Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Black Belts and Food Trucks

So I got my black belt.

The next morning, Saturday, I competed as a
black belt for the first time--in a ring with 2nd- and 3rd-degrees who were mostly teenagers with a few state champions thrown in. Nothing quite like jumping into new challenges with both feet!

On Sunday, all adrenalin and energy deserted me all at once, it seemed, at 2:08 p.m., and I collapsed on the couch. Yes, you may watch TV, I told the kids. They chose the Food Network, which was running a marathon of the Great Food Truck Race as a lead up to their grand finale. And wouldn't you know it, several episodes later, I came away with some lessons learned that apply to writing and publishing.

A bit about the show. 7 teams set up their trucks for two days in different cities across the country. The team with the least sales amount in each city is eliminated. As with other reality shows, the producers throw in twists and turns in the forms of different challenges.

One team, the Nom-Nom truck, won in every single city. The reason was clear: they played smart. For example, before arriving at their first city, they called ahead to place an ad and had lines waiting for them before their competitors could even set up shop. In another city, every team was given a frozen quarter of beef as a challenge and many of those teams knew nothing about butchering. Some of them simply did the best they could, wasting precious time and not doing a good job. But the Nom-Nom team knew their limitations, and asked/hired a butcher to cut it all to specs.

After a few cities, a number of the other teams started to figure out their strategies and stepped their own game up. One team, Grill 'Em All, in particular tried to beat the Nom-Nom team at their own game. In one challenge, Grill 'Em All and Nom-Nom had to prepare each other's food: Vietnamese Bahn mi sandwich and hamburgers. The GEL guys hunted down a Bahn mi shop and bought all the ingredients: marinated beef, sauces, veggies, already cut up. Unfortunately, they still lost that challenge.

Every team had a good product. Each was given the same information and seed money. Why did the teams fare so differently?

Many unpublished writers have the message and the craft, why do some succeed, and others not? Some of the reasons are out of our control. The leader of the Nom-Nom team had probably the most photogenic face. And much as we like to pretend beauty makes no difference, it does. But no one on the other teams begrudged (out loud, at least) her good genes. They did their thing as best as they knew how, work hard, tried to be open to new ideas.

Then there was the Ragin' Cajun incident. This team parked at a horrible spot in one of the cities and had no customers. The leader freaked out and tried to drum up sales by using his megaphone and calling out to passers-by, but to no avail. The next morning, he started at it again, but he was much more successful, primarily because he quit being the crazy guy on the street yelling at you to go eat his food. He became the charmingly wacky guy doing his best to persuade you.

I could so relate to that poor, desperate man going red in the face on that first evening, Please, gentle readers, if you sense a whiff of my going insane in public, please stop me.

What this show reaffirms to me is that, to be successful, I have to:
  • have an excellent product
  • not bury my head in only creating this product
  • get the message out there
  • learn about my customers
  • realize that strategies and careful planning can have a lot of impact
  • be willing to adapt
But this is not the end of the story.

The Nom-Nom truck had been the clear favorite. But in the end, they lost the final challenge to Grill 'Em All, a team that makes hamburgers.

This team was almost always at the bottom in every city, yet they scrounged up new enthusiasm after every setback. Nobody on their team would make it to the cover of GQ magazine, and the one time they felt super confident about winning a challenge--by getting the ingredients for making Bahn Mi ready made--they didn't. They were definitely the underdogs. And I love it when underdogs win.

To all my fellow pursuers of a seemingly unattainable goal, to all my fellow underdogs, to all my fellow dreamers: here's to a rich journey and a satisfying end.


Kelly H-Y said...

NICE!!!! Congrats on your black belt ... what an amazing accomplishment! And, great advice too!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Congrats on your black belt! That's so cool, and I'm pretty sure you got there by playing smart and planning ahead. ;)

tanita davis said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! Geez, woman, you're amazing!

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks, all!

Bish Denham said...

I agree! Congratulations on your black belt! It is a testament to your williness to work hard.

Nandini said...

Trust you, Yat-Yee, to find inspiration in everything :-). I really enjoyed your summery of the battle between Nom-Nom truck and GEL. Needed a pep-talk like this today, given my recent set-back, so thank you. And a big congratulations on the Black-Belt!!!

Yat-Yee said...

Bish: it's true; hard work can overcome almost every obstacle to a goal.

Nandini: I am glad you find the pep talk helpful and I know your current setback is just that, a setback. Good news ahead, I am sure of it.

Yat-Yee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lotusgirl said...

Congrats! Now we got to see that in action. How about some video?

Solvang Sherrie said...

I'm so glad you're blogging again, I love the new look, and congrats on the black belt! We watch a lot of reality shows like that and I always love to see the underdogs succeed. I think we all gain inspiration when we see others rise above our expectations.

Yat-Yee said...

Lotusgirl: Ha! I forgot to bring my camera and videocam (I know) to testing, and am waiting for the friend who kindly tape me for the footage. If they're not too embarrassing, I will post a link!

Sherrie: Thanks! Yes, watching people work harder and succeed more than they think they can is very inspiring.

Domey Malasarn said...

Yat-Yee, beautiful post, and congratulations! I'm very happy for you!