What Learning How to Cook Rice at 39 Taught Me about Entrepreneurship
I’m 39 years old. Learning how to cook rice has been a terrible exercise in adulthood for me, one I’ve failed at for years. To give an illustration of how long I’ve been attempting to do this, consider that I first consulted the internet via Yahoo-- as in before Google. Yeah, that long ago. So I asked the internet, talked to friends on Facebook, sought counsel with my mom. Nothing worked. I should have talked to grandma but grandma didn’t measure. I once tried to learn how to make her famous sweet potato pie, shadowing her with a pen and a notepad, but soon found myself flustered by her dash of this and pinch of that-- all defying measured organization. The woman was skilled in the kitchen; I’ve accepted that I never will be.
However, at 39 I finally learned how to cook rice. That was this summer. So, in looking back at my failures over the first twenty-one years of adulthood, I gleaned some notes that also reflect in the business world. What follows are the nine entrepreneurial business lessons I gleaned from learning how to cook rice.
Lesson One: Keep trying
There were many times that I wanted to give up on rice all together. I repeatedly avoided cooking it because every time I tried, the rice would come out mushy, burnt, under-cooked, or dry. There was always something wrong with my pot of rice and it was frustrating because it seemed like such a simple task to do. I watched people cook rice so easily that it was evidently a side dish people could create without thinking. Even 11-year-olds knew how to make it yet I struggled at what had to be the simplest thing to do. It was made with just rice and water. How could I fail?
The way this correlates to entrepreneurship and business is that business is made up of two main things-- an audience and an offer/product. It seems so simple. But the process has been one I have struggled with consistently these last few years.
And, like with rice, I wanted to give up. I would do other things but business because it was hard. I felt like a failure at it. If it’s that easy for somebody else, then I must be stupid. If it was easy for somebody else but it was hard for me, then business must not be for me.
However, what finally learning how to cook rice at the age of 39 taught me was keep trying because, not only was it for me, I’d be good at it. And, when I want to give up, I’m allowed to do so-- but just for a moment. After I’ve done so, I had to come back to it and try it again. Adjusting my actions and reactions is always on the table but giving up is not.
Lesson Two: All brands are not the same
All rice is not made equal. Goya is not Mahatma. Jasmine is not brown. Long-grain is not parboiled. Boil-a-bag is not loose grains. All rice is not made the same. That means then that all rice does not cook the same. The process of putting the rice in a pot of water then turning on the heat might be similar, but all rice cooks differently, taking various times to get to its own perfection. Not to perfection of all rice but to the perfection of that type of rice. Every brand and every type is different.
If I held up five different bags and brands of rice, you might tell me they’re all rice. But they’re all different; they’re all flavored differently; they all come from a different place; their process might be different.
What that means for business is that what looks the same just may not be. While there are other author coaches, business coaches, brand coaches, clarity coaches, social media strategists, yoga instructors, etc, they are their own type of coach. We’re all showing up online however it is we’re showing up online. But we’re all different. We have our own processes and our own time. It may look like everyone is doing the same thing I am, but they’re not. They’re their own brand, have their own voice, and take their own time.
We can not compare Jasmine rice to parboiled rice to brown rice to long-grain rice to sushi rice just as we shouldn’t compare our businesses to others who seem to do the same.
Lesson Three: Each brand has its own audience
Continuing from lesson two, each rice has its own function and each has its own audience. Some people like rice sticky, some like it not sticky, some like it gummy. Some people prefer brown rice, some people don’t (I definitely don’t).
In entrepreneurship there is an audience for me. A person might show up and try someone else’s offering but that doesn’t mean the offering is to their liking. It also doesn’t mean the person is not my audience. They can still come over and sample my offering and find that it is perfect for them. Conversely, just because a person sits at my table to sample a plate doesn’t mean they are my audience; they might find my offering doesn’t fit their palate. So they will go on to someone else.
That is not to be taken as a negative but as a lesson. I’m not for everybody and everybody is not for me. And that’s okay.
Lesson Four: Don’t be afraid to throw out the bad stuff
Just because I took the time to cook a pot of rice, doesn’t mean I have to let my pride get in the way and force myself to eat a bad pot. I’ve been guilty of sitting down with a plate of rice that was overdone or over salted or underdone or just not right. But I forced myself to eat it because I didn’t want to waste it.
