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What I Learned from Julia Child

My wife and I watched Julie and Julia (starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams) over the weekend. I can’t say it was one of my favorite movies, but it was enjoyable and worth watching if for no other reason than learning one thing:

While Julia Child is a legend today, did you know she didn’t publish her first book — the classic, Mastering the Art of French Cooking — until she was almost 50, and her most famous TV show, The French Chef, didn’t premiere until a couple of years later?

If you’re very familiar with Julia Child, maybe you knew that. I didn’t.

We live in a world that’s all about NOW. Win now. Make big money now. Have a best-selling book now. Have 100,000 Twitter followers now.

I want it ALL… NOW!

And if you don’t get it now (by age 25, at least, right?), maybe you should just give up.

Julia’s story teaches us something different.

I’ve been doing some research and here’s what I’ve learned about Julia…

By her own admission, “I didn’t get started on life until I was about 32.”

She was 37 years old when she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu in France — not because she decided that’s where she needed to start on her grand plan to become rich and famous (there was no such plan), but because she loved cooking. She simply did something she was passionate about.

After three years at Le Cordon Bleu, she joined a women’s cooking club and met two women, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, who were working on a French cookbook for Americans. They asked Julia to work with them to add American appeal to their project.

The three began to teach cooking to American women in Julia’s Paris kitchen, and over the next 10 years, they researched and repeatedly tested recipes. Julia translated the French into English and made the recipes more interesting and practical.

Child, Beck and Bertholle initially had a book contract with Houghton Mifflin, but the publisher ended up rejecting the manuscript because it seemed too much like an encyclopedia. In 1961, Alfred A. Knopf published Mastering the Art of French Cooking and it became the best-seller we know today.

And what about her TV career?

Julia went on the public television station, WGBH, in Boston in 1962 for a simple book review program (featuring her new book), and while there, she demonstrated how to cook an omelet. The audience loved her “real,” impromptu nature and…

The rest is history.

Does it sound like a fairytale? Too simplistic?

Sure, there’s a business side to this story that’s not told here. Yes, we live in a different time. But don’t let the “yeah, buts” distract you from what’s most important:

Julia’s story is the the story of a woman who discovered her passion and went after it. She was true to herself every step of the way and that’s what led to her success — it was said that “her natural talent for teaching and for self-effacing and delightful error merged with her immediate grasp of the aims of educational television” is what allowed her to connect with so many people.

You know that I’m an advocate of smart business strategies, but the smartest business strategy — where it all begins — is Julia’s: “…above all, have a good time…” That can only happen when you’re doing something you love — with or without book deals and TV shows and big paydays.

What do you think? What’s your takeaway from Julia’s story?

photo credit Hugh Talman 2001 (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution)