Creatives: Just Keep Baking Bread
This is a tale about making bread.
But it’s not really about making bread.
It’s about keeping going when you don’t feel like you’re making a difference, when you think that no one in the world cares about your work, when you’re not sure where you’re heading and you don’t think your work is good enough.
Now, assuming you haven’t been living under a rock, you know roughly how to make bread even if you don’t do it, have never done it or just don’t really give a shit (count me in that third category).
And unless you’re an artisanal baker that can debate the process of making bread for hours, I think we can all agree that there are four main stages to making bread (get the ingredients, remember the yeast, mix and bake)
But did you know there’s a fifth step? One that has has everything to do with the life of being a creative, putting yourself out into the world and keeping going?
Intrigued? Well, we’re going to get there soon, but first, to really understand it, we need to map the first four stages with the creative process:
Assemble the ingredients (the basic things you need to create: your pen, your paints, your laptop, your modelling clay, your ukelele, your camera, your notebook - whatever you use.
Add yeast - the easiest thing to forget (when it comes to creating, the yeast is the thing that makes your work uniquely you: your stories, your experiences, your perspectives, your interpretations, your skills, your strengths, you preferences, your curiosity, your craft)
Mix everything together until it resembles dough (the bit you don’t like talking about quite so much: doing the damn work, sitting with an idea until it makes sense, the hard graft, getting our hands dirty and wondering if everything will ever come together)
Put it in a container inside the oven and let it cook (this is when your work starts to take its form - a story, book, poem, painting, sketch, photograph, model, patchwork quilt, song - and it starts to be ready to exist in the world as a thing that didn’t exist before
The fifth stage?
This is what happens to the bread once it has been baked. And it’s where things get interesting...
An aside before we get to the deceiving fifth step - I know that the first four steps aren’t easy. Sometimes the hardest thing can be getting the motivation and the courage to start baking in the first place. Sometimes you’ll buy the ingredients but not bake bread for a while. Sometimes you’ll give up at the dough stage and put it in the bin, believing that it just isn’t going to come together. And sometimes you’ll go through the process and we forget the yeast and the bread won’t rise. I know this is hard. If you’re struggling with bread-making resistance or having the courage to start, you might want to have a read of this and this ).
Now, back to our process and the the deceiving fifth step.
I mean, everything until then seems pretty simple. . The bread is baked, the hard work is done, there’s fresh bread on the table and life feels goooood.
Well, not so fast.
Introducing the little talked about last step:
Step Five: What happens when the bread is brought to life
Sometimes you get so focused on making the bread, that you forget that stage five can be the ultimate decider of whether you decide to bake ever again.
It can be the deciding factor of whether you let anyone taste your bread again, whether you put all of your ingredients in the bin and decide never to even try to make bread again, or come to the decision that your yeast will never be good enough and your bread won’t ever rise like you wanted it to so what even is the point?
Basically a shit tonne of things happen during this stage that we don’t really talk about as creatives.
Step five is ultimately about whether you continue creating. It’s about your life as a creative and it’s about whether you put the things only you can do into the world, or whether you convince yourself that the world doesn’t need what you have to offer.
(Spoiler alert: it really really does. We all need the things only you can do).
A LOT is at stake here.
There are a lot of things that can happen to bread once you’ve taken it out of the oven.
- Your bread is delicious, you eat it all yourself (and you thoroughly enjoy every mouthful).
- You decide that regardless of how the bread turns out, you are in LOVE with the process of making bread
- You share your bread with friends and they love it
- You put your bread in the bread bin and look forward to eating it later and feel satisfied knowing it’s there
- Your bread is so good that you get asked to make it for family and friends and start wondering whether it’s worth thinking about selling it at your local farmer’s market
- You bring your bread to an event and it and every breadcrumb is eaten
- You decide your bread is good but you’ve got ideas of how it can be even better and get started on making a new loaf straight away
- You share your bread often and start getting recognised as someone who makes good bread which makes you feel great
- You decide to put your bread in the freezer so you can enjoy it later and go back to it another time
These are the things you know you want deep down, and it takes courage to admit to them out loud. These things might actually prevent you from baking bread in the first place, because you’re so intent on making great bread that it just puts you off.
