The Onion Theory

The Onion Theory...

Becoming your authentic self and discovering your purpose through chasing dreams and trying new things.

“…ogres are like onions…Onions have layers… You get it?  We both have layers.”

—Shrek, from Shrek

 Onions.  They are tough to peel, they make you cry, and they taste bad on their own.  

Onions.  They are tough to peel, they make you cry, and they taste bad on their own.  

I believe that everyone wants to do something they are naturally good at for a living, as well as something they love and enjoy.  That is all good and great in theory, but there is a glaring problem: what if you don’t know what you enjoy or what you are naturally talented at?  Enter the Onion Theory.  The Onion Theory is a process whereby an individual will try something new in hopes of living in a more authentic way.  Each new thing you try or dream you go after is just another layer of the onion that you are continually peeling.  The goal is to live a life of greater purpose; a life that is more aligned with your best-self.  There are so many ways this could play out…

You may live a dream, love it, and then move on

For me this was cycling touring.  I loved, and still love it.  Some of the memories I have out on the road are some of my fondest, but they are just memories now, and I am happy with that.  At times I will see a photo of a favourite campsite or a beautiful stretch of Icelandic highway, and they will conjure up memories and I will have an urge to go create more.  However, I know in my heart of hearts that I have peeled that layer, and I did it throughly.  It was tough to move on, but once I did, it made room for a whole other set of amazing dreams.  

 Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever cycled.  

Iceland is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever cycled.  

You may start a dream, and realize your dream was better off being a dream  

Very recently I had the audacious dream of running unsupported across Cuba on a plant-based diet.  It was a complete flop!  I struggled with getting good food, and I missed my family much more than I had anticipated.  While I was away I was counting down the days until I returned home, and subsequently fantasizing about all the other projects I wanted to be working on.  I quickly discovered in Cuba that I was not doing what I needed to be doing; that this layer was rotten and decaying!  Yes, I blew a solid chunk of change on flights and gear, but knowing that I did not want to be running across Cuba helped me narrow my focus on what I actually want to be doing.  

 Sitting somewhere in Cuba.  I am smiling, but you can see the fatigue in my eyes.

Sitting somewhere in Cuba.  I am smiling, but you can see the fatigue in my eyes.

You may think you have found your final layer—your core— only to find more layers

For a number of years I had the dream of completing an Ironman triathlon.  In July of 2016 I made this dream a reality.  While I was peeling my Ironman layer of my metaphorical onion, I discovered plant-based nutrition.  Another layer!   The timing was right: I was training hard, and I wanted the best performance out of myself.  If I had not started on my Ironman dream I may not have become a dedicated plant-man.  Whole-food, plant-based nutrition is something I have become extremely passionate about, and all because I started on one of my many dreams.  

 Lentil burger served on a portobello mushroom.

Lentil burger served on a portobello mushroom.

These are just a few select examples from my own life—your onion may look completely different.  The things that can happen when you try something new, or start on a dream are magnificent!  Despite the splendor, I do have a few caveats… 

It is possible to have more than one onion

For me, I prefer to think of it as one larger onion, as all of the projects I am working on are inherently linked—they all follow the same ethos.  However, you may find it easier to divide your life into different onions—career, relationship, health, personal.  Some people really thrive on having multiple projects going on at once.  However, if you try to juggle too may onions you risk dropping them.  Recently I started, or attempted to start, many projects.  Soon I found it was too much.  I put down all my onions and am starting with picking up only the most important ones.  My mind thinks better with less.   

You can only peel one layer from one onion at a time  

Focus on one layer, from one onion at time.  If you are constantly focused on the next layer, and the next layer, you will never be happy.  Be present, and enjoy the process!  I know because I struggle with this.  

If you feel guilty about discarding a layer, then you should probably keep peeling

 A few days after leaving Tokyo which was the lowest I have ever been since losing my father.  At this point I still doubted myself, and wondered if I would even make to the end of Japan.  

A few days after leaving Tokyo which was the lowest I have ever been since losing my father.  At this point I still doubted myself, and wondered if I would even make to the end of Japan.  

Onions can stink, and they make you cry—wow what a great metaphor for life!—but that does not necessarily mean you should discard the project.  In 2014 I was attempting to cycle around the world.  Two weeks in I wanted to quit, but I felt so guilty about flying home.  I did not think I could live with myself if I did go home, so I kept going even though it was incredibly tough.  I needed to keep peeling and looking back I am so grateful that I continued.  On the flip side, I felt no guilt while I was in Cuba, that layer was finished! 

Onions taste bad on their own

Well I imagine most would not eat a raw onion and enjoy it.  My point is this: add some spice.  I am starting to learn that I am awful at asking for help; my onions are tasting pretty grim.  The spice in life are your friends, family, or people who are peeling similar layers to you.  Add a few spices, or some oil and you may find your layer looking a lot better.  

 Life is better when it is shared.

Life is better when it is shared.

My final comment on the Onion Theory…

Start!  Start peeling your onion before it rots.  If you have a dream—I have had, and still have many—start on that dream.  Stop waiting for the stars to align.  Stop waiting until you are in a better financial situation.  Stop waiting until you are finished school.  Stop waiting for your kids to grow up.  You do not have to abandon you responsibilities and go gallivanting around the world chasing a dream, but could you spend the following fifteen minutes starting yourdream?  You have to start, even fifteen minutes a day is still a start, eventually you will peel your layer.  The more layers you peel the more you will learn, and the closer you will come to your greatest-self!  Lastly, peeling an onion can be tedious and time consuming; enjoy the process, stay present, and enjoy the small rewards that comes from working long and hard.  

“You know, not everybody like onions.  CAKE!  Everybody loves cake!  Cakes have layers!”

—Donkey, from Shrek

Maybe I should have gone with cake…

Jason ManningComment