Marco Pierre-White is considered by many to be one of the world’s greatest chefs. Having grown up through humble beginnings in Leeds, England, he made his start in the world of the culinary arts when his father kicked him out of the house at 16 years old and forced him to find a job. As a high school dropout without any qualifications to his name, Marco spent that time walking across the city from restaurant to restaurant, knocking on the back doors of various kitchens to plead for a job. He would eventually work a few jobs, mostly for little-to-zero pay, initially at Hotel St. George in Harrogate and then at the Box Tree in Ilkley.
While still only 16, he packed up what little he had and moved to London to begin his classical training as a commis with Albert and Michel Roux at Le Gavroche. According to Marco, all he had in his possession at the time was “£7.36, a box of books, and a bag of clothes.” After working for some time at Le Gavroche, he continued his training under Pierre Koffman at La Tante Claire, moving to work in the kitchen of Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir and later with Nico Ladenis of Chez Nico at Ninety Park Lane. Eventually, Marco would get the big break he had worked so hard for when he was presented with the opportunity to open his own restaurant. In 1987, White opened Harvey’s in Wandsworth Common, London, where he won his first Michelin star almost immediately, and his second a year later.
In 1994, at the age of 33, Marco became the first British chef to be awarded three Michelin stars and also the youngest then in Michelin history, cementing his status as not only the best chef in Britain, but one of the best chefs in the world, if not the best. But that wasn’t enough for Marco. Michelin has a rating that goes beyond their “highest rating” of three stars, which is earning three stars with five red knives and forks. For the next three years, Marco and his staff pushed obsessively toward winning three stars with five red knives and forks. Finally, in 1997, he achieved three stars with five red knives and forks, earning the highest possible restaurant rating available in the world.
Now, one would assume that, having worked indescribably hard his entire life and having made such enormous sacrifices that Marco would have been elated to reach this achievement. But something interesting happened—he felt exactly the opposite. It was only in achieving the very thing he obsessed over his entire life that he discovered a hidden truth that could only have been revealed to him when he managed to obtain what he was after.
“I was being judged by people who had less knowledge than me, so what was it truly worth? It was in this moment that I had realized I spent 37 years of my life chasing a dream I never actually wanted. I had three options: One, I could be a prisoner of my world and continue to work six days a week. Two, I could live a lie and charge high prices and not be behind the stove. Or three, I could give my stars back, spend time with my children and re-invent myself.”
So, what did Marco decide? He went home that evening, made a ham sandwich, and sat at his kitchen table. It was then and there that he decided to give back the Michelin stars, sell his restaurant, and retire from being a chef. He made the decision to relinquish his success and his status within the industry and leave behind that which he loved for so long. Why would he make such an apparently insane decision?
“Winning three stars has to be, without question, the most exciting journey of any chef’s life. Retaining them is the most boring job in the world. You become this very well-oiled machine. There’s no longer anything personal about the thing, it’s purely mechanical. You’re doing 100 covers, 120 covers a night at that three star level and by the time the night was finished, we’d have 30+ people in the kitchen with another 30+ in the restaurant. In total, we had 75-80 staff, just for those 100 or so covers. It’s just a well-oiled machine, like a Rolls-Royce. It’s boring.”
What happened to Marco is what happens to anyone who becomes obsessed with chasing a dream that is outcome or achievement-oriented: What began as doing something for the love of doing it transformed into doing something purely for the sake of obtaining external success. When Marco first began his career, he was in love with making food and found fulfillment in the journey of turning food into art. But he eventually fell into the trap of becoming obsessed with chasing Michelin ratings, and in doing so, his intrinsic motivation to cook was slowly replaced by the extrinsic motivation to achieve and maintain his success and status. As a result, his passion felt too much like a job he was forcing himself to do rather than a love. Feeling miserable and detached, he walked away.
Magic has entered into a new era with the introduction of the Magic Pro League and the Mythic Championships. Becoming a full-time professional player is now a realistic dream, and many of you undoubtedly will do so. And, you should. Being able to make a living playing a game you love and doing something that brings you happiness is something you should strive for and commit to pursuing. But let me give you a warning now—be aware of the dangers of chasing such a dream and be careful with how you go about maintaining it.
No matter who you are or your current status, Magic started out as a game you played because, for whatever reason, it gave you a feeling of joy and satisfaction that no other game gave you. You continued to pursue this game because of the intrinsic motivation that joy and satisfaction provided. Quite simply, Magic was a game. It wasn’t a job, a career, or a major income source. It was a game—a hobby that you used as a vehicle to express your creativity, your competitive nature, and to connect with others who added value to your experience in the game and in your life.
As the stakes in competitive and professional Magic become higher than ever, it becomes even more important that you remember why you played Magic in the first place, to not lose sight of what it was about Magic that initially drew you in and that gave you the intrinsic love and satisfaction to pursue it so long ago. If you become an Arena grinder, play Mythic Championships, or actually make it into the Top 32 rankings of the MPL, you are going to experience the toughest mental challenge you’ve ever experienced in the game up to that point: being able to retain your intrinsic love and enjoyment of the game while still being committed to it as if it were your job. It is impossible for me to understate just how important it is that you maintain that balance.
Shortly after making his decision to give back his stars and sell his restaurant, one of the raters from Michelin that Marco had gotten to know over the years visited him at his home and gave him these words of advice:
“Marco, never forget what made you great.”
This struck a chord with Marco, and so after a short break, he went back into the world of the culinary arts. But he approached it much differently this time. He went back behind the stove, didn’t care about chasing Michelin stars, and just went back doing what he loved most—cooking great food and enjoying turning food into art. In doing so, he became just as financially successful as he had been chasing Michelin stars, but now, he was happier than he had ever been, his food was better than it had ever been, and he found balance in his life.
Even if Magic becomes your “job,” it shouldn’t feel like it is. You must find and maintain that balance between being committed to Magic as if it were your job while, mentally, approaching it as simply being a game that you love. Have fun, enjoy the challenges along the way, and don’t be afraid to fail. Great things can happen when you do.