Or maybe (and I think it’s fair to say that you worry about these things the most):
- Your bread just doesn’t rise
- You share your bread with friends and they say they love it, but you know they’re not actually a huge fan
- You leave your bread in the oven for too long and it burns
- Your brain is just alright, nothing special, nothing to write home about
- You share your bread and no one eats it
- You put your bread in the bread bin
- You get your bread out of the oven and it hasn’t risen
- You take your bread to a party and never find out if anyone ate it or what they thought
- You bake bread for a special occasion and the reaction is underwhelming to say the least
- You put the bread in the bread bin, and forget it’s there and it goes stale
I mean, that list alone is enough to make anyone never bake bread again. But please, bare with me, don’t close the tab. It gets better, I promise..
What if you could take the pressure off, even a little bit?
What if you reframed the whole art of baking bread?
What if you decided that the process of making the bread was more important than the outcome?
What if you decided to focus less on the bread-eaters and take back some of that power?
What it making bread for yourself was the main aim and the rest was bonus?
What if you took your stale bread and used it to make something else (bread and butter pudding? croutons for soup?)
What if you took your burned bread and put it outside and gave it to the birds?
What if you decided that the people who need your bread will find it?
What if you decided that your recipe was special despite what bread-haters may have to say?
What if, instead of giving it one, two or three shots, you kept going, continually improving and believing that each loaf has a lesson to teach you?
Because here’s the thing, bread-makers. Listen up.
This is where you need to get that hard crust sorted.
Not all of your bread is going to be good. Sometimes it won’t rise, sometimes it won’t make it to the oven, sometimes you will forget about it and it will go mouldy, and sometimes people won’t like it.
Sometimes you’ll make the best loaf ever and find that you can’t replicate it. Sometimes you’ll repeat the process with surprising results. Sometimes you will wonder if you should bother baking at all.
Sometimes, the art of baking will set your soul on fire and you will know exactly why you bake, and know that regardless of how it comes out, you were born to bake.
Sometimes you will share your loaf and it will change your life and someone else’s life.
Sometimes you won’t know why you bake, but you’ll carry on anyway.
Sometimes you will forget just how much baking is part of you until you remember it again.
This is the life of a baker.
And here are some truths.
If you decide it’ll probably be shit before you’ve even begun, there’s a good chance it will be, because you’re not giving yourself the chance to let go. Explore what it could be and see what happens.
If your sole definition of success is whether people like your bread, then you will fail. You risk everything if you create just for the bread-eaters. You risk your integrity, you risk compromising your yeast and you risk losing yourself along the way. There will be people who simply can’t get enough of your bread and that’s great - but remember, you don’t have to change the recipe for them.
You have to find a reason for baking bread beyond things that makes your ego feel good. And if you’re making bread, or even thinking of making bread in the first place, then you have a deeper reason. Go find it.
Finding it is what will keep you baking on the hard, lonely days when you feel like no one cares about your baking and you’re not making a difference.
Because you also won’t always get to see who eats your bread and who likes your bread
You won’t always get to see the breadcrumbs you leave and where they lead people.
You won’t get to see all of the lives you’ve changed - in big, small and medium ways.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
I know you’re practical, I know you want to always be able to see results, and I know you need evidence, but sometimes you have to take the most pragmatic part of your brain and shake it up a bit.
Because part of being a baker is trusting.
Trusting that if it doesn’t rise today, it will rise tomorrow.
Trusting if that people don’t like you bread, then maybe you’ve yet to find your people.
Trusting that no one can make bread the way you do
Trusting that you’re leaving behind breadcrumbs which are slowly changing the world.
Even if you take nothing else away from this very far fetching bread analogy, take this:
All you can do is keep making bread, keep putting it on the table and trust that the people who are hungry for the bread that you alone can make will come and grab a slice and leave crumbs along the way.
Keep mixing, keep baking, keep creating.
Whatever you do, just keep making the bread.
Because your bread? The way you bake it?
It changes the world even though you can’t always see it.
Make the bread. Put it on the table, and go make more dough.
That is the life of a baker.
“The art of bread making can become a consuming hobby, and no matter how often and how many kinds of bread one has made, there always seems to be something new to learn.” -- Julia Child
** The bread analogy was inspired by a wonderful conversation I had with Rebecca Thering for The Couragemakers Podcast on the topic of believing that you make a difference even if you can’t see the breadcrumbs you leave or who picks them up, and also the importance of taking the time to thank people who inspire you.