. Intelligent risk taking…means giving a tip of the hat to Pan before stepping into his forest. It means entering with no illusions and knowing that your endeavors will always be attended by the conflict between the voices of despair and faith, whose concussive debate will pit your soul against your mind in a boxing ring.It means knowing you must follow your heart even in the face of heartbreak and courageously contend with whatever spills from it when it tips. It means knowing that whatever you harvest by taking risks – new freedom, new love, success, power — you will also suffer loss, and that loss is a skill.” — Gregg Levoy (emphasis added) (p. 256)
In my next post about Being 53 I revisit some of the experiences that took me out of the depression although further away from the world of culinary arts into education – which is an entirely different “forest” replete with fairies and ogres. I hope you’ll join me in looking for another moment of crystallization when I post part two.
Please use the “Subscribe” feature found in the left margin to receive email alerts each time I post. By using the “Leave a comment” link directly below this post, you can send encouraging words or write about connections you’re making in your own life to Being 53. Thanks for reading!
When I wake up every morning I know I will have access to clean drinking water and electricity.
When I go to sleep at night I feel safe.
It offers me a familiar place to which I can return each time I leave.
It is small and simply furnished but contains things that have special significance for the memories they hold. My house is a Museum of Me.
It is surrounded by a large, lovely flower garden from which I can cut fresh flowers nearly six months of the year, and the trees are old and huge. (Which more than makes up for my itty-bitty closets.)
My kitchen is modest, but I can store and prepare healthy food in it at my convenience.
It is a place where friends can gather for fellowship and meals.
It is my sanctuary and a place of quiet and solitude; it is a place where I can read, think, and write about ideas that are important to me.
It is the place to which my daughter knows she can return, and that I will be here to welcome her.
It gives me a sense of undependence and reminds me that I am capable of providing for myself, which in turn enables me to contribute to others who are in need.
My wish is that everyone everywhere would have a home to write a top ten list about. In Bulgaria I will do more than wish, I will take action to make it happen for a stranger.
My first experience of loss and grief occurred around age five. It involved a car and my mother. But my grief wasn’t the result of losing my mother; she lived to be 84 years old. It was the car I grieved — a car named Betsy.
Growing up, my dad kept an old blue Buick parked on the left side of our family’s two car garage. The vehicle’s blue body encased a dove grey interior with plush seats, a mysterious glove box, and padded sun visors that I delighted in positioning and repositioning up, slanted, or fully down against an imaginary, blazing sun. Even the interior ceiling of the car was cushioned and overlaid with the same soothing, grey fabric.
In contrast, I also loved that my tiny hands felt adult-like as they clutched the hardness of the bare Tenite steering wheel while I commandeered it left and right, right and left, then steady ahead. I could keep my eyes fixated on a fantasy horizon for indefinite lengths of time, too young to imagine the solid yellow lines that eventually became a metaphor for life – ensuring every driver stays well within his or her appropriate lane.
That my feet actually reached the pedals hidden in the dark shadows below the dashboard is entirely unlikely, so it must only be from phantom feelings that I remember the pressure of my bare feet against the ridges of the hardened rubber that covered the gas and brake pedals. I do remember the sensation of speeding wildly in my mind then suddenly stomping my way to imaginary rubber-burning stops as I approached even more fictitious traffic signals, all the while laughing with a satisfaction well beyond my five years of life experience at all those slowpokes I imagined eating my dust in the wake of rubber laid against pavement.
Betsy and I never actually left the confines of the garage together, but the sense of wild independence and freedom I felt while commandeering her are undoubtedly why owning a car remains of great importance to me to this day. Sitting behind Betsy’s steering wheel I felt free as bird, independent, happy. Anything was possible inside that car and – as was the case with many things involving my dad – nothing seemed impossible. My dad was a willing accomplice often riding shotgun during these wild rides, giving me the means and the freedom to create this make-believe world. He was equally willing to leave me alone and unfettered to wander for uninterrupted lengths of time after hoisting me into the driver’s seat. He possessed incalculable quantities of patience in any circumstance I can remember.
Unbeknownst to me Betsy’s wandering days were numbered, and she would eventually vacate the cool, often damp but always dim parking space under the house long before I was independent enough to do the same. However, she was removed by force. That force was my mother.
“That car” was one of the few sources of contention I can remember existing between my parents. For reasons that will forever remain unknown to me, one day without warning a tow truck appeared in our driveway. Curious about the sounds I heard outside the house and not finding either of my parents inside, I opened the front door and stepped onto the concrete stoop.
