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My New Hero Named Jiro

Today’s post is inspired from Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

It was regular weekday night when I was perusing through Netflix and happened to see this documentary show-up. Documentary? On sushi? Yes please! (Did I mention I was getting ready to eat dinner?)

From Jiro Dreams of Sushi

For those who haven’t watched this, it was a phenomenal insight into the workings and thoughts of a man and restaurant that I will probably never have a chance to visit or experience. And even though there are some people out there who think documentaries are boring. Well, that’s the thing about documentaries, they let you see a perspective of the world that you would never have seen otherwise.

Aside from the fact that it was a documentary about sushi and made my mouth water for the delectable sushi on the screen, it was quite an inspiration for me as an individual who is also looking to devote my time and energy to the right things in life. Throughout the documentary, the touch upon this term, shokunin, but never quite explained it fully.

Shokunin is translated to essentially be “artisan” or “craftsman.” While seemingly ordinary, the documentary portrayed the term to be more of an honorary title that is simply not given to any random person who happens to be an artisan or craftsman. Instead, it is more of a demonstration of extreme dedication to an art that has allowed you to transcend the ordinary and begin to step into the world of masters.

This whole notion of becoming a shokunin really struck me. After all, how many of us can say that we’ve committed even 10% of our energy and devotion to mastering a craft. Don’t get me wrong. I recognize that most of us know what it’s like to work hard. It’s just I can only really think of a few moments in my life where I may have pursued something the way that Jiro pursues his craft of making the best sushi in the world.

After watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I have decided to find aspects of my life that I would aspire to become a “shokunin” as much as I possibly can. As of right now, I have decided that I will focus on: user experience, go, and cultivation.

If you were to be a shokunin, what area of expertise would you choose?

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The True Meaning of Poverty

Today’s post is inspired by John Scalzi’s post – Being Poor – Whatever.

Here on BreakingNorms, my number one goal is to provide an alternative opinion, a different perspective, a slightly new spin on something that we think we know so well. Today’s post is on something we all know how to define: poverty. The mindset of those who are poor however, is something completely different entirely.

I normally ask those who have time to go visit the blog post, but this time I implore you to visit his post.

These twelve (in no particular order) were perhaps the most eye-opening ones for me:

  1. “Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt.”
  2. “Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.”
  3. “Being poor is relying on people who don’t give a damn about you.”
  4. “Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.”
  5. “Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.”
  6. “Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.”
  7. “Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.”
  8. “Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier.”
  9. “Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar.”
  10. “Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.”
  11. “Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.”
  12. “Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.”

I think we all forget how luxurious the word choice is. To be able to choose to do something different is a luxury that some simply do not have. It is not up to us to scorn them or judge them for the position they are in. To think that we are better because of a lucky break or being born in nurturing environment is a travesty and is a thought we should all do well to eliminate from our minds.

I hope that you’ll take a moment to really let this sink into your mind and carry it with you the rest of your life. We may not all have grown up with hardship, but we all should do well to treasure and appreciate everything we have because it would be a shame if we waited until it was too late to do so.

Finally, I leave you with his final statements, which in my opinion, stand alone as if it were a poem.

“Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.

Being poor is seeing how few options you have.

Being poor is running in place.

Being poor is people wondering why you didn’t leave.”

What were some of the most eye-opening statements for you?

Happiness: Elusive or Illusive?

Happiness. It is a simple concept that every person would say they are familiar with and could explain to another person. Yet, in actuality, how many of us truly understand what the meaning of happiness really is? After all, is being happy simply a chemical reaction of feeling elated? If so, would one readily agree that putting everyone in a drug induced state be the equivalent of making everyone happy?

In “Don’t Indulge. Be Happy.,” Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton approach the whole notion of happiness from the idea that happiness is connected with money. They even bring up an interesting notion regarding how $75,000 is considered to be a comfortable salary. In many regards, I’m sure most of you would agree with that sentiment. After all, it’s difficult for most people to envision a “happy life” where they did not have the means to support themselves or buy the things they wanted.

Yet in reality, money ends up being a short term goal that society has informed us to chase like dogs on a racetrack. We are told that we should focus on getting “high paying jobs” so we can “afford” things that we want. In addition, we are told that we “need” to make a certain salary to survive in this world. After all, isn’t that why we all went to school? For the opportunity of making more money?

Although it can be a fantastic distraction that can serve as a motivator for some, the sole pursuit of the acquisition of money always ends in an empty life. And unless you have any evidence to the contrary, my research and experience in life has taught me that there is no lasting happiness to be found in money.

So we know that drug-induced highs and money isn’t what happiness is, but where does that leave us? Family? Friends? Career? Power? Politics? Self-actualization? Love?

After a great deal of thought and soul searching, I’ve been thinking that maybe there is no such thing as happiness.

