Lessons Learned from Julie & Julia

7 Sep



Yesterday I saw the movie “Julie & Julia.”  Everything I had heard/read about it said that the Julia part was great and inspiring because she was driven by her passion and her desire to help people, but the Julie part was lacking because she was only driven by her desire for recognition and fame.  However, I didn’t feel this way about the movie, and I enjoyed and was inspired by both women’s stories unfolding.  I thought that Julie was definitely driven by more than just the ambition to catch-up with her established fancy Cobb-salad-eating corporately vice presidential friends and be famous for something, and she seemed to be fueled by a desire to add meaning to her life that was suffering from listless, passionless, ambivalent fatigue.  And as I watched the movie, I learned from both women, and found myself cataloging their lessons in my mind as the movie played on.

1)  Live In Gratitude

Julia Child’s character was bubbling over with gratitude throughout the movie.  Everything she experienced was THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER!  When she tasted food, she savored every bite.  When she prepared food, she delighted in every step of creation.  When she moved into her Parisian home, she ran around it throwing open windows and exclaiming, “It’s Versailles!”  Her husband Paul said that Parisians were known to be unfriendly, but Julia brought out the best in everyone so they were the opposite of that to her.  She was so grateful for every interaction with the Parisian shopkeepers that they couldn’t help but return her energy of kindness and generosity.

It’s easy to get jaded.  The fast pace of life contributes to this – running around, feeling overwhelmed, being overscheduled.  It’s easy to focus on the negative and what’s going wrong.  But running around in a busy tailspin and making ongoing mental notes of everything that’s going wrong blocks from our vision what’s going right, and all there is to be grateful for.  You truly have to slow waaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy down to see, smell, taste, touch, feel, appreciate, and delight in all of the simple pleasures in life.  But when you do slow down, the payoff is tremendous – there are boundless simple pleasures to enjoy and be grateful for. 

Julia Child had a child-like appreciation for things in life, and noticed these simple pleasures in the way that we did as children, before we got busy, and jaded.  And you don’t have to live in Paris or be a famous chef to follow her lead, to savor every bite of a meal, to enjoy a conversation with the person who made your coffee instead of grunting a half-hearted thanks, grabbing it without making eye contact, and racing out the door to catch a subway, to deeply connect with the people, places, and things in your environment every single day.  That kind of gratitude adds excitement and adventure to everything it touches, and will deepen and enrich your life immensely as a result.

2)  You Don’t Have To Have It All Figured Out Already – Experiment!

I have often felt like the clock is racing ahead and I fell behind long ago on some invisible timeline and I can never catch up.  It can seem like “everyone else has it all figured out,” and you are the only one who is struggling to find purpose, direction, and a meaningful path in your life.  And comparing yourself to others who are “ahead of you” on the invisible timeline always leaves you finding yourself lacking. 

However, first of all, everyone else doesn’t already have everything all figured out, and we are all searching on our own time and in our own way.  And Julia Child is a great example of someone who discovered her life’s passion on her own timeline.  She didn’t graduate from college with a degree in culinary arts and several impressive cooking internships already under her belt to immediately begin her rise up a culinary org chart at age 21.  She came to cooking in her late 30’s, and the movie showed her process of experimentation and discovery to get to this place.  Earlier in her career, she had worked as an advertising copywriter and in the government.  Where the movie picks up in France, Julia is continuing on her career exploration.  She liked hats, so she took a hat-making class.  It wasn’t for her, but she didn’t berate herself that she was falling behind on a timeline, and that her established friends were racing ahead of her.  Instead, she tried something else – playing cards, which also turned out to be not her thing, but no worries.  She moved onto cooking and at last it was a love connection!

Again, we can learn to employ Julia’s child-like sense of play, joy, wonder and experimentation as we search for our own true path in life.  There is no need to berate yourself for “wasting time” if what you are doing at the moment isn’t your true life’s passion, or if maybe you haven’t found it yet.  No worries, just keep trying, playing, experimenting, and learning what you do and don’t like.  Step off the Universal Timeline that compares you to everyone else, and instead make the choice to boldly accept that your pace and process of discovery, growth, achievement, and living, is absolutely perfect for you.

3)  If Someone Thinks You Can’t Do Something, Prove Them Wrong

When Julia attends Le Cordon Bleu, Madame Brassart, the school’s proprietress, seems to have it out for her and does not think she will succeed in a cooking course for “professionals.”  On the first day of class, all the students are masterfully and speedily chopping onions while Julia tentatively slices a few slivers.  She goes home and practices her speed-dicing skills until her table is piled high in a mountain of expertly diced onions and her husband can’t even walk in the kitchen door without crying.  When Julia fails the final exam she asks to take it again and then passes it.  Throughout her time at the school, Madame Brassart’s lack of belief in Julia only serves to fuel her own belief in herself even more.

When confronted with harsh criticism and/or someone who believes you will fail, you can do one of two things:  prove them right or prove them wrong.  People believing in you feels great and can motivate you to new heights of achievement.  People not believing in you feels terrible and can motivate you to curl up in a ball under your covers and give up.  Don’t give anyone that kind of power over your life.  Let all feedback – positive and negative – push you on to realize your dreams.  And, if you let it ignite you rather than stop you,  it is the negative criticism that can powerfully fire you up more than anything else to reach your goals.