With every fiber of my five year old self I erupted in disbelief and horror, instantaneously reacting with screams, howls, and tears at the impending estrangement from my friend . What was happening? Why was one end of Betsy raised up on that awful looking hook? Where was Betsy going? My mother was a very private person and extremely insistent that children be seen, not heard. She was also a stickler for proper behavior, especially in public and she considered anything outside of our physical house…public. In her mind being good averted the type of embarrassment that comes from the disapproval of strangers.
Expressing my agony so loudly and so publicly did nothing to relieve its cause. On the contrary, it only evoked my mother’s wrath. In retrospect, I’m mildly surprised that I only remember her sharp hiss and firm grip on my arm along with what was likely the kindest admonition she could muster, “Stop it! Just look at yourself. The entire neighborhood can hear you. Go inside. You are embarrassing me.”
What happened after that is entirely blank. I’ve blocked it and locked it away. I doubt that I silenced myself immediately, but I knew that look and that voice well enough to know nothing was going to change the situation. I have a mental image of my dad standing below me on the concrete stairs where the last step joined the driveway. He stood near Betsy, looking as helpless and forlorn as I felt while the tow truck prepared to drag our common friend off to a place I could not imagine.
In one of my favorite essays, A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis begins with what I think is one of the best literary opening lines of all time,
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” — C.S. Lewis (page 3)
Forty-eight years after Betsy’s departure I realize no one ever told me that I need not be ashamed of grieving the loss of the people I have loved, nor even the loss of places and things where I have felt safe, secure, and happy. In my humble opinion, to grieve is to show appreciation for what once was. I need not wallow in grief, but honoring it appropriately also reminds me to express gratefulness in the moments of having what is.
If there is someone or something you’d like to honor the memory of, I hope you’ll share it with me in this safe space of my blog. Just scroll down to “Leave a comment.”
Although I’m about to receive a pin representing fifteen years of service at Johnson County Community College in a few weeks, my connection to JCCC actually began thirty-one years ago when I enrolled as a student in my first class. The reality of that number – thirty-one years – is a bit embarrassing because it certainly dates me! But is also affords me a perfect opportunity to consider the numerous ways my experiences at JCCC have thread themselves through my life since first setting foot on its campus in 1985.
As a first generation college graduate in my family and someone who at age fourteen was labeled as “unsuitable for college coursework,” a brief look at my transcript is all the evidence you need to quickly realize I had no plan and no idea what to pursue when I began attending classes. I am most certainly the only JCCC graduate who took thirteen years to obtain an Associate’s degree! Although in all fairness I didn’t find my niche in order to hit my stride until 1993 when I stumbled upon the hospitality program, the culinary team, and my mentor, Chef John Joyce. Despite finally finding a path, the two-year track to an AOS was a five-year one for me while juggling the responsibilities of marriage, motherhood, national and international culinary competitions, professional writing for the ACF’s National Culinary Review, vice-president of the KC Chef’s Association, and my role as a chef-entrepreneur and owner of my own catering company. I was a runner up for the ACF National Junior Chef Award, served as the JCCC culinary team captain for two consecutive years including the first year JCCC won a national title in culinary competitions, was voted Kansas City Chef of the Year in 2001, and was competing regionally and nationally in individual competitions for both the ACF and VICA.
“Perhaps for some people, competitions are simply a way to accumulate awards and accolades, but the true value of student culinary competition lies in the self-discipline and self-confidence we gain from constantly striving to improve ourselves as future chefs.”
—Diane (Dougherty) Mora, 1997 and 1998 student team competitor
Immediately after graduation I was invited regularly back to campus to evaluate the graduation lunches of future JCCC culinary graduates, and I was in charge of the KC Chef’s Association annual banquet for at least two years. I relished everything related to my career as a chef and especially mentoring future chefs.
But stepping into the teaching shoes of my mentor, Chef John Joyce, immediately after his untimely death was not a planned part of my career in 2001. However, it was indeed that sad circumstance that started the clock ticking on my fifteen year service pin. I wish it had been any other circumstance but that one. When he died I was just entering an entire year of competition for a slot on the ACF US Culinary Olympic team – and actually he and I had stood outside on the end of the loading dock strategizing for my first cook-off the day before I received the early morning phone call I will likely never forget. After saying, “This is Diane.” into the receiver, the voice of Lindy Robinson came back to me with the words, “Diane, I don’t know how to tell you this…”. John had been found on the floor of his home that morning, the victim of a massive heart attack. The coroner’s report would indicate that his heart had been enlarged by at least twice its normal size. I have to say that it was an oddly fitting description for a man who I knew appeared gruff on the outside to practically everyone he encountered, but who hid one of the largest hearts of anyone I’ve yet met in my life. I still miss him, and to this day I can’t drive to campus without thinking of him. He was a remarkable person and chef, and when I think that he chose to pour so much of his time and energy into my education and preparations for culinary competitions, I’m still puzzled by why he chose to focus on me. As a memorial to him, I suggested to Lindy Robinson that we start a fund to support young chefs in the expenses associated with culinary competitions. Later this grew into the John Joyce Memorial Competition and Culinary Salon.
