I’ve not yet read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (though I assure you it’s on my list!), but I’ve heard secondhand one of the author’s suggestions: to visualize our careers as jungle gyms rather than ladders. A ladder is the old analogy, of course, with one way up and not much to look at save the back of the person ahead of you. But the present can be a jungle gym, with many ways to climb, varying lengths of the journey, plenty of room for creativity and people engaged with one another all the way.
It’s a good image, I think. And it’s affirming for me, as I am definitely not on a ladder right now.
I relayed all of this to a friend not long ago, and she quickly responded, “But there’s still a top.” It’s true, isn’t it? We still think there is a top, a place to reach, a moment when we have been successful, we have won, we have arrived. I believe it unconsciously, realizing this only when I’m being particularly introspective, or when someone is there to see it and call me out.
Because this, of course, is bunk. Over black coffee and delicious pastries this morning, another friend told me that after explaining her work at a coffee shop and as a personal trainer, she’s been met with confused faces and responses that suggest, subtly or not, That’s not a career path. “But I’m happy,” she says. “Isn’t that better?”
Yes. It is so, so much better.
The point of things is not the traditional definition of success; it’s not a career or a title or a lifestyle that indicates a hefty salary. That which is beautiful has little to do with any of this. The beautiful things come along the way—laughter on hard days, good wine shared with friends, a favorite restaurant, falling in love, a long embrace from a two-year-old, the way it feels to go back home, wedding vows on a hot summer afternoon, pie and ice cream, continuing on when you’d rather not.
I do want a career. And I want a really good journey. But more than anything else, I want a life filled with that sort of beauty.
To that end, I’m trying to dismiss the idea of a top while wholeheartedly embracing the haphazardness granted by the image of the jungle gym. I finally, actually believe that the winding path is a legitimate way! It was a long fight for me to get past the opposing viewpoint, firmly asserted by previous employers, and the fact that I grew up watching my professional models climb ladders. But I believe it. And it’s a good thing, since it appears this is my lot, at least for the present moment.
Now. Winding journeys, you may be aware, call for sustenance. For that, I offer you this savory cake, which is perfect for a picnic or a day trip or cocktail hour or, frankly, a pretty solid meal if you eat a couple slices. May it nourish you as you go—preferably the haphazard, unexpected way.
Feta & Olive Savory Cake
Adapted from Yvette Van Boven‘s Home Made Summer
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or use all-purpose)
2 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for the pan
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons (100 ml) white wine
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup (100 grams) coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
150 grams feta cheese, diced
250 grams mixed olives, pitted
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Generously grease a 9-by-5-inch (or similar) loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt. Add the oil, wine, eggs and Parmesan and whisk until smooth. Season with pepper and stir in the feta and olives.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 45 to 50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. The cake can be kept for several days in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped.