Chopped: the self-narrative edition

For the past month or so, my friends and I have taken to watching Netflix episodes of Food Network show Chopped, which has been my fallback favorite TV show for a few years now.

Now, most of the intrigue and entertainment value is from watching a bunch of chefs scramble to take ingredients that sometimes don’t make sense at all — my personal favorite is the giant gummy snake — and make coherent dishes out of them. Also, any food competition is a winner in my book.

But another aspect of the show that fascinates me is what it has to say about the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.

In the course of an episode, the people who put together Chopped weave together basic narratives about the chefs’ lives — what their background is, why they’re competing, and some of the challenges they’ve overcome. And often, these interviews are edited together to create a simplified narrative of what these people believe about themselves and how it affects the person they are.

In one show,  one of the chefs talks about how her mom struggled with alcoholism and what she had to overcome to compete. She mentions her experiences several times throughout the episode.  There was this one line, and I can’t remember exactly how it went, but basically the affect was that she saw herself as fighting through the competition the way she fought through her life. The way the episode tells it, that’s her narrative, her story; she’s the fighter who overcomes, and it’s a theme that’s prevalent in much of her life.

Another episode featured a competitor who talked at multiple points about being shy and using the competition as a way to overcome that. That’s who she was, the shy person who needed to overcome.

These are the kinds of themes I’ve noticed throughout the show. The interviews are edited together to portray people who have experiences or personality traits or particular life outlooks that are shown to really drive who they are. They have these narratives they seem to tell themselves about their lives, and the episode is put together to almost show the ways they act those narratives out through the way they compete and behave.

Recently, it’s got me thinking about the kinds of narratives we tell ourselves about our own experiences. And it’s made me reflect on the stories I tell myself about my life. For the past few weeks, a couple of my narratives have been weighing on me, those things I think about myself when I lay awake in bed at night and worry life won’t change.

And I wonder sometimes if these things that weigh on me and that keep me living out these behavior and thought patterns come from the stories I believe about myself. And I wonder if maybe the reason I get stuck in those patterns is because I believe those stories are the end-all-be-all of who I am.

But when I think about it, if I’ve learned anything in the last few years, it’s that sometimes the things I believe about myself aren’t true. Maybe these parts of my life fit into my narrative, but they aren’t my story.

Now, I’m not here to bash anyone’s self-narratives. We all have good stuff and bad stuff and confusing stuff we believe about ourselves, and it’s OK wrestle with those things. But maybe as we wrestle, we can start to believe that we’re more than just the narratives we self-edit into our stories like Chopped editors boiling ourselves down to a simple point or two.

Maybe we can believe we’re more than that. Maybe we can tell ourselves better stories.

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