Think about it. Happiness is entirely relative is it not? Let’s take the following example:

You and your team have just finished a big project for your company that you are really proud of. The next day, your boss comes into your office and congratulates you on a job well done and hands you a $50,000 check for doing such a great job.

I’m pretty sure most people would describe their current feeling as “happy” no? After all, there are some people who’s annual salary is that much!

Now ten minutes later, your fellow teammate comes in to inform you that the boss stopped by his office as well and gave him a $60,000 bonus check.

Wait a minute… that so called “happiness” probably faltered for a moment there didn’t it? In fact, if you are like most people, you may even have felt the completely reverse emotion. I mean after all, what did your teammate do that made him earn $10,000 more than you? Aren’t you worth it?

Within that short time frame, the thing so many call “happiness” becomes “jealousy” and even “anger” or “hatred.”

Curious no?

In that case, perhaps  it’s just that society’s portrayal of happiness is an entirely empty notion. And with that in mind, the conclusion I’ve managed to draw from my own experiences is the following:

True happiness is the ability to appreciate the present moment regardless of the conditions around us.

I know that this may seem downright crazy, but this is one concept that many people fail to grasp their entire lives. They spend all this time and energy trying to pursue this notion of happiness that society has defined to only end up never really getting to truly enjoy their lives. Think about it: perspective is everything. What seems amazing in one respect can be completely awful from a different perspective. Being able to grasp this can make all the difference in your life.

Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Remember that no matter what tragic event has befallen you, it is not the end of your story. There is no telling when your story will end, but you would be selling yourself short if you were to choose your story to live out as a tragedy.

The time you have now is the best opportunity of all. There is no guarantee of tomorrow, and there is no way to change the past. The present is the only time you have complete control over, so stop letting that time pass you by any longer. After all, the grass isn’t greener on the other side. It’s greener where you water it.

Today’s post is inspired by Don’t Indulge. Be Happy. – NYTimes.com.

The Path to My Dream Job – Chapter 1

Undergrad had come and gone, but fortunately for me, the following factors were playing in my favor:

  1. My parents were happy to have me home (which alleviated the pressure of me quickly finding a job).
  2. I got along with my parents just fine, so Perk #1 was not going to really interfere with my independence.
  3. My grad program was located only 15 minutes away from home.
  4. The Stafford loans that I was approved for was just about enough to cover my grad school tuition.

On the other hand, I was dealing with these other problems as well.

  1. I was unemployed.
  2. Like everyone else graduating in this economy, the prospects of finding any decent work seemed quite bleak.
  3. While my program is a relatively niche part of psychology, I wasn’t really sure if the degree would really help to increase my job marketability.
  4. Probably most importantly of all, I still had absolutely no idea how I was going to move forward with the rest of my life. (I have a whole rant on how society’s system is largely to blame for this, but more on this another time.)

As graduate school was quickly approaching, I was anxious to get started and finally break my die hard habits of procrastination and a lack of focus. Like most people, the “next” step in my life felt like a clean slate: new classmates, new professors, and a chance to start over. And like most people, it doesn’t take a professionally trained psychologist to predict that twenty-three years’ worth of habits and predispositions quickly tramples over that clean slate feeling.

More importantly however, the unemployment bug was starting to get under my skin. So I did what most people do: I skimmed around the university’s job catalogue, perused around Monster.com, set up my account on CareerBuilder.com… in other words, a lot of gibber jabber and busy work that honestly ended up being not doing a damn thing for me. Well, to be fair, Monster.com ended up netting me a bunch of calls for sales positions. In fact, I even got a call from two different  recruiting companies and even went to interview for them as well. None of it ended up going anywhere (although I do have my own thoughts about sales positions in general, but that is for another time). Fortunately for me however, out of the many random applications I sent out, I happened to get a phone call to intern (more like volunteer) part time at a non-profit. Little did I know, that this was one of the major pieces of kindling that eventually help to send me blazing down the path to finding my dream job…

New Month Resolutions

Andddd I’m back!

Now I considered waiting until after the New Years to start posting again, but then I realized that I’d be passing up an opportunity to write about another old-fashioned tradition that needs a solid makeover.  That’s right.  We’re talking about New Year Resolutions.

Wait a second now… isn’t this post called “New Month Resolutions?”

You’re absolutely right.

When it comes to New Year Resolutions, only a small percentage of people ever really accomplish any of their goals.  And within that small group of people, even less of them actually finish the whole list.  Why is that you say?  Are we lazy?  Unable to commit to what we set out to do?

The answer is yes and no.

You really can’t blame yourself.  If I told you that you needed to work at your job and slave away for 60 hours a week, but that I would only pay you once a year,  I guarantee you that a majority of people would start out saying no or quit part way through.  And the same thing applies to New Year Resolutions, you’re talking about these grandiose overarching goals that are supposed to be worked on over a THREE HUNDRED AND SIXTY FIVE DAY time period.