4)  Never Give Up, Even In The Face Of Seemingly Insurmountable Obstacles

It took Julia over 7 years to write “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and many times it looked like her dream would not become a reality, but she stuck with it.  When she first got involved in this project, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle had already written an early draft of the cookbook that had been rejected because it was not American enough for Americans.  They could have thrown in the towel at this point, but instead, they asked Julia to collaborate on a rewrite with them.  Julia then slogged through a painstakingly slow process of testing recipes and writing the book over years and years.  Though there was no instant gratification in sight, she continued to have a positive attitude and maintain her connection to her enthusiasm for her project, even when she was doing the “grunt work” parts.  At one point when she had to type up a section, she didn’t bemoan this fact but rather, she cheerily exclaimed, “It will give me something to do in Oslo!”

When the first publishers who expressed interest in her book later rejected it, she didn’t let that stop her from believing in her vision, and she went on to find another publisher, get an even bigger advance, and see her book become published.  The final scene of the movie shows her unwrapping a package, seeing her book in print for the first time, and her and her husband Paul exploding in joyous laughter.  The movie ends with a freeze frame on this moment, her vision realized.

Achieving a dream can take a long time, and along the way, you can lose the connection to your enthusiasm and your intention and let obstacles stop you.  However, if you can step back and see the larger perspective and look at your whole life, the obstacles you confront today appear to be only little blips on the way to the tremendous joy of living in pursuit and realization of your dreams.  And if the road is long, arduous, and fraught with obstacles that make you want to give up but you don’t, then savoring your success will be all the sweeter!

5)  Writing Has The Power To Transform You & Your Life

I’m not talking about external transformation, like how Julie lived in a crappy apartment over a pizza place and worked at a miserable job trapped in a cubicle, and then she started to blog and got a book deal and then a movie deal and presumably a much nicer apartment, although that can happen.  I’m talking about inner transformation.  About how Julie was unhappy, lost, and felt like she was drowning, and then she started writing, and writing gave her life meaning, purpose, and direction, and saved her.  She felt alone, and then sharing her writing with others brought her connection.  Through her writing she confronts things about herself that she doesn’t like, like her meltdowns and her taking her husband for granted, and then once she sees these things, she can change them.

This world can be isolating.  It can leave us feeling separate from others and even from ourselves.  How many times have you felt like you don’t have a voice, even in your own life?  Like you have so many thoughts and opinions and wishes and hopes and dreams that just wither and die in your mind?  How many times have you felt dissatisfied with something or someone, but you muffle the voice inside that wants to say how you really feel and you remain mute, the nice, good person, doing the nice, good, right thing?

Writing is so powerful because through it you can reclaim your voice and therefore, one word at a time, you can reclaim your life.  You can build a bridge of words back to your true self, you can speak up and say this is what I’ve experienced and this is what I think and this is what I feel and it matters and I matter.  You can take up your rightful space in the world, and in doing so, you can reach out and connect to others, and then, as a result, we are all a little more powerful and a little less isolated.

A million things can happen in the course of a day to leave you feeling tossed about by the world and powerless in your own life.  Picking up a pen or turning on your computer is a simple way to take back your power, raise your voice, and claim your life as your own.  Every time you return to your writing, your writing returns you to yourself, and in this way, it will transform you and your life, from the inside out.

Have a delightful September and savor every sip of this crisp, delicious fall air – bon appétit!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam


6 Responses to “Lessons Learned from Julie & Julia”

  1. Suzanne Grossman September 7, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Love this blog post, Jen! You’ve made me want to see this movie and learn from it too.

  2. Stephanie September 7, 2009 at 6:56 pm #

    Jen, this piece resonated with me so much. I too recently saw the movie and, though I found myself cooking more this week with chopped onions, minced garlic and fresh ginger as I thought about the Julia character, I also found myself writing a bit more and ruminating over the amazing changes that can take place in someone’s life when they challenge themselves and connect through writing (the Julie character.) I think you, my friend, have absolutely given yourself a voice that in turn strikes a chord with all who read your words. Not only are you transforming your world, but you certainly inspire me always.

    Steph Karp

  3. Larie September 8, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    This blog post spoke volumes to me! I can’t even begin to write down all the ways it touched me. Very powerful. It makes me want to go see this movie. (Of course, I’ve seen every film you’ve written about.) Thank you for writing this and adding some much needed insight to my day. 🙂

  4. Jennifer Garam September 8, 2009 at 11:57 am #

    Suzanne, Steph, & Larie – thanks so much for your lovely comments! xoxo, Jen

  5. Joan September 17, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    Jen, great post! I read both books when they first came out and then I saw the movie. Julia Child’s cookbook really is a story of perseverance! And in the book Julie/Julia there was more time spent on the blog and what that meant to Julie and getting outside of her existing life in the “cubicle.” I especially like your insights re negative criticism….xo J


  1. What I’m Reading This Week « LYJ – Love Your Job - September 9, 2009

    […] Lessons Learned from Julie and Julia by Jennifer Garam of Writeous Chicks. I especially like her thoughts on how the film depicts Julia Child experimenting with different career fields before landing on cooking. I just assumed she knew she was born to be a chef! […]

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