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I was my mother’s (unwilling) sous-chef for years. She had to drag me — kicking and screaming — into the kitchen to chop vegetables, make rice and learn the spice blends that went into aromatic Bengali cuisine. After she passed away, I remember standing in the kitchen and wanting to sob, because Ma was no longer there to tell me where to start or what to do next, and I would’ve given anything to hear her voice just one more time.
The first thing I attempted to make solo was roshogolla (or rasgulla, depending on what part of India you’re from), known to be an indicator of how good of a cook someone is. It’s a dessert made from strained cheese curd, and if made incorrectly, breaks apart during the final stage of cooking when boiled in syrup (which means you usually won’t know if it worked until right before a party and you haveto salvage it). My first two attempts were complete failures and broke apart. I had watched my mother make roshogolla numerous times, and still, I felt like I had failed her as a daughter and lost a part of my Indian heritage. After the first attempt I wanted to cry, but I bought more milk the next morning. The second attempt was a mess because I hadn’t dried out the curd enough. My third try, attempted between 8 p.m.and 2 a.m., was a success, and I imagined my mother smiling at me from above.
Optimism is a choice.
Just as I was unable to make roshogolla on my first try, I have been rejected from positions and programs I’ve applied to and have had to Q-drop classes. I really wanted some of those positions and have questioned my self-worth more than a few times. It hurts, and even if I experienced those same setbacks today, they would still hurt because I opened myself up to the possibility of failing for a shot at something I wanted.
Optimism seems to be equated with naivety. We live in a world where we somehow allow ourselves to be programmed into equating stress with success. That’s not the life I want, and I choose to think positively when I hear negative thoughts. The choice to remain optimistic despite failure is not naïve, but brave. It simultaneously opens us up to failure as well as joy.
Optimism leads to resilience.
Resilience is not an aspiration, but a byproduct of withstanding tremendous circumstances. Sometimes our individual experiences seem like the most challenging thing we’ve ever encountered. Obstacles are inevitable, but it is our choice to view them as challenges or growth opportunities.
I continue to try without any guarantee of success, and people tell me I’m a pretty good cook. Adopting an optimistic state of mind has done wonders for my stress levels. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy. Don’t you?