In recent weeks I’ve learned that I crave two things in my life: approval and recognition. The two often go hand-in-hand and though they can be separated they are best enjoyed together.
Recognition without approval has another name: infamy. Never a good thing. The consequences usually being jail time, tears, or landing in a situation that my father would refer to as “totally screwed in every which way.”
On the other hand, approval without recognition is a fickle thing. How much pleasure can be reaped from the situation and its worth as a whole when its based on opinion and personal belief? Are you happy with the satisfaction that a job well done is its own reward? Some people are. Sometimes and in some cases that’s just fine enough for me.
However, I find that people do well with recognition for their hard work. Honey versus vinegar and all that. Parents worldwide can avow that positive reinforcement simply proves more effective, and any human resources manager, heck, anyone who has ever worked a job ever can tell you that people are more motivated to work when they’ve been praised and given positive, constructive critique. Even a smile, thank you, or simple "Good work," does wonders for a person's inspiration and self-esteem.
Together they create an epic and nearly unrivaled sensation. There is nothing better than being appreciated for competence. It boosts the ego, enriches the soul, and inspires us to do more and go farther than we thought we could.
Situations where neither one are received are disheartening, as if you’ve been told to beat a drum that doesn’t make any sound. The delivery of the message that no, you/your work/your passion aren’t approved of and that what you are/what you have done isn’t recognized is like being shot in the chest with a .48. You feel the life drain right out of you only to rise up as some dark cloud casting a pallor over your empty husk.
It. Is. Miserable.
Recently, my thesis experience has been somewhat reminiscent of this - both the good and the bad. Assembled of hundreds of hours and years of work the thesis no longer feels like it exists just for a diploma - a state acknowledged and governor signed approval that I’m a smart guy. (For without it, how will I ever know if I am!?) Rather, it feels like an extension of me.
At this stage I am seeking the approval of my thesis committee, people I hold in high regards and assume know more about everything in my field of academia than I ever will. Essentially, they hold my thesis in their hands. (Given, in the broad view of things the thesis is all in my hands, but at certain points I have to simply let go and allow others to do their part.) Currently, they are reading my thesis chapter by chapter, and returning it with notes and critique. With each part I turn in I hope that they will enjoy it and give it to me with the go-ahead to continue.
My professors are honest and straightforward. In my world their word is final. While at times this may unnerve and even frighten me these are the reasons I asked them to read my thesis. I respect their knowledgeable approaches. It is because of this respect that I crave approval and recognition so badly from them. That, and, of course, graduation.
Recently, I received feedback via e-mail on my first chapter. The first thing I noticed was the length. It was epic, like a book of Psalms. My eyes began darting around plucking up small, disorienting keywords like pieces of broken glass off the floor. They were words like "problem," "concern," and "unclear."
My breathing became shallow and quick as I attempted to read the e-mail in whole but found myself barely able to focus on a single idea. All I knew was that it seemed I had failed and my professor was displeased. With conflicting feelings of reluctance and desperation I pushed through the rest of the notes. It was like slowly pulling off band-aid. Each sentence was a sting that made me hesitant to continue. This, however, was worse - while you may choose to simply rip-off a band-aid in one quick tear-jerking tear, there is no equivalent for reading an e-mail from your professor.
Then, suddenly, at the end was a tiny blurb; barely even a paragraph: “Keep up the great work. You can bring the next chapter to me.”
I swear, my heart skipped a beat.
Approval and recognition achieved! It was if God himself had come down from the sky just to tell me how awesome he thought I was and asked if I wanted to go out for nachoes and beer. Yes, that little bit might not seem like much (like I said, my professors are succinct), but it meant the world to me. It was what I needed to hear.
I went back to the beginning of the e-mail and read through it with a new attitude examining the advice and comments that had been diligently and carefully written down for me. It was all practical, feasible, and a completely fair assessment of the work I had turned in.
The following day I submitted in the next chapter and went to work fixing the previous one.
Still, I found the emotional turmoil of the situation draining. I had exhausted every ounce of energy I had in an adrenaline-fueled panic and was running on empty. When i find myself in such a situation I find that making cake is not only merited, it's darn well therapeutic.
This cake is sort of a motley character. It seems to be unable to decide what it wants to be; a chocolate cake, a carrot cake, a bourbon cake, maybe a spicy tres leches cake with some pizazz? Either way I find it best not to dwell and simply to eat.
At the same time I might very well say that dwelling can be beneficial. Time is this cake's best friend and the more of it that goes by the deeper the flavors become. I suggest you consider soaking it with heavy cream or bourbon. While the liquid soaks dwell on the accolades that will undoubtedly be heaped upon you once you serve the cake.
Sweet approval and recognition.
Blogging, work, school, hobbies, proposal, projects, friends, families and relationships. We seek approval for them all and from them all. We want out friends to recognize our struggles and family members to congratulate us for overcoming them. Isn’t dating the search for approval and recognition crystallized into something solid and far too tangible? (If so, then, is a successful relationship the embodiment of achieving them?) It's a constant search. Thesis wise, there is still a lot of mountain to climb.
Either way, I hope that you are getting the approval you seek and the recognition you deserve. If for some reason you aren't make this cake and serve it to whomever. Or, if you don't have whomever around, just get a plate of your own and pat yourself on the back.
Chocolate Carrot Cake
3/4 cup All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 Tablespoon freshly grated fresh ginger
Zest of one orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups grated carrots
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup plain whole milk yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cream (optional)
1/4 cup bourbon (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pans (or line it with parchment paper.
2. Sift together the the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt (do nto skip this step as likely your cocoa powder will have large clumps). In another bowl, mix together: the carrots, orange zest, and ground ginger.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the oil and sugar together. Once the sugar and oil have been combined, whisk in the yogurt until the mixture is smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until the batter is smooth and light. Add the carrot, orange zest, and grated ginger.
4. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in two additions, folding in until just combined. Pour into the prepared pan.
5. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until well-risen and firm to the touch, or until a cake tester comes out clean. If the top begins to get a little overdone, place a piece of foil over it to prevent burning.
6. Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack. You can serve this right away but it is best to keep self-control and let the cake sit for a day or two wrapped in plastic wrap to allow the flavors to intensify. This cake is great on its own but cream or bourbon can be added. 10 minutes before serving pour the cream or bourbon over the cake and allow the cake to soak up the liquid. (Do not use both as the bourbon can curdle the cream.) Serve slices with a little extra liquid for good measure.