I read the Four Burner theory and I call bullshit.
The Four Burner theory says that your life can be represented by a stove with four burners, one each for family, friends, work and health. The theory goes that you can only do two of them well because a chef can only pay attention to two burners at once. So you can do great in your career and with your family but you’ll be in poor health. Or you can be in good health and have great friends but your career will suffer.
What kind of chef came up with that theory?
Any good chef knows you plan out your meal. You know when to start each dish so that you can do the labor intensive things in a series of moves. You might start by chopping everything for one dish, move to sautéing another set of ingredients all while water is coming to a boil. You think about all the dishes before hand, go to the grocery store once, plan when you are going to start each thing and make sure you have the appropriate pans. Execution is important but it is only possible because you planned. You can have a four burner meal with the right planning. It just takes planning, practice and experience.
You can have a four burner meal with the right planning. It also takes practice and experience.
The same with life. You plan your career, your family, your friends and health.
You can’t dictate how each quadrant of your life is going to go but you make a plan for how you want it to be and you figure out what you need to do to head in that direction. If you want to get in better physical shape, you can sign up for a Crossfit gym. If you want to lose weight, you read a book on nutrition. If you want a better relationship with your kids, you can schedule time to hang out with your kids in the evening. If you want to progress your career, you can sign up for a programming class.
Just like the chef doesn’t start all the dishes at once, you don’t tackle all four areas of your life at once. Maybe you spend 3 months focusing on getting in shape. You sign up for a regular yoga class twice a week and weight lifting twice a week and you work on making it a habit. Once that’s done, you work on the next thing while making sure you can keep your fitness habits. If you fail (you burn the dish, i.e. stop going to yoga), you start over. You practice.
Chefs learn techniques, they get better at what they do. You learn what works for you in life. You get better at communication at work. You learn what time of day your kids are most willing to hang with you. You learn what type of exercise you like. You learn which friends are best to go out to eat with and stick to your nutrition plan. You learn by trying. And maybe you can’t try something new on each of the four burners at once, but over time, you’ll accumulate techniques for each of the areas of your life.
Like a good chef, your plan for life can encompass more than two burners. It just takes time, some planning and lots of practice.
Originally published on Medium.