A Deficit in Faith and The Perfect Vegan Sponge.

Who was I?

I sliced off the very top of the sponge cake that had been cooling on my kitchen table for about an hour. I wanted a perfectly flat top for the whipped cream frosting I would add the next day. I popped a piece into my mouth and smiled. This was, undoubtedly, the best vegan sponge cake I’d ever eaten. Anthony, my husband, was leaning over the kitchen faucet behind me, washing the dishes from lunch.

“Babe,” I said. “You have to try this.” I tore off another small chunk of cake and carried it to his mouth.

His eyes went round as he exclaimed, “Oh my God. Wow. It’s so light!

“I know. It’s literally the best vegan sponge cake I’ve ever had. I’m so proud!” I gushed. Because I was proud. After years and years of testing “not-that-spongy” sponge cakes, I viewed this cake as nothing short of a feat of caking brilliance.

“See! I knew you could do it! You didn’t think you could do it,” he reminded me. Which was true. I had actually been quite nervous I’d fail at developing this recipe–that the idea to steam this cake instead of baking it was going to result in a colossal waste of time and flour. That I’d be disappointed and frustrated and, well, sponge-less.

“But I had faith in you,” Anthony continued, adopting an ironically dramatic tone, before repeating one of my favorite phrases:

“It’s always important to have at least one person in your life who believes in you a little more than you believe in yourself.”

I can’t take credit for this aphorism. A good friend of mine shared this with me when I was grappling with my decision to withdraw from partnership at my law firm to pursue a creative career (i.e., the one that brings me into your inbox every week). It struck a chord in me, partly because the friend who shared it with me had experienced both the pinnacles and rock-bottoms of her career and was, in that moment, starting a new chapter, much like myself.

I thought of this idea–of having a person who could help compensate for my deficit in faith–over and over again, as I wrote a memo to the firm management about to whom my clients should be transferred; as I ran along the riverwalk skirting out from beneath the gaze of my office window during the lunch hour; as I walked to “Dirksen,” the eponymous nickname for the federal courthouse, possibly, for the last time in my life.

“But isn’t the point of being a ‘strong woman’ that you don’t need anyone else to be confident?”

There’s this small but extremely stubborn part of me that believes that any vulnerability, any “need” automatically translates into “weakness.” The only “sufficiency” is “self-sufficiency” and, as such, a life modeled on reliance upon another is a model for disappointment and failure.

And this isn’t some groundless toxic machismo or David Goggins-esque “stay hard” at all costs mentality kicking in. We have all experienced disappointment, betrayal, and hurt–most profoundly by those we love. It isn’t surprising, then, that our instinct can be to close up shop and set out into the world alone, completely detached from the inevitable disappointment that adheres to trusting someone we cannot control. Choosing to forego human entanglements and trappings of the heart is a legitimate defense mechanism–“legitimate” insofar as it will protect you from that kind of pain.

But that choice also reflects a deep distrust of self, an unwillingness to believe in one’s ability to identify those persons who are worthy of crossing the threshold and, more importantly, in one’s ability to recover–notwithstanding your guest’s capacity for f***ing up every once in a while and leaving your heart in shambles.

What if in taking a chance on someone, you’re also taking a chance on you?

Because here’s the thing–we often harbor very distorted views of ourselves. Maybe we’re not as funny as we think we are (guilty). Maybe we’re not as patient as we think we are (guilty). And maybe we’re much better at cooking than we realize. And maybe we’re more of an artist than a 17-year career in lawyering would have one believe. And maybe, for whatever reason, we’ve got a massive blind spot in our vision that prevents us from seeing something that someone else can.

And maybe, the only way to see myself for who I am is to trust someone to hold a mirror up for me when I cannot.

People often think that once you make a big decision, the time between making that choice and executing on that decision is smooth sailing. Whether that’s true for others, it wasn’t true for me. Those few months between when I told the chair of my department that I’d be withdrawing and the day I finally walked out of my office, no longer a partner, were an agonizing study of second-guessing and imposter syndrome.

Who was I to think I could have a career doing something I love? Who was I to think I could aim for something better than partner at a large law firm? Who was I to think I deserved a chance to chase a dream I’d shelved so many years ago, in favor of steady paychecks and a retirement plan?

I mean, really:

Who was I?

A few months before withdrawing from my full-time lawyer gig, I paused while drafting discovery responses and asked Anthony, for the millionth time,

“Babe… I dunno. Are you sure? Do you think I’m making the right decision here?”

I didn’t even have to explain–he knew exactly what I meant by “the right decision.”

He was foam rolling on the floor while watching TV. He stopped. Pulled the foam roller out from underneath this thigh, placed it in front of him. He then turned his body to face me.

“I’m only going to say this one more time,” he began, not bothering to hide a tinge of impatience in his voice.

“There are no two people on earth that I have more faith in than us.”

Who was I?

I was the woman who chose a really good mirror-holder.

Can you remember a time when someone believed in you a little more than you believed in yourself? And that made all the difference?

Around The Horn

At the conclusion of every single practice group meeting, my chair would end with a session of “Around the Horn”–when each of us could share a little bit about what was going on in our practice. So many of you have contributed with your stories in response to my own, and they are absolutely beautiful. Going forward, each week, I’ll highlight a few of them here.

In response to That Time Someone Called Me “Fat.”

