To do better, you need to know that there is a better way.
Sometime back, we ordered sushi.
It was vegetarian sushi, a contender for the oxymoron of oxymorons, from a restaurant we hadn’t heard of.
While I am a huge fan of Jiro Dreams of Sushi and wish I can be as passionate about what I am doing even in my 80s like Jiro Ono, I’m not quite sure what authentic sushi will actually taste like or even if I will like it. But what I’m sure of is that the sushi we ordered was, mildly put, crappy.
Far removed from the world of sushi is a snack called Maddur vada. It’s my favorite snack of all time as it reminds me of the childhood train journeys we would take to Mysore to stay with my grandparents. Its origins are in Maddur, a place you will cross if you’re traveling from Bangalore to Mysore or vice-versa.
That’s where you get authentic Maddur vada. In Maddur or on the train journey from Bangalore to Mysore. Maddur vada is available in innumerable condiment stores and numerous restaurants and I have tried many of them.
But none of them taste like the authentic Maddur vada. A few come close but all of them fall short of being able to replicate the authentic taste.
How can I say that?
Because I have been eating it my whole life and I know exactly what a Maddur vada tastes like. So when someone tells me they have had Maddur vada, I always ask them where they have had it. If they haven’t had it in Maddur or Mysore or on the train to Mysore, I politely tell them that they haven’t tasted the authentic Maddur vada.
The same holds good, I’m sure, for thousands of other dishes and preparations. Someone from Mumbai will tell you that what you get in South India isn’t even remotely authentic chaat.
It’s possible to pass these judgments simply because on some level, we believe we have experienced the authentic or better version of something. If you haven’t tried the authentic Maddur vada, you might as well think that the one you had is the best.
With food, all of these discussions are time-fillers. In the larger scheme of things, not tasting the world’s best or most authentic dish doesn’t really rob you of much.
But here’s the other side of the discussion — what if you didn’t know a better option existed? Or that there was a better way to do something? Or that what you experienced was totally off from the norm?
What if I use my disastrous tryst with sushi tasting to tell everyone that sushi itself sucked? What if it kept me from trying authentic sushi? Wouldn’t that limit me or stop me from exploring the horizons when it came to sushi?
There are times when we don’t know better. What if in your first job you encountered bullying and abuse and assumed that was the norm? Or you’re taught a bunch of shortcuts ways to game the system and assume that that’s what your work entails. Stick with that erroneous belief long enough and you believe that’s the way things are.
I have had good and terrible work experiences. How was I able to differentiate one from the other? Because I had a reference point. When you work in a supportive environment, you immediately feel something is amiss when you step into a toxic one. You are able to differentiate a supportive leader from an untrustworthy manager.
These reference points are all around us.
Knowing something can be made better.
Or that there is a better version out there.
Or knowing that there is a better way of doing something.
Or that there is a better version of the dish.
Or that there is someone better who can teach us.
A lot of people remain stuck because they aren’t able to see a better option or a better way forward.
Knowing there is a better way is the first step out of any quagmire.