The Parable of The Pot Roast
Why blind acceptance can prove wasteful
Sitcoms are dwellings of wisdom. Often when someone says something particularly insightful to me, I’ll have a vivid recollection of such a truth playing out amongst beloved characters in a favourite show.
That was the case this past Monday.
As part of my onboarding in my new role, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting various colleagues tête-à-tête to learn about their work and solicit advice on how best to add value to the team.
One of my favourite bits of advice thus far has been:
“Don’t be afraid to question why we do things the way we do.”
Upon hearing this began a reel from 8 Simple Rules, one of my favourite sitcoms from teenagehood. The show revolves around a family of five, and in this particular scene, the mom is appealing to the dad to be open-minded.
Her quest is prompted by his rejection of their eldest daughter’s plan to forego college in favour of a career as a beautician. The dad is adamant the “college route” is the only route to establishing a successful career. His father drilled that into him, and now the onus is on him to drill it into his daughter.
The mother, however, despite preferring the college route, recognizes their daughter has put a great deal of thought into her choice, and is thus of the opinion they owe it due consideration.
But when speaking directly to the matter fails to persuade her husband as much, the mom ventures down an alternate avenue. Instead, she recounts this story on why blindly accepting the will of others can prove wasteful:
“When I was little, I used to ask my mom why she always cut off the end of the Sunday pot roast, and she said, “Because that’s how my mother used to do it.”
So then I asked my grandma why she cut off the end of the Sunday roast, and she said that’s how her mother used to do it.
So finally, I went to visit my great-grandmother, and I just had to ask, “Why do you cut off the end of the roast?”
And she said… “Because the pan was too small.”
Take a beat and sit with that for a moment.
When pressed about his comprehension of the story, the dad looks quizzically at his wife and says, “Are we having pot roast for dinner?”
I trust your interpretation to be more sound.
But in the event, like the dad, your appetite has run away with other notions, here’s the takeaway:
Blind acceptance often proves wasteful. Whether it’s wasting time, energy, money, materials—or hell, life in general—you’re doomed by your lack of awareness.
It’s important to question why things are done as instructed to you. After all, if someone can’t provide a satisfactory explanation as to why they conduct themselves in a given manner, why on earth would you follow their guidance?
In earnest, the parable of the pot roast is a cautionary tale, as well as a reminder to be a thoughtful participant in your life and your work.
Having made three overseas moves in my life, and travelled extensively beyond, I dare say this is my favourite quote on the eye-opening power of venturing abroad:
“When overseas you learn more about your own country than you do the place you're visiting.”
Borgen’s words speak volumes of the wisdom gleaned by the parable of the pot roast in regards to exploration. We rarely stop to question why, as a culture or a society, we do things the way we do. In many ways, we blindly abide by the status quo assuming it’s in our best interest.
Granted it would be unproductive to question every little thing we do—and guaranteed to drive us completely insane—it’s important to listen to gut feelings about when to question and push back on things.
Exposing yourself to different ways of life, through travel or prolonged stays, is one way of discerning those hills worth dying on. Hence my love of Borgen’s quote.
Now, let’s circle back to my colleague’s sage advice:
“Don’t be afraid to question why we do things the way we do.”
Expanding on this, they astutely pointed out that “in a startup environment, we’re often heads-down just trying to get stuff done. There’s always room for improvement.”
Anyone who’s worked in a startup or initiated a project from scratch (whether for work or passion) can attest that going from 0 to 1 is the hardest stage of building or creating. From there, it’s a matter of iteration.
This brings me to one of our company values:
“We are humbly confident.”
I have yet to encounter a better articulation of what you must embody as a creator or builder to succeed in your aims. After all, you require confidence to produce version 1 of whatever it is you wish to impart on the world, as well as the humility to recognize it is but a mere starting point rather than an end. The latter gives you an appetite for learning, while the former gives you the gusto you need to convert said learning into improvement.
To deem yourself “humbly confident” you must be able to put something out there and declare “Hey, I created X by doing Y because of Z. But I’m sure there’s a better way to do it and welcome any suggestions you have.”
The Origin of The Parable
It turns out the story I attribute to 8 Simple Rules—the parable of the pot roast or as Psychology Today deems it, “the pot roast principle,” has long been told from one generation to the next. No one knows exactly where it originated from but its lesson is timeless. (The best stories always are.)
Thanks for reading and have a wonder-full week,
P.S. If you want to watch the parable recounted on 8 Simple Rules (where I was originally struck by it as a newly minted 13-year-old), here’s the 45-second clip that was burned into my brain twenty years ago:
P.P.S. John Ritter, the beloved dad on the show, tragically passed away at the age of 54 following a heart-related incident (more specifically, aortic dissection). On September 11th, 2003, he was rehearsing the latest episode of 8 Simple Rules when he suddenly fell ill. He died that night in surgery.
In the aftermath, his TV character was attributed a sudden passing of his own. Needless to say, I struggle to watch those episodes as I know the family’s grieving is real. The rawness of the loss is palpable, making it all the more moving.
Two decades later, it still makes me smile how fondly people speak of him and his brilliance as a comedian—particularly those of my parent’s generation who first fell in love with him in the ‘70s when he became a household name as the star of another sitcom, called Three’s Company. May he rest in peace knowing he brought joy and laughter to so many.
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