Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Chocolate Expert

"Most singers become singers because they want to be singers, not because they want to sing. That's why most singers are so awful" (see this.)

I met a fellow at a food event once who gravely informed me that he's a chocolate expert. He's, like, the guy. He really, really knows chocolate. Pomposity is in decline these days (ego finds other channels), but he hadn't gotten the memo. You think you eat chocolate? You do not eat chocolate. Chocolate is eaten when he, and he alone, eats it. Because he's a chocolate expert.

Naturally, I tried to talk to him about chocolate. But it was excruciating. When I mentioned brands he knew, he'd interrupt me to boast about his close friendships with the makers. And when I'd mention stuff he didn't know about, panic flashed in his eyes as he geared up to fake a confident response delivered with barely concealed hostility and flushed face. I'd hoped to have a nice chat about yummy chocolate, but felt like I'd been caught in a knife fight.

It dawned on me that no one can ever discuss chocolate with this guy, because he isn't actually interested in chocolate at all. What he's interested in - all he's interested in - is being a chocolate expert. And that's a whole other field.

I told him who I was; that I'd worked as a food writer/author for twenty years, written or co-written a bunch of books, been interviewed/profiled a lot, had founded Chowhound, yadda yadda. He drank it up. At last, I was speaking his language. He was barely listening as he formed his own head-butting response where he'd inform me of the award he'd won for his blog, his imminent book deal, the recognition he'd received from the chocolate industry, yadda yadda yadda. But before he could unzip his fly for the pissing contest, I swerved into an unexpected offer.

It occurred to me that I could offer this young man the most valuable of gifts: the key to attaining his deepest desire. A simple adjustment could make him the highly-regarded expert he so sorely hankered to be. So I asked whether he'd like a bit of career advice from an old-timer. Slightly flummoxed - caught in boastus interruptus - he peevishly nodded.

"Chocolate," I began, "is great. Chocolate is sexy. Chocolate is popular. Everyone just loves chocolate!" He snickered proudly; yup, he'd chosen the perfect field to be a big fat expert! "But the problem is that you're not in the chocolate field. You're in the chocolate expertise field. And that's unspeakably boring to everyone but you."

"No one cares what a big fat chocolate expert you are," I continued. "No one will ever care. Your friends, and colleagues, who seem to care? They're faking it. They don't care. As fascinating as chocolate is, your mantle of expertise is the very opposite of that."

"But!", I exclaimed, my eyes blazing with hope, "if you can switch your preoccupation from chocolate expertise - which is small and dull and useless - to chocolate - which is vast and shiny and fun - you absolutely can't fail! People will want to hear from you, and everything will click into place for you like a frickin' charm!"

I departed quickly, before his anger could fully peak.

This didn't actually happen. I did meet the guy, and we did talk about "chocolate" - by which I mean his chocolate awesomeness - and I was trapped in a brief conversational mugging, but I never did offer him this advice/tirade. It wasn't because I was too polite. Quite the contrary; it was because I just couldn't summon the compassion, or stomach the inevitable friction.

See also: Leff's Fifth Law

1 comment:

Seth Godin said...

But the Porcelana beans! How can you enjoy that bar without knowing about the beans?

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