on tangibility and career changes (4/4)

When Anthony Bourdain was 17 years old, he left home for the first time to head to university. Vassar College, previously an all-women’s school, was his destination.

Two years later, however, he dropped out.

And a few months after that, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America.

And some 27 years after that, he published his memoir Kitchen Confidential to widespread acclaim, leading him to quit his chef-de-cuisine post to pursue a subsequent career as a writer, television celebrity, and traveling food-critic.

It wasn’t the fame or money or countless TV specials that Bourdain wanted, however. “I wanted it all,” he said. “The cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos. I would climb the chain of command from mal carne to chefdom—doing whatever it took until I ran my own kitchen…”

It was some 30 years ago that he made that comment in this infamous New Yorker piece, yet thousands of young people every year are still in this same search for cuts, for burns, for “elbow grease” of their own.

Look around and it’s not so hard to see. Middle-aged couples are re-building homes in the middle of Italy for less than $5. My boss is transforming his ghost town in the middle of California. People are even leaving their six-figure salary Wall Street careers to start fashion businesses (which, by the way, have made much more than their yearly payouts).

In a world of ever-increasing technology and intelligence (such as the one I wrote about here), it’s indicative of a greater shift, of a world turning its back on many of its signature advances.

People don’t want to sit around in their corporate job, their 9-5 world and their company networking events anymore. Not because there’s not enough social time or because they have to get up every morning and stick to a brutally rigorous schedule.

But because there’s no tangible results.

There’s no finished product in those careers like there are in home-building, or cooking, or bartending. A Powerpoint? Probably. But most of us don’t feel that excited to get up and create a new Powerpoint every day

With most of these careers we run away to, the result is tangible. It’s something that we can touch, we can hold, we can share with other people in a meaningful manner. It’s not just something that we send over email or give a presentation on. It’s something that we’ve physically created, that we’ve brought into this world.

And this yearning, this desire for the tangible is a whisper from a primal part of ourselves – a reminder of the satisfaction that comes from physically shaping the world around us.

In an age of automation and a ridiculous amount of innovation, we must ask the question: are we at risk of losing touch with that essential human experience?

And just like a perfectly cooked meal, the answer is something we have to create for ourselves.