Grand Coach Rodrigo Lopez on food, wine, personal development, and the difference between a calling and a passion

October 12, 2023

If you work on developing yourself, on discovering and deepening your self-understanding, it will only allow you to become more of who you are meant to be, like a cabernet will become a cabernet regardless of what man tries to do.

Rodrigo Lopez joined The Grand as a coach in 2020. After several professional and personal transitions, he heard a resounding call: to help individuals become who they are meant to be. As a coach, he brings the fullness of his experiences: professionally, the lessons learned as an attorney, consumer goods entrepreneur, advisor, and organizational consultant; and personally, the perspective gained from loss, incapacitation, survival, and self-discovery.

As told to Claire Zhang

For this series, I wanted to start with my first Grand coach — you! — and thank you for being with us for so long. I feel we've made this Grand journey together. Also, now I get to ask you a lot of questions, which is the opposite of what usually happens.
So, I thought a fun way to start would be with an exercise we do in The Grand, where we say: tell your life story, but tell it in a way you haven't ever told it before.

With your permission, I can answer your question in the same way that I answered it when I was first introduced to the exercise.

Of course.

I'll share it through food. Growing up, I was raised in a very humble family. Both my parents worked full-time and they lacked time to cook for my brother and me.

My mom didn't particularly enjoy the kitchen, so she would come home from work and there was a Hitachi rice maker where you would put in three ingredients, pull a lever, and 15 minutes later, you’d have rice. The second thing she did was open a can of beans (my mom is Cuban and my father's Colombian). She would open up a can of beans, put it on the stove, and warm it up in minutes. Then she would take some ground beef—because it was economical and easy to make—even if it was frozen, she would throw it on the pan on low and it would cook itself.

I grew up eating that kind of food, or some variation of that food, almost my entire young life up until the time I left home. Because I ate it so much, I started to really dislike it. It was repetitive, too familiar.

Toward the end of those first 20 years of my life, I started to become involved more in the kitchen. I wanted to change what I was eating and help my mom. So it was selfless and selfish. I started to cook so that she wouldn't have to, and for my own sake. I would experiment with all kinds of stuff. There were no cookbooks, there was no Food Channel at the time. I was just doing whatever I could do. There were some big misses, but some things were okay and everyone liked them. It allowed me to be creative, to serve my family, and to serve my own palate.

When I left for law school, I had very little time to cook. I would cook on Sundays for the rest of the week—I think they call it batch cooking now—I took some of what I had learned from home and started including different things. In Philly, which is where I went to law school, there was more diversity than Miami. Miami is diverse in terms of the Latin American population, but in Philly, there was Indian food and all kinds of stuff. Those three years were an introduction of different cuisines into my cooking.

When I worked as an attorney, I suddenly had more money, even though I still had little time. But I had more opportunity available to me. I lived in New York and I was just exposed to all kinds of cuisines at at very different levels. You have Michelin star places, you have all kinds of places. That was another stage in my life.

Then I became an entrepreneur and all of that kind of disappeared.

I had some very limited success as an entrepreneur, which afforded me more opportunities. That brought back some more experiences with food. I started to experiment with pasta making. I fell in love with Italian food.

And now, almost full circle, I am back home, and what I find myself eating more frequently—to my own surprise—is the food that I was eating as child that I had started to dislike, the most simple food that you can imagine: rice and beans and so on.

That’s a full circle journey of my life through food.

How do you feel about that? What is your reflection on returning back to this rice and beans at home?

A qualification: it's not rice and beans every day. I change it a little bit here and there, and I don't always eat it, but what I find myself eating more of it.

It's a reflection of where I am in my life right now. Everything you see around me has been the same for three years. Some of it is by choice, some of it is by circumstance.

Equally, what I am eating is by choice and by circumstance.

I enjoy food very much. In my former life, I studied to be a sommelier, so I have this reverence for food and everything that comes along with it.

At the same time, the part about the food that is status driven, or was status driven, for me has changed.

I'm equally happy now with a loaf of bread and a glass of water, as I am with caviar and champagne. Equally satisfied with both. It was not that way before.

