Real Food Whole Life

On Blogging, Working, Motherhood, and Failing: Real Food Whole Life Turns Two

LifestyleRobyn Downs18 Comments

You guys, Real Food Whole Life turns 2 today! Can you believe it? It’s kind of surprising, and then again not surprising at all, in the way most anniversaries are. It seems like I’ve been doing this forever and yet for no time at all.

Blogging, Working, Motherhood, and Failing: Real Food Whole Life Turns Two

In some ways the first year of RFWL hardly counts because, 1) I had no idea what I was doing; and 2) my fear of doing it “wrong” held me back from doing much at all. Those of you who have been with me from the beginning, and I know who you are (thank you, thank you so much for your support and encouragement) will remember that I mostly just posted weekly meal plans that first year.

Those meal plans were made up of other blogger's recipes, and after curating the recipes I gathered and and photographed each ingredient. I really didn’t know how to use a camera and had to resort to using a bounce flash to get enough light. I also wasn’t editing the photos because I didn’t know how. Yikes.

In addition to the meal plans I posted just a handful of recipes the first year. I didn’t post more because I figured my recipes were too simple. Really, I’m just a working mom who cooks simple meals for her family. My qualifications in the kitchen basically include a self-education at the school of the Food Network, led by my favorite teachers: Rachel, Giada, Ina and Ree. Why, then, I asked myself, would anyone care about my recipes? Plus there was the fact that I truly sucked at food photography. I mean, really. Let’s just take a little look, shall we?

So, yes, the I’m-not-really-a-cook and the I-know-nothing-about-photography mentality led to very few recipe posts during the first year. But still, I kept at it. Because there is something about cultivating an interest that is so deeply personal yet shared so publicly, about creating space in life for something that’s not related to work or mothering, about creating something, that just matters. You know?

People often ask me why I started Real Food Whole Life, and I find it a bit difficult to answer. Difficult in part because there wasn’t a specific moment one day when I woke up and thought, “Ah-ha! I know what I should do. I should totally start a blog and then spend countless hours over the next few years torturing myself trying to learn things I know nothing about.” It was really more of a gradual process, an interest that turned into a passion that turned into this.

I became interested in food, health, and well being in my early twenties after struggling with my weight in college. Around that time I remember telling my husband, Andrew, that I wanted to do something related to food and health, but that I didn't know what that something was. The interest was always there, in the back of my mind, but since I couldn’t think of a what or a how, I pressed on with my (unrelated) studies and career.

Years went by, and in my late twenties the interest was still there, so I decided to pursue it the only logical way I knew how; by going back to school to get my PhD in public health policy. I guess there’s just something about having a dad and a husband with doctoral degrees that leads a girl to believe that this is a logical thing to do. So I went back and stuck it out for 4 painful years, maintaining a grueling schedule of full time work and school. I endured the punishing workload and the generally soul-crushing nature of my program because, 1) I thought it the best path toward my interest, and 2) I didn’t want to fail.

Photo by KLiK Concepts

Photo by KLiK Concepts

But then in 2012 Elle was born, and all hell broke loose in my life. I admitted defeat and sent up the white flag. Who has time for an interest when there’s a tiny human to take care of? And since I clearly wasn’t taking even the most basic care of myself, it seemed like something had to give. It was painful to quit, to give up everything I had sacrificed and worked for, but it was freeing, too. After quitting school and my crazy job, I found a new job with more flexible hours and focused on getting my life in order. You can read the full story, here.

A year went by, the dust settled, I felt whole once more, and then, there it was again. The voice in the back of my head, a nagging interest that I just couldn't let go. Elizabeth Gilbert writes about this in Big Magic: A Creative Life Beyond Fear. She warns against waiting to find your true passion. Instead, she encourages, just go after your interests with a healthy sense of curiosity. Pay attention to those nagging ideas, the one you just can't let go of. No goals, not judgement. Just interest and curiosity.

Now back to the question of why this all started. I think it started because I suddenly had a capacity to be curious as a result of letting go of the things that were no longer serving me. Without the reading lists and writing requirements I suddenly had a little space. And I’ve been able to fill that space with all kinds of amazing things.

The second question people often ask is how I’m doing all of this--working, being a mom, and running the blog. My answer is simple. First, I’m not doing it all. Yes, I’m doing a whole lot of things, but most of them I’m not doing that well. It’s okay. Really. I own it.

What I am doing is the hard work of letting failure trickle into my life around all the edges and in between the cracks, because at the end of the day there is just no way to do all the things perfectly. So I’m doing all the things while accepting failure and mistakes as part of the game. It’s uncomfortable. Seriously, you guys. So dang uncomfortable. But worth it.

The second part of the "how are you doing it?" question is that I've found such joy in following my interest, which led to curiosity, which turned into creativity, which manifested into this. How freaking cool is that? I didn’t think I had it in me. Most days I still don’t think I have it in me. I often tell Andrew that if I had known how hard this was going to be; how much it would stretch me to let go of perfection and fail all over the place, I probably wouldn’t have done it. Good thing I didn’t know.

So here we are, two years later. This past year I finally went for it with the recipes and photography. I still cringe at the quality of the photos on the daily, but I also know that you guys aren’t nearly as critical of them as I am. Or at least you mostly keep those criticisms to yourself (thanks for that, btw). And I’ve been pumping out two recipes a week because I’m hearing from you that you’re enjoying them. And that sometimes your husbands, partners, and kids even like them, too. Sharing healthy food in this way with you is beyond incredible to me. Truly.

I have no idea what’s going to happen with Real Food Whole Life in this next year. Exciting, right? I know I want to write more personal essays and to share more, even though that too scares the you-know-what out of me. You know what I’ve found, though? After enough time the fear of failure just gets boring. Like, okay, yes, people might think what you’re doing is stupid, or lame, or bad, or annoying. But even if they do, you’re doing something. Which is kind of a big deal.

In Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert cites the often quoted phrase, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” and counters, brilliantly, by posing the question, “What would you do if you knew you would fail?” Would you do it anyway? At this point I’m saying yes. Yes, yes I would. What about you?

On this two year anniversary I want to thank each one of you so much for reading and following along. Each comment and email means more than you’ll ever know. Thanks for being part of this community, for making the recipes, and for engaging in this conversation. I appreciate you. Now on to the next year!