How I wrested life wisdom from a failed strawberry cake
What do you do when things go wrong for you? The weekend before last, faced with a series of what felt like very important – albeit medium-sized – disasters, I was forced to review how I react to disasters. Far from passing the test with flying colors, as I might have liked, I found myself slipping back into old patterns of hopelessness. Exactly the old patterns of hopelessness that I always teach other abuse survivors to watch for and avoid.
But, in fairness, it seems to me that the path of life wisdom generally passes through the slough of despond before it emerges into the sunlight of resourcefulness.
What matters in life is not so much messing up – especially when we don’t do so on a seismic level – but learning the appropriate lesson from our mistakes.
Overall, the actual event could have been a lot worse. It was just a celebration cake disaster.
Frustrating as it was, it was worth it for the lesson/much needed reminder about how to face up to challenging situations more effectively. Plus, it provided an up-to-date evaluation of my emotional growth.
The weekend before last was not my finest hour.
On the hottest day ever recorded in the UK, I set about making a 3 tier strawberry, celebration cake for a friend’s birthday. That was meant to be the easy part. The following morning, I planned to be up and frosting (icing) the three tiers by 7 am, with a cream cheese frosting.
What could possibly go wrong?
What could possibly go wrong?
Apart from the fact that my quintessentially English home has no air conditioning and my frosting and I both melt at roughly the same temperature.
And the fact that I had trotted out that morning and done a 240k round trip to collect a new electric mixer at a knockdown price.
And I had a fancy new oven, with a gazillion different settings – including one perfect for baking the perfect sponge, allegedly – to play with.
So where did it all go wrong?
Where did it all go wrong?
Like a lot of these things, wherever it could go wrong it did go wrong.
Above all. I started working from my assumptions rather than relying on the tried and true. Instead of sticking to the first principles that have been proven to work, I strayed into “Yes, but what if…” and “It might be fun to do it this way…” territory.
I entertained ideas above my paygrade.
Instead of mixing my cakes by hand – which I have been doing for years with great success – I thought it might be “fun” to put the new mixer through its paces.
But then, because I was using this beautiful, new-to-me, capacious beast, why not double the recipe so that I didn’t have to mix up so many batches of the cake?
Why not, indeed?
And then why not speed the whole process up and save electricity by shoving two cakes in the oven at the same time, just like I had been doing for years.
So, that is what I did.
I worked on assumptions that I hoped would be true, trusted that everything would surely work out for the best because I willed it to and didn’t have a good contingency plan if things did go wrong. In short, I performed a perfect rerun of the way I lived my abusive marriage.
The result of all my clever and unfounded assumptions was a spectacular –and totally unforeseen – disaster. The cakes took forever to cook and still ended up with a soggy, uncooked middle (the like of which has never happened to me before).
When you keep on doing what you have always done…
What did I do next?
Why, the obvious, of course. Instead of stopping to think things through, I kept on doing what I had just done, with a view to achieving a totally different – successful result. (Not unlike the way I kept pouring love into my abusive marriage.)
How did it turn out?
Actually, there were a couple of variables at this point, so the result, next time around, was marginally different but…no less disastrous.
Yet now, with 6 failed, soggy cake layers around my kitchen, I had the gall to be shocked and surprised. Like I didn’t know that if you keep on doing what you have always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.
It was at this stage that my lovely partner dragged me out of my kitchen to dine in a restaurant, leaving those 6 sad, strawberry sponges sitting atop my kitchen work surfaces.
Rumination and cycle breaking
Now, you don’t get to be married to a Narcissist for as long as I was without having an impressive talent for ruminating. I spent a lot of that perfectly nice meal going over and over what wasn’t working.
However, by taking me out of my kitchen, my lovely partner had to some degree broken the cycle. The one thing that I could not do was to keep on repeating what I had just done that didn’t work. Plus, it forced some perspective on me.
So, instead of blaming myself, I actually thought through the problem and came up with three possible culprits:
- An incompetent baker (moi).
- Dead raising agents.
- The oven.
By the time our dessert arrived, I had identified my likely nemesis: the new oven. It was so woke and “energy efficient” as to be a kitchen snowflake. The moment I upped its load, it essentially “cancelled” its own role by underperforming woefully.
On my return, I tested my theory, fed my snowflake oven a single cake… and was proved right.