Business is like that. We create these offerings and products, purchase business cards, pay for a domain name. We get all these things that are not for our plate. We make our mistakes, get burned, or jump the gun so our process is underdone. And we hold on to those mistakes. However, we must learn, when we have something that will not serve us or will not fill us, it is ok to get rid of it, to throw it away.
It is not about time wasted; it is about time learned. One of the things I learned when I undercooked my rice was to cook longer. One of the things I learned when I overcooked was to cook with less time. One of the things I learned when the rice was dry on top was to add more water. One of the things I learned when it’s over-watered was to reduce the water. Every single time I failed, I learned. It might have taken years but, at 39, I’ve finally learned.
As I go along in business, I’m to take the lessons-- less salt, more water, less heat, simmer means 2 not 4. I’m to take the lessons but get rid of the junk. Not to hold on to the baggage otherwise I will continue to eat the same thing that doesn’t serve me well. Or I could be sitting there with a pot of moldy stinking rice. So it is okay to throw it out.
Learn from me. Take the lessons of what was done right and learn what to do next time. Don’t hold on to something just because you put time in it or poured resources into it. If it doesn’t serve you, throw it out.
Lesson Five: Every way is not the only way
Everybody’s way is not my way. As noted earlier, I asked many people how to cook rice. A lot of people. But each time I tried their way, something was always missing in my pot. Reality was, for them, cooking came so naturally they would forget to tell me a step. One set of instructions was two cups water, one cup rice. (I won’t even get into the other one that required I measure with the line on my finger). I tried it. Rice was too gummy.
What I discovered they forgot to tell me was to turn the stove on first, boil the water, then add the rice. It was a game changer and my rice was finally banging. That was the first thing I told my son to do when I taught him how to cook rice. I made sure that I told him step-by-step so it would be easy for him to replicate what it was that I do. That’s how I am as an author coach as well. I like to make sure I don’t miss explaining a step.
Unlike a lot of business coaches. They tell you, “All you have to do is come up with your ideal client and you can create a product for them”. This opens a whole can of questions and doubts: Who is my ideal client? How do I know who they are? How do I even know what to make? How do I know who I am? How do I know what my voice is? How do I know how to talk to them? How do I know how to close the sale? How do I know how to talk money?
There are all these other steps to the process but, when watching these coaches, what’s not visible are the years of training they had that makes closing a sale easy to them, the experiences they had as one of many siblings which made being authoritative easy for them, or the natural southern charm they possessed that made them approachable and not intimidating to people. It’s not that they’re deliberately missing those steps. Most times, people don’t even realize the extra bit of seasoning they have so they never think to teach it.
Lesson Six: Stop listening and start doing
Listening to rice cooking instructions from several people became very confusing. It was too conflicting. For instance, some said to wash the rice; some said not to. When I was growing up with my mom, rice always took her about 20 minutes to cook. Her instructions were to put the rice in the pot, wash the rice until the water ran clear, then add enough water to the pot so that it was completely over the rice up to the line on my finger. Every time I followed that instruction, my rice would come out either dry or gummy-- usually dry. Then my mom would have to rescue the rice by adding more water and working her magic.
When I asked other people to help me, I was told double the water to the rice. Clear simple instruction. Cool. But then I got gummy rice. On a whim I thought to try boiling the water first then adding the rice, before reducing the heat. My rice was done in 10 minutes. So I thought I did something wrong. But when I sampled it, I was quite surprised to find the texture was the way I liked it.
On a business note, the lesson that comes to the surface is that listening to too many people will leave me confused and unsure of myself instead of clear and confident. Even after following the steps given by other people, I had to learn how to take what’s necessary and throw out the rest of the instructions. I also learned I’m not to be intimidated by the other people who call themselves a storytelling strategist or clarity coach because the way I coach is different. My gift and my experiences come together in a different way. It might look the same because it all looks like rice but it’s not because there’s a step that I know to do that they don’t know how to do (and vice versa).
What that means is that just because a coach might be in the same place you want to be doesn’t mean that you have to operate the way they do. And the way that other people cook rice just might not be the right way for you. I’m not saying that entrepreneurship has to be a lonely endeavor. Seeking counsel while on the journey is great but at some point, you’ve got to recognize when you’ve learned all you can from others and when it’s time to rely on (and trust) yourself.
Lesson Seven: Flavor your own way
The other thing people forgot to tell me was to season the water. The first time I cooked rice, it was flavorless. Now I love my salt and butter so the next time I cooked a pot of rice, I threw my salt and butter into the water before it boiled. The end product was good enough to have my family wanting me to cook rice again and again (I even make it better than my partner).
