Lately I  find myself avoiding a couple projects: completing my taxes (April 15th approaches . . . .) and making some enhancements to my training program.   My resistance, I realized,  was tied to feelings of uncertainty.  Deliverance came over the weekend in the form of a brown picnic basket.

On Saturday, my daughter and I watched the Chopped Championship.  If you’re unfamiliar with  Chopped on The Food Network, four guest chefs compete by preparing a basket-full of seemingly incompatible ingredients, such as catfish, tomatillos, marshmallows and rutabagas.  The chefs have 20-30 minutes to create a dish that is delicious, inventive, and pleasing to the eye. After each round, one person is eliminated.   If you are the winner, you win $10,000.  On Saturday  the winners faced off with each other.  The grand prize would be $50,000.

Imagine the guts required to face that brown  basket and the uncertainty of its contents.  Here are a few brave souls:

 Here is a scary look the judge might give you, if you mess up:

According to Time, humans fear uncertainty more than they fear physical pain.    In fact, we are hard-wired this way.  In light of this information, it makes the notion of Chopped even more inspiring.   These chefs seek out  uncertainty.  They know the rewards may be great and it’s that hope that’s so tantalizing to them.

We may not all be food chefs, but we all face uncertainty every day, in varying degrees.  That uncertainty evokes something different within each of us.  For me,  whenever I revise  my presentation, I dread that feeling of  unfamiliarity and awkwardness until I hit a smoother stride.

But  the truth is, if I don’t face the unknown, I won’t  stretch and improve.  The consolation prize for staying safe:  I remain stagnant.  Nobody benefits from that.

During last night’s show, contestants kept talking about the $50,000 and what they would do with it. One wanted to pay down debt on his restaurant; another wanted to pay for a nice wedding for his fiancée.  Finally the judges announced the $50,000 prize winner, a prize he richly deserved.  Nevertheless,  I felt crushed for the runner-up, who would leave without a dime.   It seemed he would walk away with NOTHING.  But really, did he? He received powerful feedback from the expert judges that will make him an even better chef than he was before.  In addition, he gained years worth of knowledge during this short championship. Some might say that’s priceless.

We all want tangible rewards like more money, more customers, a wider audience, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think that’s the brass ring.  The reason why we venture into the unknown and keep opening up  mysterious brown baskets is to better ourselves.  By simply opening them up and diving into their contents, $50,000 or not, we will improve by facing  the unknown.