Author: Joycelyn Campbell
Identify what you want
Alice Waters, the founder of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, didn’t plan to revolutionize the way people cook, eat, and think about food. But in 1965, when she returned to the U.S. from France, she did know what she wanted. She wanted food that was fresh and that tasted good—like the food she had eaten in France. She wanted equally good coffee or wine to go along with the food. And she wanted to share the food, the wine, and stimulating conversation with her friends. She couldn’t find what she wanted because much of the food that was available at the time was frozen or processed.
So she began preparing and serving meals in her home. Since she was trying to create fresh food that tasted good, she sought out local small farmers. After cooking in her kitchen for a couple of years, she got the idea of opening a restaurant and charging people instead of serving them for free.
When Chez Panisse opened in 1971, it emphasized local, organic, seasonal food because that’s what Alice Waters wanted.
She didn’t start down the path that led to Chez Panisse and a food revolution because she thought it would make her rich or famous, or because she thought people needed to improve their diet, or because she wanted to support the local farmers. She started down that path because she wanted to eat fresh, good-tasting food and to share it with friends. Since what she wanted wasn’t readily available, she created it.
Waters was a teacher, not a business owner. She knew very little about running a restaurant. As she herself described it, the finances were initially a disaster. But she persevered because she knew what she wanted. And Chez Panisse succeeded because Waters gave her friends, her customers, and the surrounding community what she wanted.
Impact Is Personal
The impact Alice Waters makes in the world is based on who Alice Waters is. It’s based on her experiences, her talents and abilities, and her perspective and vision. It’s based on what’s important to her. You or I might have gone to France and enjoyed the food and wine every bit as much as she did, come home, missed it, and complained about the local fare. But it certainly wouldn’t have mattered enough to me that I’d have considered starting up a restaurant out of my kitchen.
Knowing what she wanted gave Waters a direction and a context for determining whether or not the steps she took were effective (e.g., serving free food isn’t a sustainable practice). That made it easy for her to respond appropriately to feedback and adjust her course when necessary. It also allowed her to see opportunities others might not have seen.
In 1996, she mentioned the “blighted” grounds of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School to a local newspaper reporter. The school principal responded by asking Waters to help him do something about the vacant space. By then she was actively trying to make fresh food accessible to more people. So in place of the weeds and asphalt, she naturally saw a garden—and the beginning of The Edible Schoolyard, which now grows more than 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Other people who wanted different things would have had different visions of what to do with that space.
As one of my clients said, “When I bring my own, unique contribution into the world, it’s an offering that only I can give, which is energizing in its own way—for me and, perhaps, for the world around me.”
By pursuing what she wanted, Alice Waters changed the status quo in regard to our food supply and the way we think about and consume food. Not every individual who makes an impact does it on the scale she does. But whether it’s large, medium, or small, local or global, making an impact always means changing the status quo, and that is never easy.
Use Your Brain
You can, however, make it easier. Your brain wants to want, so when you pursue something you deeply desire, it helps move you—literally—toward that thing. It does it by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, the ultimate internal motivator. Dopamine is part of the brain’s reward system and is involved in learning, memory, mood, sleep, focus, concentration, and motor control.
As you take steps to achieve your goals, the dopamine your brain releases energizes you beyond the immediate task and generates both good feelings and a sense of optimism. On the other hand, too little dopamine can lead to apathy, hopelessness, joylessness, and the inability to finish—or even start—projects.
You can use your brain to make an impact (instead of letting your brain use you) by identifying what you want and going after it. Alice Waters wanted fresh-baked bread and apricot jam. What do you want
Joycelyn Campbell is the founder of Farther to Go! She trains people who are up to something to identify what they want and make the impact they want to make.