In 2012, I was sequestered for months shooting MasterChef season 3. Even before I was revealed as the winner on national television, my story as a blind cook and contestant on Gordon Ramsay’s competitive cooking show had already begun to make press and media headlines. Since then, I’d attended scores of events as a speaker, culinary instructor, chef d’cuisine, or simply a (and it’s still weird for me to use the word as an identifier) celebrity. I’d written a best-selling cookbook, promoted that cookbook, appeared on MasterChef Vietnam, and became a co-host of a cooking show called Four Senses in Canada. And I still managed to complete my MFA in Creative Writing.
Erin often asks me how I find any time in between the traveling and the to-dos. Jenna tells me she’s proud of me, but am I taking care of myself? My friends and family are happy for me but wonder how I manage to do it all.
The truth is, I don’t. I don’t do it all. Something I’ve had to learn over the past couple of years is how to say no. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy for me to say no. Maybe it’s the Asian or the woman in me—I hate disappointing people. In the beginning, I said yes to everything. Yes, I’ll attend and speak at your _____. Yes, I’ll donate a signed _____. Yes, I’ll teach a cooking class. Yes, I’ll answer your cooking questions over email. Yes, I’ll do this interview. Yes, I’ll write that article or essay.
But then I noticed how the number of yeses I said was inversely related to my happiness. I stopped sleeping. I felt like I was Indiana Jones stuck between two enclosing walls. If I say yes, I get exhausted, but if I say no, I disappoint someone.
In the end, I realized that sometimes, I just need to put ME first, especially as someone who (and many people forget this) still lives with Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO. I learned I shouldn’t do something unless I can do it willingly and joyfully; otherwise, I’m just cheating myself and others in the process.
Many people who know me personally and even those who have watched me on TV say they can tell what I’m thinking or feeling just by looking at my face. I never knew I was so easy to read, but if this is the case, I would feel worse if people saw how begrudgingly I did something that was supposed to be a favor. Plus, I tell myself, if I’m not in a place where I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally well, then what’s the point? You have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others.
So there’s the truth for you: I really don’t do it all. I turn 35 Friday, and after having lived with NMO for over a decade and maturing into my mid-thirties, I’ve learned to be in tune with my body and mind. I’ve learned to be a little selfish at times. I know when I feel neuropathic pain in my ribs, numbness in my toes, or when I get body chills and aches, that it’s time to set everything aside and catch up on sleep or rest. The world can wait.
So this is me telling you it’s okay to not do it all sometimes. We don’t always have to be Superwoman, Supermom, Superwife, Superfriend, or Supercolleague. Sometimes, it’s okay just to be an imperfect, tired version of yourself. Sometimes, it’s okay to just say no.