Monday, May 21, 2012

on failure

surely like many others, i was fascinated with the film jiro dreams of sushi and the concept of a shokunin.  literally, it is the term for the highest sushi chef and means "craftsman" or "master" but the film played out a more nuanced definition that i found comforting.

as acclaimed sushi chef jiro describes his life's work, it becomes apparent that his main focus is to improve, always. to let life be rote, predictable, let your work be simple, understandable, so that you may always repeat it and always be humbled by it.

the truth about starting your own business is that you feel like a failure a lot of the time. most of time. it gets very hard to focus on what you have accomplished rather than what you have not. it's not grad school, there are no academic walls shielding your best attempts from the outside world. and all of the connectivity dripping between us, the "hall of mirrors", as franzen calls it, doesn't so much help with personal growth as it gives a shallow hint of self-worth, which typically extinguishes after a good night's sleep.

you're on your own. you're the only person who can account for your shortcomings. sometimes i think this is why people go into debt to build their businesses into huge productions, take on big accounts and hire assistants and managers galore--when your failures and flaws eventually surface, you have so many other people you can blame.

when this happens, it's easy to call the work "boring" and move on. and i'd be a terrible liar if i said i hadn't wanted to do just that many, many times. but this comes from the belief that your craft will serve you, that it owes you something. you have to give that up. you have to give yourself over.

the shokunin's dedication to his craft is lifelong. there are no distractions. it is him and the fish and the knife in his hand, everyday. everyday he wakes up and works long hours performing the same simple tasks of labor. everyday, he seeks perfection as his hands and his mind and his spirit begin to attune to the demands of the craft. in this way he is a vessel, he is taught by the pursuit of perfection.

the shokunin knows something that i am slowly learning--that a craft is not a human relationship. it is not fair, it is not a give and take. it is a give and give and give and be taught and taught and taught some more.  it is about failing everyday and loving it and letting your failures drive you to start over, to pay more attention, to understand every step of the process better than you did the day before. your victories are tiny and rarely completely satisfying. it liberates you from the idea that happiness or satisfaction will ever come easily.

it is strangely pleasant, and more importantly, infinitely worthwhile.


  1. So dead on, lady! Thanks for articulating thoughts I have also been dwelling on after seeing Jiro. Might have to write my own post about this, too, in response.

  2. I met Mr. Jiro months ago, I wrote a post about it. Today I saw Mr. Jiro here in another beautiful vídeo! I stopped to read what you wrote. Just gotta say: Oh God! I feel the same! Thank you for the text, you have brought strength to the blogger here in Brazil, you and Mr. Jiro.

  3. MK, I loved reading your impressions after seeing the film...I also loved the film, and being an artist/director and small business entrepreneur, I identify with your experience so very much...I look forward to connecting in person. and Thank you for your Beautiful writing.
    Ashley Chiles