When I heard about Anthony Bourdain's suicide, I wept. He was an inspiration--a fierce, fearless spirit for whom food was the gateway drug to his bigger addictions: culture, pleasure, and whatever lay around the next corner. He was a conduit for humanity, in all our rough-edged and unpredictable glory.
He tore into our hearts with his world-weary grin, intolerance for B.S., and ferocious passion for storytelling that exposed truths no one else cared to tell but we all wanted to hear.
But what I loved most was that he was a leader. He proved that work can be, and should be, both what you do and who you are, and that it can reflect both your personal heart of darkness and your highest aspirations. It's fitting that Bourdain started as a chef, because he believed in creating on the fly, getting messy and savoring every last soupcon of adventure and beauty from lunch on a Vietnamese river barge or the street life of a gentrifying corner of Brooklyn.
I've idolized everything he's ever written (Kitchen Confidential is a must read) and devoured every episode of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. He was a stand out voice against a backdrop of mediocrity. I'll miss him terribly.
He left behind some incredible lessons for entrepreneurs. These are the three that speak most loudly to me:
Be loyal to the nightmare of your choice.
Bourdain talked a great deal about a harrowing boat trip through the Congo and how often he wanted to turn back. But he kept pushing, compelled to see it through to the end. At some point, building a business or a brand becomes nightmare that tests us beyond our limits. That's when we have to channel Anthony and accept that the adventure and the test are the reward. We don't just love our companies for what they give us, but for how they change us.
Stake out a point of view.
Bourdain was unapologetically clear in his view of both food and the world. He wasn't interested in being a grinning kitchen robot; he cared about what he cared about and didn't give a damn if you approved. That authentic passion made him impossible to ignore. If you want your business to stand out, forget what the customer wants and do what sets you on fire.
See possibility where others see boundaries.
In a letter to Matt Goulding, his partner at Roads & Kingdom, Bourdain wrote, "I do not doubt -- in fact I know and have experienced -- delicious new takes on pizza, even that beloved carbonara. It is possible. It is, I guess, only right, that new generations of Italian chefs are flexing their creative minds and their skills in the interest of moving things forward." Great leaders don't see walls -- they see possiblity. You should always strive to push toward the extraordinary, even if they have to knock down walls to do it.
I'll leave you with a Bourdain quote that sums him up: "I wanted it all: the cuts and burns on hands and wrists, the ghoulish kitchen humor, the free food, the pilfered booze, the camaraderie that flourished within rigid order and nerve-shattering chaos.""
Vaya con dios, Anthony.