Putting a bit of distance between myself and the problem – thanks to my partner’s intervention – had taken me out of my old pattern of blaming my own incompetence for whatever went wrong and enabled me to think clearly.
Assumptions are the high road to disappointment
I hadn’t known that my new oven didn’t work like every other oven I had ever owned. Nor was there anything in the instructions – at least that I had read – that mentioned that little design flaw. (If I had known, I would never have bought the damned thing.)
My assumptions had let me down horribly – which is approximately the job description of an assumption.
All too often, assumptions prove to be the highway to disappointment.
That is why assumptions should never shape the way you do relationships –or, in my case, baking.
However, when I let go of
- my assumptions
- my insistence on repeating what had been shown not to work
- beating myself up for my own stupidity and
- catastrophizing over everything that had gone wrong,
I was able to figure out the problem and resolve it.
How problems really get solved
They key to problem solving is, generally, managing to get out of our own way long enough to figure out what is really going on. Once we do that and apply the principles that we know to work, we can usually figure things out surprisingly well – and achieve the kind of result that we are looking for.
When we went back home, I turned my prima donna oven back on and, by doing the right things in the appropriate way, produced three beautiful layers of strawberry cake.
The following morning, I set about frosting the successful tiers. The frosting, too, had its moments – not least because I bring a fair bit of emotional baggage to frosting cakes. But once again, getting out of my own head and adhering to sound first principles worked wonders.
By not giving in to the desire to know better than the experts in the field and thinking resourcefully when I encountered… not exactly a roadblock as a block in my frosting nozzle, the whole thing went as smoothly as possible.
Was the frosted cake perfect?
No. You can see that from the photo. I have never had and will never have the manual dexterity of a true cake decorator. Plus, I ended up training up a friend’s boyfriend on that cake. However, the finished cake was more than good enough. It tasted divine. One thing I never compromise on is flavour.
Did I feel that I had to prove anything to anyone or measure my own human worth in terms of the end result?
Not at all. My worth does not hinge on my cake decorating skills or attaining any other kind of perfection.
Yours doesn’t either.
Old patterns don’t just melt away
I had more than fulfilled my brief. That was more than good enough for me. Beyond that, I had done something quite important in picking up on my old pattern of making every mishap my fault.
Old patterns don’t entirely melt away. Nor do they always resort to infiltrating something relatively low stakes like a baking spree. Rather, they tend to lurk in the dark corners of our being, waiting for an opportunity to come back and mess us up some more when we are feeling a tad vulnerable.
They will do that for as long as they can get away with it.
Until we get wise to them.
The remedy is always to step back far enough to get out of catastrophizing mode and figure out what is really going on. Nobody can catastrophize and figure important things out, at the same time. But once you know that, it is not hard to work out what makes more sense.
Don’t be like Annie whose oven made a monkey out of her. Be like yourself, on a really good day. And please, please, stay away from assumptions. They do so much harm.
Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.
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8 thoughts on “How I wrested life wisdom from a failed strawberry cake”
I don’t quite understand. You had the courage to try all sorts of new things, ie a new mixer, and a new oven, and that is what was your downfall. Yes indeed you could have put more thought into experimenting beforehand, but you showed enthusiasm and positive intentions in doing what you did. Had you done what you had always done before you would in fact have got the result you wanted straight away, ie mixing by hand and using your old oven, and thus prevented the disaster. And in any case everything worked out fine in the end and you also learned from the experience
However, what let me down – and what lets an awful lot of people down a lot of the time – are our assumptions. When assumptions lead to unfortunate results, we always need to go back and check where there were glitches in our thinking rather than blame ourselves.
I hear you.
I see your story.
I feel your story.
Just like the story of breaking an egg with a sledge hammer (?)
I know that man. I know the women in the story too,
A grateful fan I am
Thank you. That is lovely to hear.
hi Annie, i like yr whole letter!- and how u could analyze the whole thing! And i see a few traces of myself in this story!
how it is my fault most of the time, in my own mind! but thanku anyway! barbara South Africa BI to u
Hi Barbara, I am so glad you see traces of yourself. I did wonder about telling the whole story because it is a little bit involved. But I was hoping that it would show how the abuse training can permeate even the most seemingly unrelated areas of our lives. So, it’s really nice to know the message came through.
I read this at the perfect time to keep. Great reminder to not fall back into ruminating & catastrophizing.
So glad it helps.