Bette says:
April 23, 2024 at 3:07 pm

Wow, I teared up at this story. I completely sympathize with how you felt. You asked if anyone ever stood up for me? When I was 8, my mother left my dad and we moved from New England to the South. Not only was I a glasses-wearing, adorable little nerd, but my Northern accent apparently was hilarious to many. One day, feeling lonely, I walked blocks to my neighborhood 7-11 with a quarter to buy as much candy as I could. I asked the clerk, an older guy, where the candy was, and he broke out laughing. He called over two other guys to listen to this kid with her accent. I was completely mortified and just stood there, parroting back the words they asked me to pronounce. All of a sudden, an angel masquerading as a customer ran up, absolutely blasted them, and put her arm around me to lead me out of the store. It’s hard to think back on a time where an 8-year-old could walk blocks alone to a convenience store — and then feel so ashamed of her humiliation, she remembers it more than 50 years later. People can be so cruel. But, there was that one angel.

Hammer says:
April 23, 2024 at 10:34 am

Beautiful stories and I like how your Omma leading by example came full circle in empowering you to do the same. I had the opposite experience as a child, where my parents never spoke up for themselves or for us and that sat with me for a long time. Even today, I often find myself deferring or staying silent or apologizing for things that I have no reason to apologize for. I’m fortunate to have found a partner in life that does fiercely protect our family. Being with her has given me the tools to navigate these interactions more effectively. I am especially grateful, though, for the example it sets for our kids as they know they are protected and, in turn, will protect themselves and their loved ones in the future. I’m happy that your Omma was able to give you that sense of security and comfort in those formative years.

In response to Should Love Be Hard?

Kyunghee says:
April 16, 2024 at 7:55 am

Love should be easy & hard and I think that’s what makes it mysterious. Some things should feel easy like being around the person you feel a sense of an exhale because you can truly be yourself. In other ways (or in many ways), it is hard if you are in it long enough to witness different versions of each other through the seasons. When I said I do almost 15 years ago to my husband, I didn’t know it meant saying yes to the person he was then and all the people he will be throughout his lifetime. That’s pretty incredible.

Even with the closest people in our lives, I supposed being around them isn’t easy, like parents for example. I don’t feel like I can truly be myself around them, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t true love. I don’t think we’ve really allowed that kind of uncovering of each other. Another level of intimacy that really isn’t there for us. On the other hand, sitting by each other with a silent meal is also not something I can do with a lot of people. When my umma still gently puts my favorite namul on my spoon full of rice when I am about to take the next bite (I am 44 years old!), there is love there. So, with my parents, I share a kind of intimacy that is hard on some levels, but eating silent meals is easy for us.

This Week’s Recipe Inspo.

Of course it’s going to be the perfect Vegan Sponge Cake!!

What I’m…

  • Watching. I’m finishing up the last of Queen of Tears and don’t have anything on deck. What are you watching these days that you can’t get enough of? Doesn’t have to be a Korean drama. I like all good TV: docuseries, dramas, comedies, etc. Let me know what you think I should watch next! Drop a Recommendation –>
  • Reading. “Anxiety is a reminder that we care.” I love this quote from Jezz Chung’s debut book, This Way to Change. Chung has this unique ability to marry the academic with the artistic, imbuing her poetry and prose with a disciplined study of behavioral psychology and communications theory. Her work is unusually calming (I say this as someone who’s a bit high strung!), very astute, while also challenging us to think outside the box. Highly recommend her book. Order This Book Now –>
  • Hooked On. See what I did here…??? Look. I have a lot of things that need to hang on things–like bathrobes, towels, aprons, keys, hats, etc. I hate clutter and moving things off a surface and onto a wall is a great way to prevent clutter! I’ve tried a bunch of hangers and they always fall off–even when they’re holding a couple aprons! These have NOT succumb to the weight of aprons, bathrobes, towels, etc.! They do, however, come off with a little bit of Goo Gone and a putty scraper. Shop –>

Parting Thoughts.

My birthday meal plate.

For my birthday, I invited my friends over to help me eat all the Korean food I made for myself. If I may–the only major complaint I have about being vegan is that I remain the only accessible supplier of Korean vegan food. To myself. This is a hardship, friends, since Korean vegan food is my favorite food in the entire galaxy and as such, birthdays, holidays, etc… they can be a bit lonely in the kitchen, unless my mom is around (this is why I’ve often resorted to blackmailing her into staying with me during the holidays).

But, I digress.

Anyhoot, I made a TON of Korean vegan food for myself because that is how Koreans eat–we make 27 things and then have one spoonful of each, with a big bowl of rice and a small bowl of jjigae. There was no way my husband and I alone would be able to finish all the food, so it was the perfect excuse to invite our closest friends here in California over for a homemade dinner. I even made cake!

While seated at the outdoor dining table in our backyard (it was a beautiful day here in SoCal!), my friends shared a family tradition with me–every year for their birthdays, they go around the table and each say one special thing that they admire or love about the birthday honoree. They wanted to induct me into their extended “family” by doing the same for me.

To say that I was “touched” is an understatement. Each of them–two parents and their three sons–all said something about me that they observed and admired. They not only gifted me with a new and intriguing reflection of myself, but a peek into each of them–the things they valued, the way they saw the world, even the words they favored.

And it reminded me, once more, how very important it is to surround yourself with someone–perhaps many someones–who believe in you a little bit more than you believe in yourself.

And then feed them all some AMAZING vegan sponge cake!!

Wishing you all the best,

Comments & Questions

Decorated sponge cake with fruit and whipped cream

April 29, 2024

Join The Discussion

  1. Marah Munyan says:

    Lovely Runner

  2. Jo says:

    Captivating the King (!), Dr. Slumps

  3. Lisa Kristal says:

    You are such a gifted writer. Please remember that other people see your light and your light is helping others, including me, on their own path.💕

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