Tell me more about the word you chose in status driven. What about those foods feel like status to you?

When I had the opportunity to expand my palate and go to these different dining experiences, a lot of it was a reflection of who I was. I had well-paying jobs, status-driven jobs, environments where that kind of thing was normal day to day.

Reflecting back on it, while I enjoyed it for its own sake, for the joy, for the admiration of the preparation that went into the food, the joy of enjoying it with the people I was with, at the same time, I realize that it was also a part of the life I lived at that moment.

Whereas now my life is different. So, while I enjoy it, I enjoy it for different reasons.

What specific foods or what cuisines would you say represent each phase of your life, like the rice and beans?

Law school was baked chicken breast, because you could put 20 of them in an oven and that's your food for a week.

Then when I started working as an attorney in my very first job, it was fast food. That's how little time I had. I probably had less time working as an attorney in my first job than I did in law school. It was more demanding, so fast food made up a large portion of my diet. And it's reflected in the pictures of that era—which I don't have any, I anticipated you may be asking where those pictures are!

That's totally fair! I respect that.

When I was working in New York, the second half of my legal career, it's more challenging to place a particular dish. It was more about different experiences. I had the opportunity to go to the neighborhood place that had the best burgers as well as the Michelin star place.

When I became an entrepreneur, it really didn't matter. Honestly, food took a backseat because my mind just wasn't there. Perhaps because I had the previous experience where I felt like I had a range of experience, I felt like I had satiated that aspect.

Now, because I spend so much of my time devoted to what I consider my calling, and because perhaps my previous experiences have already fulfilled me in many ways, I spend a lot of time just having some variation of bread and cheese.

It's the simplest stuff.

What are some of the parallels between food and coaching, or cooking and coaching that you see?

Years ago when I first started at The Grand, I wrote a piece on the similarities between personal development and winemaking.

I mentioned earlier that I was studying to become a sommelier at one point. If you look at wine and you look at coaching for personal development, you find that there are some remarkable similarities.

There are two aspects to wine making. There's what happens out in the field, which is called viticulture. And there's what happens in a winery, which is viniculture. So one is nature and one is man. One is subject to the forces of the environment, although man does adjust it to the extent that they can.

But what happens in the winery is outside of the elements. Nature's already done its work. Now it's up to man. That's where the mixing and the barreling, the aging, all that, come in.

So there are these two aspects at the same time. But there's one thing that's constant: the variety of the grape doesn't change whether it's outside or inside, whether it's viticulture, viniculture.

What makes some wines exceptional is that despite what man does to it, when you taste it, when you see it, when you smell it, you can identify that grape unmistakably. Meaning: it shines through no matter what, regardless of circumstance.

That is one similarity between wine or food and personal development: if you work on developing yourself, on discovering and deepening your self-understanding, it will only allow you to become more of who you are meant to be, like a cabernet will become a cabernet regardless of what man tries to do.

I love that. Everyone has a unique flavor. This is leading me to curiosity around why you decided to study this and pursue being a sommelier.

We're talking about my former life. There are a number of things that led me to pursue that interest. I’ll point out a few things that come to mind. My ex-wife came from the hospitality industry, and her family as well. She created the aperture for this interest or development of this interest in food and wine.

Beyond that, I found myself particularly curious about what was in the glass. How did it come to be? I have a very sensitive nose. That created a wider opening, because when I smell a wine, I can distinguish a lot of different things in it, more so than in my palette. I almost drink the wine by smelling it—through the experience of its scent, its aroma, its bouquet—more than I do through the taste of it.

The third piece of it was everything that happened out in nature, everything that happened out in the vineyard. The cyclical process of the seasons, the process of pruning so you get higher quality—which is also another aspect of personal development.

All of these things just led me more and more. I just became deeply curious about it, and that's what led me to want to learn more about it.

How does wine and those elements of your past life factor in today?

In the process of answering of this call to become coach, to serve others in this capacity, in this overwhelming privilege that I've been given, it means that I've had to make decisions.

The root of the word decide means to cut out. The opposite of what incision means.

So I’ve had to choose to do some things more than others.

Wine has been one of those things that I have cut more and more out, so that I can devote myself more and more to my calling.

