Recipe-free Sailboat Racing

On a recent winter afternoon, as my sister and I were putting together our Mom’s birthday dinner for eight, we joked (again) about our opposite cooking styles. She’s a doctor, and quite detail-oriented, so she always cooks to a recipe. I, on the other hand, might take initial direction from someone else’s instructions, but every meal I’ve ever produced has eventually wandered off course. An added spice here, an ingredient substitution there: I cook the same way I write, by the seat of my pants.

What I’ve only recently realized is that sailboat racing often rewards not following the recipe. With so many variables, there’s no way to anticipate and plan every winning move. Instead, we have to be ready to improvise when our carefully researched forecast doesn’t pan out—or when we fail to get off the starting line cleanly enough to execute the game plan.

My strength is punching the reset button without abandoning hope or persistence, which makes it easy to adapt on the fly. My weakness is sticking to the recipe, even when it’s working. Fortunately, my smart crew forces me to at least justify my thoughts before recklessly abandoning our plan, which keeps us closer to that perfect middle ground: proper preparation, spiced up with improvisation. It’s definitely possible to get too set in our ways, but it’s also possible to abandon the plan too early, producing something that, while edible and maybe even race-winningly delicious, can never again be reproduced.

I’ve always thought of writing, sailing, and cooking as completely separate skills, so it’s a real thrill when one provides insight into another. Cooking with my sister taught me more about my seat-of-the-pants approach than hanging out with like-minded recipe-rejectors ever would. It also reminded me that combining two different approaches can produce a great meal.

Got a thought about how our personalities bleed over into disparate aspects of our lives? Share it in the comments below. I read and appreciate every single (human) response, so thanks!

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