What’s Your Currency?

Christian Green was a contestant on the latest season of MasterChef. Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, the passionate chef made sure his southern roots showed in his food.

On his way to the finale, Christian cooked bourbon-glazed salmon, crusted corn chip snapper with beer chili sauce, and cajun-blackened pork chop. The meat. The spices. The condiments. It all tied back to Christian’s origins with every dish — and that alone is a feat worth commending.

For his three-course menu in the finals, Christian prepared a fried green tomato, cajun-rubbed filet mignon, and, to top it all off, his late grandmother Dorothy’s southern banana pudding. In a MasterChef finale, every meal will be first-class, but behind closed doors, the judges must still make a decision. In Christian’s case, they went back and forth about whether his dishes were “elevated” enough.

One of the judges had a gripe with Christian’s dessert: “It was Christian’s grandma’s banana pudding, not Christian’s banana pudding.” Gordon Ramsay took issue with another “missing ingredient,” as he called it: risk. He thought Christian played it too safe. And then, judge Joe, usually the most critical of all, said something surprising: “But his currency is not risk. His currency is honesty.”

Joe thought they should evaluate Christian on how honest he was in his cooking more so than how much risk he took. “Honesty is his highest value. So let’s assess him based on how well he managed to live up to that,” Joe seemed to say. It’s a fascinating, and, especially in this environment, refreshing idea.

Christian did not come into the competition with the goal of putting it all on the line with each meal. Instead, he hoped to stay true to himself while still rising to the level of each next challenge. Authenticity was his strongest trait, and by relying on it, he bet on himself.

Some of his fellow contestants, like Michael, who also made it to the finale, did go all out every time, and for them, their boldness was their currency. Christian, however, just put as much of himself on the plate as he could. The result? Christian was never placed in the bottom three of any one round, and he made one of the top dishes a whopping five times.

The world will judge you six ways from Sunday. You have no idea, let alone control over, which yardsticks people will use to form their impressions and opinions of you. You can, however, make an effort to deal in your natural currency. To become self-aware, and then rely on what you know.

What’s your currency? Is it honesty, like Christian’s? Is it courage? Mine is imagination. Write down your values. Chances are, it’s either in there or close by. Your currency may not be the attitude you aspire to the most, but it’ll be one you hold in high regard. Yet, it must also enable you to get things done.

In Christian’s case, his cooking worked better when he was honest. He could have tried to stray far from his comfort zone, plate like a French Michelin-star chef, or make dishes full of exotic ingredients — and on some days, he did. Most of the time, however, the overall composition of his food came out perfectly balanced when he stuck to his guns.

In that sense, dealing in your currency is a lot like eating: Sometimes, you’re excited to go out of your way for a fancy meal, but usually, nothing can beat a good old steak with a proper dash of pepper.

Find your currency. Bank on what makes you bankable. And even if it forces you to take the long route to success, don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong.