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Sushi on Mastery


Perhaps his life’s journey has been about Sushi, but the reality is that Jiro Ono teaches us a lot about life – all of life, and especially about mastery.

January 30, 2013 7:09 by

By Kamal Dimachkie

At the beginning of my career, I was very lucky to work for intense, highly demanding professionals – who expected so much that I often felt that I was the sole inhabitant of the entire failure continuum. They had fervour pumping through their veins instead of blood; they were possessed by the quality and purity of ideas, and they insisted on very high standards. Nothing was ever good enough and they pushed me daily, demanding and never missing the opportunity to pile on the pressure so much so that the bile would rise from my stomach whenever I was in a conversation with them. It was an agonising time.

One of my earlier bosses was kind enough to share with me a series of articles about mastery, which I often think about. Unfortunately, I have long since lost the treasure he passed on to me, but, hopefully, never the spirit, never the lesson. And when a young member of the organisation introduced me to Jiro Ono while working on a recent project, it was like a second birth.

There is much that can be said about Jiro. A great deal has been written, filmed and documented about this unassuming, humble man of 85, who embarked on a continuous journey at the age of ten. Jiro is a Sushi chef, but not just any chef – in his domain and in the culinary world, Jiro is a giant and the only Sushi chef in the world to have earned a three star Michelin rating.

Perhaps his life’s journey has been about Sushi, but the reality is that Jiro Ono teaches us a lot about life – all of life, and especially about mastery. There is nothing more compelling and inspiring than someone who has irrevocably committed themselves with love and total abandon to one cause in life. His was Sushi, and the privilege to work, just work, on preparing the best he knows how.

His view is really quite baffling in its simplicity: “Never complain about your job. You must immerse yourself in your work; you have to fall in love with your work. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.” And he closes with, “That’s the secret to success and the key to being regarded honourably.”

There is something incredibly spiritual in the total abandon and surrender to a life lived a day at time repeating the same work over, and over, and over again. A life lovingly immersed on a plateau and dedicating oneself to doing one thing – one thing only, improving it a bit at a time, making a modification here, introducing a minor innovation there, polishing this end, and tucking that end. All the time, imperceptibly improving little bits and pieces, and making changes until he achieves such an elevated level of polish and sophistication in the simplest of details that it is inimitable.

The more one listens to Jiro, the more you can feel integrity and saintliness. Jiro says: “If I don’t keep on working, my body will become worthless. If my body stops functioning, then I will have to quit.” After 75 years consecrated to improving his skill to bettering Sushi, Jiro demonstrates what it means not to complain about one’s work, and the virtue of continuing trying to climb until one reaches the top, never mind the fact that no one knows where the top is.

We can learn a great deal from this Sushi chef. Whether it is his work ethic, or his attitude to work and life, or his professionally spiritual journey, they all hold valuable lessons in perseverance, hard work and in commitment. Staying the course and savouring every moment on the plateau, Jiro’s commitment has been total, non-negotiable, incorruptible and totally selfless. Everything has been in the pursuit of higher ideal that perhaps is unreachable, though we learn that he created many a milestone along the way.

We work in a part of the world that is blessed with much wealth, and that faces many a great challenge. I wonder what would happen if we were all to make irrevocable commitments in our respective lines of work, or paths in life, if these commitments would be made unfalteringly, unconditionally, with total abandon and surrender… I just wonder where we could be 75 years from now.

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