The year John died and the few years that immediately were challenging for me. Although I was successful at making the final cut as a sous chef for the ACF’s Regional Olympic Team – a sort of bullpen for chefs, if you will – I was sinking in other aspects of my life. I was still struggling to make sense of the sudden nature of John’s death partially because I had been so consumed with the olympic tryouts that I hadn’t taken the time to grieve. Right around the time of his death I sold my thriving catering business hoping to salvage a marriage that would ultimately fall apart anyway, survived a life-threatening struggle with depression that ultimately caused me to withdraw from my hard earned post on the regional team, my father was battling cancer, and whether it was all of these things combined or purely grief over John’s death I simply could not stay in the kitchen.
Which brings me to the part of my story of how a culinary graduate and culinary teacher becomes a teacher of the English language and a writer – that lengthy JCCC transcript of mine may hold a clue. Upon even closer inspection you’ll find that myJCCC transcript shows over 125 credit hours in everything from culinary classes to accounting to philosophy to Women’s Lit to paralegal studies and English composition. And if I’m nothing else – I am most certainly the epitome of a “life long learner!” I have this weird need to integrate my work into my learning and my learning into my work. I am definitely an experiential learner! I see common threads and ways to apply skills and knowledge across disciplines that others would say have no relationship. And looking back, matters of social justice were always brewing in the background and expressed itself in my trip to Scotland for a chef’s exchange as part of the “World Tour for Hunger” project. However, this is when my then unknown love for language teaching would be foreshadowed – I still have the small red leather journal I kept in which I listed food and cooking terms that were different between American English and the English dialects of Scotland!
With regard to social justice, as I transitioned from my career as a professional chef I wound up working at the Center for Practical Bioethics while completing a B.A. in Business Management from Ottawa University. Hang on, there’s more. From there I went on to complete a Master’s in Liberal Studies from Creighton University with an emphasis in social justice, spirituality, and philosophy – that program was called, “Understanding the World.” I’m not sure I actually understand the world, but I do remember convincing my biology professor that I could prove the similarities between String theory in physics and some obscure Buddhist sutras. Although initially he turned down my project proposal, I was finally able to convince him of connection to the point that he had no choice but to relent. I ended up with an A+ on the project and a handwritten “Would have never thought this possible.” scrawled across the top of the paper. My thesis would focus on “Ways of Knowing” and explored whether we actually know what we know before we know we know it. (Yeah, I know…) The real point is that it was actually at Creighton that I had my first language teaching experience while on a student delegate trip to China. I came back from China, finished my first Master’s, and was packed and on my way to Seattle University for a post-bacc in TESOL before the ink had dried on my Creighton diploma.
From Seattle I returned to China to teach again, and upon returning to the U.S. began looking for work in Omaha and Kansas City deciding I would make a home for myself where ever I got a job first. JCCC had openings in the community based ABE/GED/ESL program teaching adult language learners. I applied and have been teaching in that program ever since, although never fulltime.
In 2013 I completed a second Master’s in Adult Education – TESOL at Avila University, and I am in my third year of working fulltime for UMKC and the MO Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as a Program Coordinator and ELL Instructional Specialist. That’s a long way of saying that I teach best practices in teaching ESL in the largest region in the state of Missouri. I adjunct graduate courses in the TESOL program at the UMKC School of Education, supervise new teacher candidates at Missouri Western State University, and I keep up my personal teaching practice by teaching 6 hours a night for our adult ESL education students at JCCC/JCAE. (Although I’m only subbing for Fall 2016.)
Fifteen years of service all of them part-time, and a thirty-one year association! I have gained friends and colleagues at JCCC, lost others. Won recognitions, lost battles. I have laughed, cried, celebrated, even experienced heartbreak. I have ran in the hallways with joy, and at other times hurried as if hellbent to prove a point. There’s a book called, “Everything You Really Need to Know You Learn in Kindergarten.” I’m obviously a slow learner, but one thing is for certain – I have literally and figuratively tasted life at JCCC, and much of what I’ve learned about life is indeed grounded in what I learned in culinary school.
What paths has your life taken that led you somewhere unexpected? I’d love to know…just use the “Leave a comment” button below.