Cooking with Love–and Mindfulness

I love to cook. This fact has actually been a slight source of contention in my relationship from time to time. Has anyone else had this experience? I cook elaborate meals, not because I feel obligated, but because I want to. Having a warm, delicious meal on the table as my partner walks in the door feels good, because it requires a mastery of timing and kitchen know-how. Also, I love to eat good food, so it’s not like I’m being totally selfless here. Yet, at times, my partner has protested that I’m doing too much–that I shouldn’t feel like I need to have dinner on the table when he gets home. The thing is, I don’t just cook to feed him–I cook to feed my self, in more ways than one.

Cooking, for me, is an act of mindfulness. “Mindfulness” is that new buzzword people are throwing around, especially, I’ve found, in higher ed and health and wellness industries. According to Psychology Today,

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. […] Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

As someone who has always had a tendency to spend copious amounts of time in virtual worlds–through computer games, web surfing, smartphone apps, you name it–mindfulness is something I try to actively practice. Going for a walk, reading a real paper-and-glue book, and, yes, cooking all help me reconnect with what’s real and human.

There are few things in this world that smell better than onions, celery, and carrots cooking in butter.
There are few things in this world that smell better than onions, celery, and carrots cooking in butter.

Cooking, especially, is something that connects me not just to the present, but to the entire history of humanity. This is probably just because I’m a raging history nerd, but putting a whole chicken in a pot of boiling water makes me think about the millions of people throughout history who have performed that same act–maybe in a kitchen in a European manor house, maybe over a cooking fire in a temporary camp. That act, to me, feels so primal and ancient, it makes me feel alive and connected to a long tradition of preparing sustenance.

So, those are the kind of things I was contemplating today as I made a chicken pot pie from Ree Drummond’s blog. It’s cooling right now, and I have to say, I can’t wait for the boyfriend to get here so we can sit down and share it.

The crust started to fall apart when I transferred it, but that just gives it a rustic, down-home feel, right?
The crust started to fall apart when I transferred it, but that just gives it a rustic, down-home feel, right?
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The Liberal Arts Career

I work as a Career Adviser at a small liberal arts college in Indiana. More often than I’d like, I have students come in for appointments feeling lost and overwhelmed and disappointed in their choice of major. Most often these students are seniors, which is understandable. Why? Because, as liberal arts majors about to graduate, they feel like they are about to be cut loose and thrown into the “real world” with no clear-cut path in front of them.

Srsly, leaving college is not the end of the world.
Srsly, leaving college is not the end of the world.

I can relate. It’s easy, as a college senior or recent grad in the liberal arts, to look at your peers in vocational or technical schools with envy. Why didn’t I do that? you think. Life would be so much easier! At least, that’s what I thought after walking out of my institution’s doors with a B.A. in history and anthropology. Now what?

The value of the liberal arts seems to be on everyone’s minds lately. Even the President recently apologized for taking a jab at art history majors while making the case for more specialized training. On the other hand, Thomas L. Friedman’s op-ed piece on How to Get a Job at Google and this HuffPost article on the value of humanities majors both argue that the liberal arts can and do prepare students for a job. With the economy still limping along, college students (and their parents) want to make sure their college education has worth. But how do you measure the worth of an education?

It’s true that a liberal arts degree does not set you up for a specific job in the way a degree in, say, Dental Hygiene or Aviation Maintenance does. No, a liberal arts degree does not prepare for you a job; it prepares  you for a career.

Ah, career. What does it mean, exactly? As a Career Adviser, I run into a variety of (mis)perceptions of this word. Some academics fear it–when we talk about preparing students for a career, they immediately imagine a gray little cubicle in a dreary office, a once-bright mind drooling over a keyboard and punching out data for some nameless corporation. But that is not a career; that is a job.

Let’s open our friend, the dictionary. (Or dictionary.com, in this case.) The first two definitions from the World English Dictionary are as follows:

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A path through life. This is a career. It is not a job; it is not even a series of jobs. It is your life work. The things you do, whether paid or unpaid, which make up your life story. Aha. So even though my job title is Career Adviser, my career involves so much more than that; my writing, my research, the work I do for my church, the volunteering I do through community organizations–that is my career. No matter what jobs I hold along the way, I know my career will always revolve around these things, because these things are a part of who I am and what I do on a daily basis.

A liberal arts degree prepares you for a career–for your life work, for your ongoing development as a human being, for a life of learning and engagement. The technical skills needed for many of the jobs out there can be learned, fairly quickly and easily. It takes more time and effort to develop skills like problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity.

As hard as it is not to compare yourself to others, my biggest advice to liberal arts grads is to do just that. Your career path will not be straight or direct, and that’s okay. Allow yourself time to explore, to develop your interests and skills. Focus your energy not on landing a job, but on building the life you want. Most importantly, be creative. Your career path does not have to look like your parents’ or your friends’, nor does your definition of success.