One of the best documentaries I have ever watched is “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” If you haven’t watched it yet— you are missing out on a visual masterpiece which will change how you think of life, work, and dedication to a craft:
Jiro Ono, the head sushi chef, has a tiny restaurant, with only 10 spots, and even at the age of 85+, he is still working everyday. He lives a simple life, and his entire life’s focus is to constantly improve his sushi, the experience for his customers, all while keeping humble.
Below are some life lessons that Jiro has taught me, and can teach you too:
1. Dedicate your life to mastering your skill
“Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro Ono
The mistake that many of us make in life is that we think that we can master a certain field in a year, a few years, or even a decade. Jiro has been working with sushi for many decades, and has loved his work. He doesn’t even see it as work, or as a job.
What is your true passion in life, and what do you want to master? Know that if you try to chase two hares, you will catch neither.
You need to use the short time you have on the earth to master your one biggest skill — your one biggest contribution you can make to humanity.
What will be that one skill you can master?
2. Always improve a bit more
“I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.” – Jiro Ono
When Jiro makes sushi, it is a kind of zen for him. He repeats the same rhythm and motion over and over again, but every time he does it, he seeks to improve his art just by a little bit.
This constant work for Jiro to achieve a bit more is what keeps him going. He keeps trying to climb in his field, and he has no idea where the top is.
It is easy in life to get jaded. It is easy to think that we have hit walls. But know that life is a climb to the top of a mountain— except the difference is that we don’t know where the top is. In-fact, there is no top, and there are no limits. Only the limits we impose on ourselves.
What we need to do is seek constant improvement in everything that we do in life — and don’t settle for second-best for ourselves.
3. Know it all depends on you
“When I was in first grade, I was told ‘You have no home to go back to. That’s why you have to work hard.’ I knew that I was on my own. And I didn’t want to have to sleep at the temple or under a bridge so I had to work just to survive. That has never left me. I worked even if the boss kicked or slapped me. Nowadays, parents tell their children, ‘You can return if it doesn’t work out.’ When parents say stupid things like that, the kids turn out to be failures.” – Jiro Ono
They call this strategy “burning the boats” — if you are a commander and your soldiers know that they have no boats to retreat to, they will give their enemy all they got. Because they know they have no backup option.
There is no way we can become successful without work. Hard work. Persistence, dedication, and grit. These are all things that we can cultivate by ourselves.
Some of us are blessed to have survived difficult situations as children — that is where our drive and hustle comes from. Some of us have been coddled from an early age, which prevents us from achieving our potential. Because we always know we have a backup option.
Know that the only certainty in life is death — and you are going to die one day. Do you want to lie on your deathbed knowing that you didn’t give your life, your art, or your creative work all you got?
Avoid regrets at all costs— hustle in your creative work with all your heart, soul, and energy.
4. Never retire
“I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.” – Jiro Ono
In the West, we have a notion of “retirement.” We think that by selling our soul to our employer for a several decades, we will finally have a payday, retire peacefully, and travel the world.
The problem is that most of us are stuck in jobs that we hate— and only staying there hoping (one day) to retire and (finally) be “happy.”
Jiro has no dreams of retiring. His life is his work. His work is his life. He doesn’t separate his personal identity and his work. He combines them together— that is why he never feels like his work is a “job.” It is his passion. It is what he was designed to do.
When many people retire, they die mentally and physically. We need to have a purpose in life. We need action and work to propel us forward. Without any motivation to work, we can easily fall into apathy, become passive consumers of entertainment, and waste away.
What if you lived a life where you never planned on retiring? How would you live your life differently? What kind of job would you pick up instead?
Plan on working until you die — and you will never die.
5. You’ll never reach perfection
“Even at my age, in my work… I haven’t reached perfection.” – Jiro Ono
Perfection doesn’t exist. It is not an objective thing that we can measure.
However we can always aim for improvement in what we do. We can aim for perfection, but never arrive. And that is what keeps us motivated.
Imagine — if we finally arrived at “perfection.” There would be nothing left to do. We would have no reason to continue to work hard, to innovate, and to live.
So know that regardless of whatever work you do in life, you’ll never achieve perfection. And that is okay.
Treat everyday as a new day, and a learning opportunity. A chance to get stronger (mentally and physically), a change to build your relationships with your loved ones, and a chance for you to develop your artistic and creative sense.
Don’t settle for second-best with yourself, and let Jiro Ono, his dedication to his work, his simplicity, modesty, and work ethic be an inspiration to you.
For unlikely sources of inspiration, learn from these contemporary titans:
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