Adam Liaw is a high achiever. We all know him as the winner of series two of MasterChef but he has achieved so much more in his life. He’s written books, starred on the SBS TV show Destination Flavour and even worked as a media lawyer at Disney, Hong Kong. Adam has also recently welcomed his son Christopher Wren Liaw into the world. So who better to talk to about how to find the “Best Version of You” than a man who has achieved so much?
We chat to Adam about how we can find our purpose, and tap into our potential.
Dreams of our future purpose often begin in childhood, so a good place to start was by asking what this chef wanted to be when he was a young boy.
Thinking for a second, he says, “My mum said that I wanted to be stockbroker and a psychologist. Then I thought about doing medicine for a while because my parents, and my brother, and my sister, my entire family are all doctors. But it wasn’t really a good fit for me,” Adam says. “I bounced around a lot before I ended up becoming a lawyer.”
His story is slightly unique. Adam was an advanced child; he graduated school at age 15 and started university just before he turned 16. “I probably didn’t work as hard as I ought to have,” the chef says, a lot of my teachers said that they remembered me as being extremely badly prepared.”
“I think I was a little bit restless. But I did very much enjoy school.”
Was Adam good at studying? Was he a crammer?
“I’m terrible, terrible at studying!” he says. Yeah. I can’t sit still for too long and I think that’s kind of been present in my adult life as well. I’m just historically always been really quite bad at sort of focusing on one particular task for any appreciable period of time.”
“When it came to exam time, I would – having done nothing for an entire year – try and consume as much information as possible within 12 hours before the exam and then try and sit it!”
Perhaps it was this restless energy that made him successful as a chef, where keeping an eye on multiple things at once is the norm.
“I guess cooking has been more purposeful than studying for studying’s sake,” agrees Adam. “I’m now more of a fan of learning something just for the sake of learning – but it has to be interesting to me.”
“For example, I didn’t have much interest in calculus and geometry when I was young. But now, I go back and study them in my free time – just because I find them much more interesting now that I have a bit of a better idea of how the world works.”
Adam says that his parents “absolutely” encouraged him to be the best version of himself. “They’ve never tried to force us into anything particular,” he says, “whether it was a career or hobbies. They’ve always been very encouraging of all the things that my brothers, sisters and I have wanted to do.”
“Now that I’m a parent myself, I try and take a lot of cues from the way my parents raised me. My son is not here to fulfil any shortfalls from the things I wanted to do when I was younger.”
“I plan to just allow my son to be really the best version of himself, rather than what I would want him to be.”
So how can anyone find their calling and truly discover the best versions of themselves? “I think you’ve always got to keep yourself open to new opportunities and that doesn’t mean jumping at everything that comes in front of you.”
“But it does mean setting yourself up to achieve what it is you ultimately want to do and by understanding that that’s always going to change,” Adam says. “In my life, I’ve gone through so many changes and in my career and in the way I live. I had to stay flexible and stay open.”
Adam suggests that people should not be too strict with themselves when goal setting. “If you have a laser beam focused on exactly where you want to go, the biggest problem with that approach is where you might end up.”
“Even if you’re incredibly good at achieving your goals, where you end up may not actually be where you want to be at that time, because our desires change, the world changes.” He remembers back to the goals he had as a boy. “If I’d locked on to a particular career, say as a stockbroker, then I would’ve missed out on so many other fantastic aspects of my career to date.”
To find the best version of you, Adam suggests, “steadily moving forward, but also staying aware of what’s on the other side of the road – rather than just what’s right ahead.”
Adam’s Twitter wall is full of his opinions on various things, he’s certainly not a man who’s afraid of sharing his real opinions.
“The one thing with social media that’s important is to have that sense of ‘a beat’ between what comes into your head and what you put out on social media.”
He suggests we should all think to ourselves, is that actually how I feel? “Make sure that what you want to express is how you feel rather than what you feel exactly at that moment, which may not completely reflect your true character, your true intention.”
“I think we don’t really know ourselves as well as we think we do. In governing your interactions with your outside world, I think it’s very important to doubt yourself. To understand that maybe you don’t know yourself as well as you think you do.”
Does Adam think that we ever really reach our full potential – or is there no such thing?
“When you talk about reaching your full potential, it’s assuming that we have one. And I don’t really think that’s true,” the chef says. “That would, to me, mean that there’s a pre-determined wealth of knowledge or potential that we have. But I don’t think that’s true at all. I think there are many areas that we may excel in.”
Adam is UNICEF Australia’s National Ambassador for Nutrition, something he is very passionate about. “My mother has worked with kids for a very long time. She runs orphanages in China and I’ve been working with UNICEF for quite a few years now. I think it’s very important to help people at their most vulnerable time, in their most vulnerable situations.”
Adam has one last piece of advice for someone who might be reading this who’s thinking that they want to reach their full potential.
“Listen to the people that you trust, because that is more important. This goes back to the idea that we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do,” he says. “Once we come to trust somebody, they tend to know us better than we know ourselves and they can approach the question without fear.”
“I think fear governs us a lot in what we choose to do. But if there’s somebody that knows you well and you trust their opinion of you, then they tend to be a good barometer of what this decision would look like if it was made without fear.”
To find out more about Adam’s books, TV show and latest projects, head to his great website adamliaw.com