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Recipes Aren’t Made to be Followed: Creating Self-Direction

January 14, 2013

If recipes aren’t made to be followed…. then what are they made for? Clearly recipes are important; there are books upon books and vast online sources of recipes, as well as plans, guides and outlines on how to do just about anything–from re-lighting the pilot light on your oven to prepping and baking a turkey in it.

Not to be followed, recipes are made to guide when we aren’t sure where to start and how to proceed. They give us confidence in our abilities and empower us to create things we may otherwise wouldn’t have, but it’s a common misconception to follow recipes and plans. When it comes to following along, there are more interesting, fun and fruitful tactics that carry greater implications in all aspects of life. Let’s have a look.

Pitfalls of the Plan

From how to install a doorknob to getting from your home to a trail-head 3 hours away, up and down a mountain and back in time for dinner including what to wear and what and when to eat–a plan, map or guide for nearly everything exists.

Having a plan means that first, you know what you intend to do, and second, how you can get it done. This actionable outline is a strong asset; however, it’s wise to plan on deviating from the plan and to expect the unexpected. In everything we do, no matter how prepared and planned we are–things happen.

We know, likely all too well, that things are bound to come up, and then we’re thrown off balance when anything unexpected does occur.

Previously devised and easily accessible plans are helpful, but a nature of reliance extends into how we learned to learn–to follow previously formed plans of action rather than create. Figuring a planner is a former doer, we trust them and devalue ourselves. Not always­–and not the main point.

The point is–whether we find a guide online or make a plan ourselves, when something goes awry or the unexpected occurs, despite knowing the unknown is bound to happen, we have a natural tendency to feel discombobulated and thrown off course. Instead, being readily prepared to improvise renders an involved, creative mind viewing life through a different lens.

The Secret in the Recipe

Recipes are like plans–outlining what to do to reach and intended end, equipped with ordered steps and sometimes tips on technique. I know people who see recipes as rigid. They see what is needed, in what proportions and follow it to a T. If they don’t have an ingredient, they believe they can’t move forward.

Following reinforces following rather than innovating. It brings out and enforces a personality that follows rules rigidly, reads manuals and always follows the plan, expecting the expected and continuing a static status quo.

Recipes highlight a key to change and living more fully–to look at what’s presented with an inquisitive eye and more importantly–improvise. To reiterate, recipes aren’t made to be followed; they’re made to be improvised. We all have different tastes, techniques and tools–do and use what is true to you.

The Three Is

Innovate, improvise and implement. If you make these three Is your guiding principles, following any proposed plan, route, guide or recipe, you’ll tap into your creative side, finding more pleasure and success in what you do and how you do it.

For example, take recipes for success. There are many niche guides on how to become successful. They’re great if you have no idea where to plant your first step, but following someone else’s guide will get you lost. Circumstance and natural unpredictability will no doubt produce different results for everyone, no matter how well you follow a sure-fire recipe for success.

In this example, it becomes ever more evident that what you are trying to achieve, whether its becoming a human geographer slash anthropologist or small business entrepreneur, you’ll have to navigate, fine-tune and improvise any guiding principles to your situation.

In Perspective

In a volatile world, major changes are natural. We look at history and see fluctuations between ages of ice and melt and continents once joined now dispersed, yet we seem to fall under an assumption that any further change from what we’ve experienced in a brief period of history is what’s meant to be.

For things to maintain would be wizardry. We know change is inevitable, yet we react as though major climate variation and earthly phenomenon beyond human control is something we ought to be able to control. This is nonsense. The plan given, in this sense, is to maintain a static environment welcoming industrialism, consumption, capitalism and lifestyles devised, marketed, implemented and engraved into social codes of conduct.

What we need to do is innovate, improvise and implement change–to see what’s presented in life merely as a recipe, a rough guide, welcoming variation and improvement.

The cohort known as Generation Y is increasingly straying from the proposed plan of action and taking heed to what they see fit in order to right the wrongs of the world, seeing opportunity to innovate, improvise and implement change within social and environmental detriment.

Plans, Recipes, Status Quo and Improvisation Wrapped up:

The game of life gives us a plan, equipped with expectations, steps and tools to aid our endeavor; it’s the recipe provided. We’ve been taught to follow it since breath one, placed in an environment with support mechanisms, institutions and social understanding given as tools that fit the world we live.

Question the plan, innovate and improvise the recipe. Use your intuition to substitute ingredients and create novel concoctions. Conceive new systems of support and proliferate free forms of thought. Create new systems with tools to match. See in perspective and expect the unexpected, accepting and adapting when it arrives. Stir it up, question what’s presented. Don’t follow–innovate.

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

~ Einstein

What will you create?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Jones permalink
    January 28, 2013 1:17 pm

    Since all energy systems are chaotic it is well said that rigid plans are inadequate. However, energy systems behave in mostly similar manner raising similar challenges, which others have found through trial and error answers to. Better to learn from the people that walked the path before so energy is conserved for dealing with the unknown challenges and not wasted on the known ones.

    • January 28, 2013 1:32 pm

      This is true, and I tried to represent a viewpoint that plans have their place, but overall I see it most stimulating to not believe everything just because it has been done and search your own imagination as to how to go about doing something for a more meaningful, interesting experience.

      As Albert said, “Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there will ever be to know and understand.”

      In this context, I see plans as pre-devised, where if we allow them to lead us through life, we’re ultimately limited.

      Certainly we can find many benefits from energy systems, especially from nature and I’m a believer in biomimicry and permaculture, but we don’t all have to follow the plan. If so, we’d all be passing our exams and working day jobs. It behooves us to dream, to imagine and to rebel against the planned.


  1. Do You Mind the Good Life? ~ Mehdi René | elephant journal

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