Think Like a Chef

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of The Steady Fella Newsletter. Every week readers use the timeless insights on passion, productivity, philosophy, and happiness from this newsletter to build towards the life they want.

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This week's newsletter is based on "The Cook and the Chef: Elon Musk's Secret Sauce" from Tim Urban's blog, Wait But Why.

We Are Chefs or We Are Cooks

In life, you can fit everyone on a spectrum of "cooks" to "chefs".

Chefs make recipes and cook's follow them. Some cooks follow the recipe 100%, some add their own twist, and some innovate them. But at the end of the day, they all start from something that already exists.

This style of living is how the overwhelming majority of us live, myself included. Whether it's clear or not, we often defer to dogma for our life decisions. Whatever society or authorities say and do, we will mimic it.


What we do after high school, what career path we start, what things we buy, how we spend leisure time, what life goals we have, and so on, are usually set for us by them.

Like Tim Urban said:

"What often feels like independent reasoning when zoomed out is actually playing connect-the-dots on a pre-printed set of steps laid out by someone else.

What feels like original opinions may have actually been spoon-fed to us by the media, our parents, friends, our religion, or a celebrity.

What feels like our chosen life path could just be one of a handful of pre-set yellow brick roads."

Why you don’t want to be a "cook"

Deferring to dogma for life decisions, and making other peoples thinking your thinking, reduces your chance of having a remarkable and fulfilling life.

The path you set on may not be yours. So you spend your life working towards things you don't truly want. As a result, you end up passing on your true desires to stick to someone else's script, leaving you with regret later in life.


You don't go into interior design, because society and authorities say you should choose a secure career path. So you end up spending 30+ years on someone else's path, unfulfilled, wondering what your life could've been like.

How to be a "chef"

To become a chef there are certain things you need to do, concepts you need to understand, and challenges you need to overcome:

1. Make sure your desires are true

The most important part of separating yourself from dogma, and living life on your own path, is making sure your desires truly reflect you.

Tim Urban says the best way to do this is to play the "why" game. Keep asking "why" like children do when being told something. You'll soon hit a floor that will reveal whether your path/goal is yours, or set out by someone/something else.


The essence of Elon Musk's desires is trying to improve the future well-being of the human species. This is reflected in the majority of his recent endeavors: SpaceX, Tesla, Solarcity, Starlink, and Neuralink.

My previous newsletters "Understanding Your Purpose" and "Climbing Your Mountain" go more in-depth into finding what you want.

2. Understand no one knows anything, including you and I

Understanding this gives you the power and confidence to live life however you desire.

Steve Jobs explained this better than I could:

"When you grow up, you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life.

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact. And that is: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again."

Like Tim Urban said, this idea of not being intimidated by society is counterintuitive to what we were taught growing up. But it's what all the "chefs" of the world embody.

Most people ("cooks") go like this:

"This doesn’t seem right to me but everyone else says it’s right so it must be right and I’ll just pretend I also think it’s right so no one realizes I’m stupid”

They respect dogma too much.

"Chef's" lower their respect for dogma at three different levels:

Game breaking: Have little respect for dogma. They change how the game is played.

Trailblazing: Have no respect for dogma. They go down their own path.

Groundbreaking: Understand that the dogma wasn't made by anyone more impressive than them. They are the transcendent disrupters.

3. Overcome misplaced fear

After steps 1 and 2 you'll have the power and confidence to go down a path that's truly yours. But there will be one thing stopping you: misplaced fear. This fear is dogmas' best trick. Falling for it is a big inhibitor of a remarkable life.

Society and authorities use it all the time:

  • Parent's use fear to influence your career path
  • Unsupportive relatives will use fear to shut down your business idea
  • The news uses fear to sway your political alignment

When we look at the "chefs" of the world, we often think of them as being courageous. But in reality, they are simply accurate at assessing risk. They don't fear things that pose no real danger.

"Cooks" are more afraid of starting a YouTube channel than texting on the highway. Which one's the real threat? We should accurately assess the risk of our fears.

"Chefs" like Elon Musk, operate beyond the complacency of the majority but before serious risks can arise.

This weeks quote

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge - Stephen Hawking

This is a great quote that relates to dogmatism.

Stephen Hawking is saying that assuming something is certain is more harmful than being ignorant. By closing a conversation you miss out on the opportunity to get the truth.

Who knows where the "chefs" of our world would be if they took everything society and authorities say as a certainty.

This weeks question

Where are you on the culinary spectrum?

My answer:

If I'm being honest with myself I think I'm a "verbatim recipe cook". I started a blog, I tweet on Twitter, and I have a weekly newsletter. All of those have been done before me, with the same combination as well.

My aim is to progress through the spectrum to the chef side as I find my voice and narrow down my desires.