There are other reasons. Wine for me is something that I enjoy more in communion.

My life has changed quite a bit over the last three years. There has been less opportunity for communion, and by extension, by consuming less of it, my tolerance has decreased dramatically. To open a bottle of wine and keep it in my fridge for weeks diminishes the wine, diminishes the experience for me. I'd rather enjoy it, for example, with Claire, if the day should ever come that we meet in person, rather than by myself.

It sounds like when you were pursuing this study, there was high curiosity, and the way you're talking about it—there was high passion. But you mentioned that coaching now is your calling, and you've made the decision to cut back on wine.
What is the difference between curiosity driven passion, which sounds like is what you had for becoming a sommelier, versus the sense of calling that you feel for becoming a coach?

What a beautiful question, Claire.

One of the early pieces I wrote was called Natural Talents, A Guide to Discovering Your Purpose.

I reference it because it informs what I'm about to share with you: passions and curiosities and desires — and even love — are temporary. They wane with time.

The way I feel about what I do today feels aligned with everything that I have come to learn about myself. It feels timeless in its quality. It feels aligned. It feels effortless.

So, the difference between a curious passion and what I have now deemed my calling, maybe is just time. It's unchanging. It's a devotion.
How did you come to find your calling in coaching at The Grand?

In the fall of 2019, I was in a very unusual place. I was disillusioned with the job I had. It was either the beginning or somewhere in the middle of the end of my marriage.

At the same time, I started working on a personal development plan for myself, just on my own. I was unprompted by anything I read. Personal development is something that I've always been just intrigued by. It’s probably why I studied psychology and philosophy in my undergrad.

So, I was going through these professional and personal moments in my life that were not yet in transition, but were leading into a transition. I was starting to do personal work on me and I serendipitously — it's the only way I could imagine or describe it — I serendipitously came across this Tweet from The Grand. I remember reading the Tweet and thinking: “This is so crazy. This is exactly what I'm doing with my personal development plan. Let me check it out.”

I went onto the website and every step along the way, I became more and more interested in what The Grand was.

I had a conversation with Rei and I remember leaving that conversation thinking, “Man, this is awesome.” I felt like I was on a high. I felt like my conversation with Rei was a conversation with a longtime friend.

She invited me to apply. At that moment, because I felt the way I felt about my job and I was going through my personal issues from my relationship, I was unsure about the investment that I wanted to make in The Grand.

I was sitting in front of the computer with the application in front of me, thinking “Should I do this?” The cost, the time, I was already doing this on my own. I'm going through this thing with personal, my job…
But then the application filled itself and I clicked send.
I don't remember doing it.

From that point on, I was blessed to have Anita as my coach, blessed to have her invite me to serve with her as a co-coach, blessed again to have both her and Rei invite me to serve as a coach… and it has continued and continued. It has been an infinite source of generosity.

Along the way, I spent 2021 doing nothing.

In that vast space, I had three things that filled my life: The Grand, Brutus [my dog], and nature.

As I spent more time doing nothing and serving as a coach with The Grand, the signs were more clear and more clear and more clear, to the point where I ultimately felt the call and I resisted it.

Then one day, it was my dad's birthday, November 3rd, two years ago, it was crystal clear that this is what I was meant to do.

And that's it. And here I am.

I'm very curious about this resistance that came up for you. Can you tell me more about that?

The resistance came from what felt like an overwhelming responsibility. I understood, having had my experience with The Grand, that the position that I would be placed in, even if I didn't want it to be such, would be one of influence. I didn't want that influence.

I was trying to avoid directing or having any sort of part in directing or guiding or influencing someone's course of life.

The responsibility felt too awesome to me—unfathomable.

That's where it came from.

And what about that day suddenly gave you that clarity?

There was something about that moment in the park. I was with Brutus. I was under a tree. It was a gorgeous day. The fall and winter in Miami are probably the nicest seasons here in Miami. I was watching a team of young people play baseball. I used to play baseball.

I must've seen something in them and their energy levels. It must've been something about the amount of time I had been thinking about it. It must've been something about the resistance gently wearing away.
How could I explain it?
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