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Lessons From A Master

This brings to mind a more common conception of work some of us have: We tend to categorize jobs as being either “passion work” or “work just for the money.” Then we tell ourselves that passion work is a pipe dream and we must endure a lifetime of mindless toil until the day we retire and begin to enjoy life.

What would happen, I wonder, if we consciously and purposefully loved the jobs we feel condemned to do “just for the money”? Could this perhaps completely revolutionize our relationship with work, increase our quality of life, and diminish our hunger for retirement?

Specialize, simplify, go deep

Sushi is by definition a minimalist food, and Jiro has taken this simplicity to another level, not only in his sushi-making technique, but also in the composition of his menu. Unlike other restaurants of its kind, Jiro's does not serve appetizers. Rather, they create a daily menu of about 20 pieces of sushi per person. He serves sushi only, and no other dishes.

Moreover, his restaurant has only 10 seats. This allows the staff to focus on preparing top-quality sushi and serving each client the best possible way, noticing little details like how much they eat or if they are right- or left-handed.

Jiro's eldest son, Yoshikazu, who is a sushi chef in his own right but still works with his father as the heir apparent, says that at the restaurant they try to repeat the same thing every day. What's left implied is that mastery results from this constant repetition.

This focus goes beyond the confines of work: Jiro repeats the same routine every day, down to standing on the same spot to take the train. He dislikes holidays and wants to return to work as soon as possible.

It seems to me that Jiro increases his creativity by going deep, rather than wide - start with an automatic daily routine, pursue a narrow focus at work, and within that narrow focus, the combination of talent and hard work open up a universe for creative exploration.

This reminds me of that mad genius William Blake, who wrote in “Auguries of Innocence”:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

With happiness like that, who needs vacations?

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