The Pastry Box Project – 26/12/2013

Reading time: 4 mins

I felt very lucky to have had a thought published on the wonderful Pastry Box Project earlier this year, so when I was sat thinking about a particular subject on my way to work a while ago, I tapped out some thoughts and wondered if the folks behind it would like to use my words again. Happily they did, and it was a lovely Boxing Day surprise to wake up to today to find out that it had gone live.

You can read the thought (and many other great musings by other Bakers) over at The Pastry Box Project site, but here it is for preservation (and my own future reference).

As a child I was a complete bookworm, and nestled on my bookshelf was ‘The Story of Tiger-pig’ by John Ryan. It’s a charmingly illustrated (although with hindsight, pretty damn politically incorrect in a 1970s way) short tale about a tiger-striped pig who sets off around the world to learn about his identity.

“There was once an animal called Tiger-pig. He was a soft, cuddly, piggy shape but he had stripes like a tiger, and when he opened his mouth wide he had teeth like a tiger and made an angry roar which surprised even himself.”

He lives on an island with his mum and dad, who thankfully aren’t struggling with accusations of cross-species extramarital affairs, as they are both piggy and stripy too.

Tiger-pig doesn’t fit in anywhere. He’s not quite pig, but not quite tiger, and he knows he is different. He struggles to define himself based on what he understands about other animals, and nobody he meets can give him the answers he seeks. Everyone he encounters on his journey to find his identity each have things that they too are looking for, and therefore have ideas of what Tiger-pig is based on their projection of what they want him to be. These forced identities don’t make Tiger-pig happy, and they don’t fit what he feels he is.

After journeying around the globe and getting into scrapes, Tiger-pig rounds the Earth with a long swim, and ends up back on his own little island. When his mother and father ask if he had found out what sort of animal he was, Tiger-pig states “No. But it doesn’t seem to matter any more.”

Whilst we may not be particularly stripy, piggy, or have pointy teeth, Tiger-pig’s quest for definition may resonate with the generalists amongst us. We might fall foul of others attempting to define us, causing conflict because their preconceptions don’t match who we are. We might feel unhappy, falling into roles where our hopes for each other didn’t align. We might feel an emptiness in ourselves from not having an easy label to apply, and to help define who we should be and what we should focus on. We might wander the world looking for the right box to put ourselves in, hoping that each new environment and set of people will hold the answer.

It isn’t always easy to explain our value, and it’s sometimes hard having to fight preconceptions that we may not be skilled if we don’t have thousands of hours worth of experience in one particular area. We might be seen as irrelevant, not as valuable as a specialist, or just not someone who can fit into already established roles.

But in the end, maybe it doesn’t matter any more. As long as we know our strengths, and are confident in finding opportunities that best suit what we know we enjoy, maybe it isn’t important that others don’t always know what to make of us at first glance.

Get on with doing what you love best, even if this doesn’t fit in with normal conventions and expectations. Sometimes you need someone with both a soft, cuddly exterior and pointy teeth to get the job done, and the best organisations will embrace your skills, however broad they are. If people don’t like you, then give your fiercest, loudest roar and chase them all away.