It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt
In my first college writing class, on our initial assignment, the instructor chose me to begin the presentations. Mortified, in a new classroom surrounded by strangers, my defense mechanism of shrinking violet mode would not save me. I stumbled through the piece, a poem, my nervous energy escaping through my giggles throughout. When I had finished, the instructor called out to the class for comments. The lug-head of a jock sitting three rows away from me said, “I hate it.” I don’t remember another comment after that. I eventually dropped the class, not merely because of him, but his comment spurred my decision to give the class up. I foolishly allowed some 23-year-old blockhead to deter me from a valuable opportunity.
I remind myself often, “it doesn’t matter what they think. It doesn’t matter,” but my prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part, and my limbic system, where my emotions and these negative comments reside, aren’t always on the best of terms. Too often, I allow the shouts and epithets from the knuckleheads in the nosebleed seats to kick my limbic system into high gear. No, I didn’t win, I wasn’t recognized, my effort wasn’t the best, but I tried – and the mere act of stepping into the ring is succeeding.
Yeah, I know, you claim that you are so emotionally evolved that you don’t care what anyone thinks. Brené Brown claims that’s impossible. She maintains that we are literally hard-wired to take heed of what others think of us. The trick, and the crux of my struggle, is to disregard the opinions of “those cold and timid souls” outside the ring.
These critics admonish me for oversharing on this blog, caution me that my ugly truth is unappealing, could ruin relationships, could affect my career. Why, they ask, put myself out there when what I’m writing is inconsequential and, “Once it’s on the Internet, you can never remove it.” On certain posts, like this one, I’m sick to my stomach after hitting the “post” button. I’ve come to believe it’s a sign I’m at least in the arena, even if these attempts aren’t “valiant” or a “worthy cause.” This sometimes raw and ugly honesty arises from my desire to ‘write what I know.’ And the depths of my psyche that I want to unearth and examine are not the light moments, not the easy moments, not the happy moments, but my cringeworthy worst. I put myself out there, exposing my scars, both self-inflicted and perpetrated by others, while simultaneously assuring myself and others that I’m still okay. If one reader can relate to the rocky path I’ve been forced to walk or the uncharted road I’m paving before me, if they can relate to my thoughts, both troubled and hopeful, if they see that I struggle, just like them, to figure it all out, then it’s worth it.
Criticism, on the whole, isn’t bad or wrong. No one likes a critique of what they hold dear, and, I’ve discovered, alas, that I’m more sensitive than most. It’s difficult to be served up a dish of criticism with an open mind, especially when it flavors my intimate revelations, my personal scars, or projects and passions that reside close to my heart. I’m trying to learn to mindfully chew the bites I need to swallow without choking, while pushing the rest of the plate away. I’m not looking to surround myself with a crowd of sycophants. When I bake and ask for opinions – I am TRULY looking for feedback, what worked and what didn’t, so I can step back in the ring with an improved recipe. My struggle is separating the opinions of people I value, people who have been in their own ring, from the spectators who can only watch and critique.
As an event planner, one of my often-used quotes is, “everyone thinks they are an event planner.” For 20 years, I’ve listened to spectators who believe they can do it better. In my career, I adopted the idea of kaizen – continuous improvement. There are clients of mine, trusted and respected, who provide me with important feedback on my events. I listen and adjust when I can. However, an attendee’s spouse, who complains to me, almost in tears, because they didn’t see any fish on their catamaran and snorkel excursion, is decidedly outside the arena. No one, except a planner, understands the number of items one needs to get “right” to make a successful event – big things like flights, hotels, ground transportation, and food are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are pages and pages of details on my project plans. My other planner’s quote is, “Thank you for your feedback,” which essentially means, “Unless you’ve planned one of these yourself, your critique is meaningless.”
As I reread Roosevelt’s words and acknowledge that I spend too much time reacting to opinions from the peanut gallery, I decided to adopt a new strategy when faced with this feedback: I will close my eyes, imagine myself escorting these unwanted critics to their appropriate seat, Row ZZ with the other “cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”, and then walk back down the stairs and continue to get on with my fight in the ring.
This is my second entry for the theme of Sandwiches in January, combining all the comfort of Beef Stroganoff in a sandwich, perfect for a casual dinner or a filling lunch on a cold and rainy January afternoon, like today.
Beef Stroganoff Sandwiches with Pickled Fennel and Blue Cheese
A comfort food favorite reimagined into a hot, hearty sandwich.
- 1 ¼ lbs. beef tenderloin or boneless ribeye
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced and ¼ cup chopped fennel fronds
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, slightly crushed
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 lb. assorted mushrooms (such as oyster, cremini, shitake), chopped
- 1 Tablespoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup plus 1 Tablespoon red or white wine, divided
- 1 ½ cup beef broth
- ½ cup sour cream
- 6 rolls (I use Bolillos)
- Dijon mustard
- 2 cups arugula
- ½ cup blue cheese, crumbled
- Marinate Beef: Prick meat all over with a fork. Place in a baking dish and rub with soy sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
- Make Pickled Fennel: Combine thinly sliced fennel, fennel fronds, white vinegar, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and fennel seeds. Add boiling water to just cover fennel and set aside.
- Make Stroganoff: Place chopped mushrooms into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave 4-5 minutes to release liquid. Mix together 1Tablespoon of mushroom liquid with dry mustard, sugar, and ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper. Drain mushrooms.
- Pat meat dry and cut into ½” cubes. Brown meat on all sides in a skillet over high heat. Do not overcrowd pan and reduce heat if fond at the bottom of the pan begins to burn. Transfer meat to a plate and set aside.
- Return skillet to heat. Add drained mushrooms, chopped onion, and a pinch of salt to skillet. Cook until vegetables begin to turn golden. Add tomato paste and flour and stir until mushrooms are coated. Add wine, beef broth and mustard paste, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and cook until sauce is very thick. Add beef with any accumulated juices and warm through. Remove from heat and left rest for a minutes before stirring in sour cream and remaining Tablespoon of wine. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Make Sandwiches: Toast Rolls, spread one side with a thin layer of Dijon mustard, layer with arugula, beef stroganoff, pickled fennel and crumbled blue cheese. Tuck in!