Now I recognize that some people’s goals are things like “Finally go visit The White House because I’ve been living in the DC Metro Area for 30 years and never been.”  These goals are pretty easy to cross off.  But let’s the face the reality, and the facts are that almost EVERY single New Year Resolutions will absolutely have one if not both of the following:

  1. Weight – Lose weight, eat healthier, go to the gym, get fit, get six pack abs, you name it.
  2. Money – Save more, spend less, pay off loans, become debt free, etc.

And the thing is that there is nothing wrong with trying to improve these two things.  I mean after all, our life is pretty much centered around our health and our money.  But the goals end up being these HUGE and GRANDIOSE things like…

  • Lose 50 lbs by the end of the year.
  • Save $25,000 for a down payment on a house.
  • Pay off $80,000 of school loans.

There are so many things wrong with goals like these.  But here are the top three mistakes with most New Year Resolutions:

  1. Overly Ambitious – I get it.  It’d be great if you could save up $25,000 for a down payment to a house by the end of the year… except… oh right… let’s not forget that over the last five years you’ve barely managed to save 10% of your paycheck every time the bills come rolling around.  And you want to save $25,000 in 12 months?  Come on buddy, let’s be real here.
  2. No Tangible Reward – Now some of you may think: “Wait a second, isn’t completing the goal a reward in itself?”  And the answer is one big NOOOOOOOO.  When it comes to these big goals that everyone has, the reward is so far ahead that the end is not even in sight.  In other words, that’s like me telling you that there’s a huge pile of money sitting on an island 5,000 miles away from shore.  It’s there alright, except you have to swim across shark infested waters.  And did I mention that you won’t see the island until you’ve pretty much swam the entire way?
  3. The Timeline of a Year – This is the ultimate failure of most New Year Resolutions.  A year is just simply too long of a time table for anyone to actually commit seriously when it comes to goals that are generally very discipline heavy.  Think about how many things you’ve procrastinated when it was simply due next week.  And you want to talk about a task that’s supposed to be done in a year?  Dream on.

In the end, I don’t know how many failed New Year Resolutions you want to go through, but for me, twenty three years is about good enough for me.  Instead, let’s have New Month Resolutions that are a subset of the New Year Resolutions.

In the interest of not having an overly gigantic post, the tactics for creating your new resolutions for 2012 will be posted tomorrow!  

Failure ≡ Success

So it’s time that I address an issue that a lot of people have pointed out to me (especially after my Steve Jobs post) about the one thing everyone is afraid of: failure. Before I can really speak to this topic of failure though, I would like to start by addressing what it means to be successful.

Success is something that is measured VERY differently by every individual. Unfortunately, society has seemed to define it in an extremely monetarily way. As a result, most of us think that “Success = Money.” In reality, I would say that the idea of success if very much the same as the concept of “rich.”

Is someone rich if they make $100,000 a year? How about $1,000,000? Most people would agree so, but then again we all know that there are plenty of people who may make six figure salaries who are perfectly miserable and even in debt. So in the end, isn’t richness the same as success? With this in mind, let’s speak about this thing people keep calling “failure.”

I know that the idea of failure is something that scares a lot of people. “What if I lose everything?” “What if people will ridicule and think less of me?” And to that, I implore that you stop worrying. It’s true. You are the driver in life. The decisions that you make will impact you irregardless of whether it is good or bad. So in light of this, what is failure?

When Thomas Edison was asked about his many failures at inventing the light bulb, he responded, “I did not fail. I simply found 1,000 ways not to make a light bulb.” Think about this. Could failure not be viewed as one of the routes to success? How many of you could say that you’ve played an entire game of Mario or Tetris without ever making a mistake?

It’s true. Some people pour their life savings and destroy their families in the pursuit of get rich quick schemes. I understand why this may be labelled purely as failure, but you cannot forget the fact that to pursue something without a true motivator and willingness to work hard makes this scenario different from the other failures that others speak of.

In the end, everyone says Steve Jobs was the exception. They are wrong. The only thing that was an exception about Steve Jobs was he was willing to defy the conventional mindset of approaching life and live life as he saw fit. This is the very same man who was fired from the company he built. Would you not say that being fired is a failure? Yet, as Steve Jobs said in his commencement speech, that failure would play a major impact in his growth for future success.

The ability to draw upon inner strength when the world attempts to ho ld you down is what differentiates people from the mold. Do not simply pursue what everyone else does simply because it is the norm. Find your vision, motivation, and drive to fulfill the person that you are. Once you do so, failure and success will blur together since the journey has brought you to true self-actualization.