I had to find my own way. I had to try things. I had to find what worked and what didn’t work. And I had to find what tasted good to me, not what tasted good to other people. At the end of the day, I had to please myself, my palate. I had to like my own rice because, if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to be pleased. It didn’t matter if someone else liked it if I didn’t like it. And if I didn’t like it, I was going to feel like I failed.
What that means as a lesson in entrepreneurship is that I need to show up for me. I don’t need to worry about my ideal clients; I don’t need to worry about my ideal customer; and I don’t need to worry about the person on the other side of the camera during my videos. That might work for other industries and other people, but it doesn’t work for me to worry about other people first.
What I need, as a entrepreneur, is to call the people to me who like my rice the way that I like my rice, not to tailor my rice to fit the likes of other people. If I don’t like to show up a certain way or listen to myself spout a certain thing, then why would I expect someone else to? I have to create the things that I want, that I would pay for. And I have to talk about it the way that I would resonate with it because I have to like it. I’m the one who has to show up every day.
This is a big deal for me because, over the last couple of months, I realized I didn’t know me. I didn’t know who I was or how I liked my rice. As late as this week, I said to my partner, “I don’t know my own voice; I don’t know who I am. I show up and I become whoever people need me to be. But I don’t know who ‘me’ is.” When people said to me, “Talk to your ideal client,” I couldn’t because I didn’t know how I liked my own rice. But I’m finding out. I’m hearing my voice, which is quirky, reflective, appreciative, authoritative, metaphorical (as evidenced by this piece on learning how to cook rice). I try to find and share the lessons in life.
And that one major lesson right now is to flavor your business your own way. Your dish is worth having. The people who love what you love will find you. Then they will share it with other people who are like minded and those people will share it. The people who don’t like you will move on to someone else who offers what they like. And that’s okay.
Lesson Eight: It won’t be perfect every time and that’s okay
I found out how to make rice but, so far, every time I made it, it tasted different. I might have put less salt, more butter, or different water (all water is not equal). Just because it didn’t come out perfect didn’t mean it wasn’t good. Good sometimes is enough. Perfect is not obtainable all the time. Sometimes, it just needs to hit the plate-- no fancy garnishes.
While every pot of rice I made this year has been different, they’ve all be good enough to serve. I’ve learned to be okay with that, with the rice not being perfect.
The business translation: every funnel, every website, every live, every everything does not have to be perfect all the time. Perfect is not obtainable every time. And that is okay. Your offer just needs to hit the plate; you just need to show up on social media; your message just needs to be spoken out loud; you just need to make that call; you just need to put out that book; you just need to blast that email; you just need to use your voice. You don’t have to have a perfect message. This article isn’t perfect but it’s good enough.
Lesson Nine: Fancy does not equal perfect.
I’ve cooked a pot of rice one time that was so darn good I made only a pot of rice. When I got that perfect rice, it was divine; it was enough.
If it is everything I want, I don’t need to keep making it fancy. A super techy Wordpress plug-in is not needed. I could just put the Paypal button up or give someone my PayPal.me or CashApp. If I know what I have is awesome, I could just tell folks, “Look I have this perfect course. You want to jump in here right now. Here’s how and why you need it. Here’s my link.” If creating fancy funnels wastes time and keeps me from getting out what can serve my people, then it is better to offer my program or coaching than to never offer it at all just because I’m trying to launch it according to someone else’s idea of perfection.
If it’s perfect, it doesn’t have to be fancy; if it’s fancy, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. I had to stop looking at everybody else’s business. I can’t let Gary Vaynerchuk or Tony Robbins prevent me from going after my own business. They too had to learn how to cook rice first before they could deliver a full meal. This is a reminder not to look at someone’s level 40 when I’m on a level 5.
If the moment is perfect for a consultation and both parties have 40 minutes available, then it’s nothing to say, “Here’s my CashApp. Let’s do this coaching right now while we both have time.” That’s perfect timing and alignment. Why send someone to a fancy funnel? If you really need that email, ask for it so that they can send you feedback on the session. But you don’t have to stop the flow for fancy.
These nine lessons were quite a mouthful and I’ll digest them for a long time to come. I hope you find this pot of platitudes as appealing as I have. But even if you didn’t, pass this plate along. Someone out there is going to like what I just served up as much as I do.
Which lessons resonated with you? Why?