I have a very specific ritual when I bake at home. I wear my long overalls that make me look like a farmer and my fuzzy socks that slide on the hardwood when I dance around. I always play my “vintage” playlist, which features a lot of Billy Joel, Prince and other songs my dad says remind him of his teenage years.
I only bake oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and I use the recipe my mom got from her sister that she used every time she baked cookies. Not to toot my own horn, but these cookies are loved by everyone who tries them. My high school cross country team would eat batch after batch. I think it’s because they have a simple yet delicious taste that practically oozes comfort.
More than the renown of the end product, though, my favorite thing about baking cookies is that when they come out of the oven, they are done.
All too frequently I get caught in a seemingly endless cycle of halfways and almost-theres. When is a paper ever truly finished? When have I done enough studying for this final? When will I complete whatever goal I have in life, or is there even a goal at all?
Perhaps my issue is that outside of the kitchen, I am relatively aimless. I’ve learned that most people are, but their lack of direction doesn’t make my own any more fun. Sure, “not all who wander are lost,” but sometimes it’s nice to have some general direction to wander in.
Completing tasks, no matter how small, offers an irreplaceable and incredibly rewarding feeling of accomplishment.
Even if there are not finite goals to accomplish, baking cookies helps me create easily achievable goals while still progressing in my messy and wonderful life. Bite-sized pieces: That’s the way to accomplish anything, especially if the goal is a good life.
Cookies or other simple jobs, really anything done in the kitchen, exemplify the magic of setting smaller, more feasible goals and carrying them out. Although it might seem silly, completing simple tasks trains your mind. Doing things to their end is euphoric, but a lot of people, myself included, love to start things with big, lofty goals and then lose steam. Giving up is easy in the face of a daunting job ahead.
Cookies break that cycle. They take long enough to feel accomplished, but not too long to be intimidating. Even for those who frequently leave things unfinished, stopping halfway through mixing a bowl of cookie dough isn’t really an option; you can’t leave a half-baked baked good just sitting on the counter.
In the real world, outside of the kitchen, there aren’t any core requirements; you can go in whatever direction you want and create your own goals. You can choose to complete goals just as much as you can choose not to. You won’t have a dean over your shoulder telling you that you absolutely need to take that international relations class you’ve been putting off semester after semester. This lack of a rulebook in the world outside of college gives incredible freedom, but at the same time, this freedom can leave you feeling isolated and overwhelmed.
So, the next time you’re feeling hopeless or directionless or uncreative, take an hour and set up in the kitchen you find most comfortable. Bake cookies or create something simple; it can be anything. Find something finite and simple that you can conquer. Complete that goal, enjoy your work and revel in what you have accomplished. Then take that feeling and go accomplish more, one small task at a time.
Fortunately, even if you don’t buy the whole goal metaphor that completing simple tasks presents, at least now you have freshly baked cookies.
Maddie Finn is a rising junior in the School of Foreign Service. Unsolicited Advice updates online every other week.