Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

What I Learned from Julia Child on Friday Afternoon


My wife, the healthy food blogger (www.thewholegang.org), and I played hooky from work last Friday afternoon and went to the 1:10 pm showing of the new movie, Julie and Julia. (We were there with all of the retired folks and I concluded that that looks like a pretty sweet gig.) Anyway, it's a great movie - two thumbs way up from both of us. Anytime you have Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) and Stanley Tucci (as her husband Paul Child) acting together you're well on your way to a great movie.

In case you're not familiar with it, Julie and Julia tells the story of two women, Julia Child, who revolutionized cooking in the United States with the publication in 1961 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and Julie Powell, who in 2002, made a name for herself by cooking and blogging her way through the more than 500 recipes in Child's cookbook in one year.

A lot of the reviews I've read of the movie (like this one from Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post) love the Julia Child parts and hate the Julie Powell parts. The basic argument of the critics is that it is so much fun to watch the passionate, talented and humorous Child create herself that the segments that focus on the self absorbed and whiny Powell aren't as entertaining or compelling by comparison.

Looking through my leadership lens (as is my wont), I think those criticisms miss one of the more subtle points of the movie. That point is that world changing success takes time and a motivation that goes beyond the desire to be famous. In his New York Times review, A.O. Scott notes that with Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child changed 20th century culture in her domain in the way that Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care and Dr. Seuss' Cat in the Hat changed theirs. Julie and Julia does a wonderful job of showing the joy, resilience and sense of mission that Julia Child took first in learning the craft of French cuisine and then in the eight years that she and her partners put into creating a book to share what they had learned with an American audience. As the movie shows, Julie Powell's motivation in blogging her way through the cookbook was to stand out in some way and make herself feel better in comparison to her seemingly successful friends. In terms of motivation and life purpose, the two just don't stack up against each other and neither does the impact of the two women's work.

For my wife Diane and me, a critical moment in the movie was when, during his State Department assignment in post-World War II France, Paul asks Julia, "What is it that you really like to do?" She laughingly replied, "I like to eat!" From that realization sprung her passion and ambition to immerse herself in French cooking. And from that passion and ambition sprung the greatness of her life's work.

Do you want to be happy? Do you want to make a difference with your life and your leadership? Get someone you trust to ask you that question, "What is it that you really like to do?" Pay attention to and trust your answer and then look for ways to act on it. You may not come up with Mastering the Art of French Cooking but I'll bet what you do come up with will be great in its own right.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.