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  • Writer's pictureDr. Gavin Weeks

Time Well Spent

 If you haven’t seen The Bear, promise you will go and watch it. In the meantime, I promise not to give away any big spoilers.

The series revolves around Michelin-starred chef Carmen ‘Carmy’ Berzatto’s attempts to turn round his late brother Michael’s ill-fated Chicago restaurant. In the context of systemic closures amongst Chicago’s ‘homestyle’ restaurants, Carmy intends to elevate ‘the Beef’ into something sustainable, befitting both his talent and his brother’s memory. ‘Cousin Richie’, a lifelong friend of the Berzattos is deeply loyal to the failing business, to the extent that his instant reaction is to thwart all attempts to change. He is, in a word, chaotic.

There is much to explain Richie’s chaotic behaviour, including his dysfunctional upbringing and his fragile sense of belonging to the evolving restaurant and its team. However, over two series, we come to appreciate that part of Richie’s chaos results from a missing sense of purpose in life. In one exchange with Carmy, he asks, in his inimitable style:

 Richie             “Yo, you ever think about purpose?”

Carmy            “I love you, but I do not have time for this…I have time for this…”

Richie             “What’s my purpose homie?”

During the conversation, Richie reveals a fear of irrelevance, of being left behind due to his lack of skills and qualifications, as the restaurant evolves beyond him:

“I’m reading a lot, I’m trying to learn about who I am, my history…in one of these books, there’s this guy who’s got no skills, no personality, nothin’… all he does is watches trains”.

What happens to this character Richie has been reading about? His friends “drop his ass, cause he’s got no purpose.”

 Richie seems to believe that when he finds a purpose, life will suddenly fall into place.

Later in the series he meets Chef Terry, played by Olivia Colman, executive head chef of Forks, Chicago’s best restaurant. He has been sent there by Carmy to learn the ingredients of great service although Richie believes it is really a form of punishment, designed to show up his inadequacies. This is the kind of restaurant where craftsmanship, theatre, and service combine to create unforgettable experiences for guests who wait months to get a table. In one scene, Richie and Chef Terry peel mushrooms. He asks her why she bothers with such a menial task, remarking “don’t you have stages [i.e. interns] and sh** that can do it for you”. Her answer is simple yet profound:

“Respect. It feels attached. I think time spent doing this is time well spent.”

In the context of the show, this scene is central to Richie’s character development, though I promised there wouldn’t be any spoilers…

So often we search for (and are encouraged to seek) a singular purpose as if it is akin to enlightenment – a profound statement that explains our ‘why’, from which the direction of our lives or whole businesses will be revealed.

What this scene shows us, with beautiful simplicity, is that a sense of purpose is as much about action as it is about enlightenment. A sense of purpose can (and should) influence our most significant decisions and important plans. However, it can just as easily be found in the actions of everyday life, doing them with purpose. This is ‘time well spent’.

Those purposeful actions are deeply connected to the ‘flow’ state described by legendary researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. ‘Flow’ activities are autotelic – rewarding in and of themselves. It is the act of doing them that makes them meaningful: peeling the mushrooms as if working in fine marble. This explains how the fictional Chef Terry and real-life creative geniuses find meaning in seemingly mundane tasks.

There is a difference between having a statement of purpose and having a deep sense of purpose. The statement on its own is not enough. More and more businesses have a neatly articulated statement of purpose but, in our experience, fewer have cracked the felt sense of purpose. What this requires – individually or as teams – is an interrogation of the minutiae of their working worlds to identify what, for them, is ‘time well spent’ and where valuable time is wasted.

It is this interrogation of how time is spent that leads to an ability to develop working lives that are truly purposeful. When we work with clients we focus deeply on the relationship between the overarching statement of purpose and this more subtle, but potentially more profound sense of purpose in action.

What, for you, is ‘time well spent’?


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