Jiro is my hero.
I began my journey to becoming a craftsman (of some sort) after watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi, an amazing documentary about a shokunin. I want to become one. A shokunin. A shoku whaaat? I know. I didn't know about this Japanese term until after watching Jiro... multiple times.
Shokunin means "a way of being", a focused being dedicated to the pursuit of perfection! Right, no such thing as “perfection”. The key word, however, is—pursuit!
Jiro is a sushi master dedicated to his profession. He makes excellent quality sushi every day. His attention to detail, consistency, and precision as a result of an excellent work ethic garnered his restaurant 3 Michelin Stars.
How did Jiro accomplish such feat?
Jiro is a shokunin. A craftsman. He dedicates his time and energy everyday to perfecting the art and skill of making sushi. Jiro is a sushi craftsman, a person focused on the pursuit of perfecting sushi.
If you have not seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi, then I suggest that you watch it soon. It's available on Netflix (as of December 2017). It is a movie about a sushi maker and his team whose single goal is to make a better sushi than yesterday. It is a documentary about constant improvement, and the quest for perfection (unattainable it may be).
The documentary is made elegantly, but it wouldn't be so if not for the spirit of shokunin demonstrated by Jiro and his team.
I am not a sushi chef myself. The demands of my job is not singular; meaning I don't only focus on mastering one thing (e.g., making sushi). As a community college counselor, I have multiple tasks and responsibilities that require constant interpersonal interaction and social activities. I run/coordinate a program, counsel students on their academic pursuit, and teach classes. A college counselor is not the ideal profession to achieving Jiro's state of single-minded pursuit. It's not the kind of profession in which I can focus on perfecting one art or product.
As I've said earlier, I aspire to be a shokunin. Of what? I'm not sure. I know of superstar instructors perfecting the art of teaching, or counselors perfecting counseling, but it's very rare because the feedback mechanism is not simple and straightforward. Unlike a swordsmith whose sole task is to hammer and shape a steel—day in and day out—in order to create a beautiful sword, the reward of my profession is not physically visible. I won't know if my counseling made a difference until years later. In addition, I am constantly shifting gear, addressing varying student concerns as they come. Not an ideal shokunin gig!
Can a worker in the social service field still become a shokunin, a master craftsman, like Jiro? We don't know. If you are in a career in which you are organizing and interacting with people, it is hard to concentrate and focus your energy and attention to the craft. Maybe a different system has to be put in place. Maybe a different metric is needed to follow one's development.
While a sushi master focuses on his sushi and a swordsmith focuses on her blades, it is not the same with a counselor, a therapist, or a teacher. But maybe it's not a matter of being able to focus on one thing; instead, maybe it's about focusing on the ability to put things together, of executing a sequence of actions smoothly and consistently; maybe it about measuring the number of times a desired behavior is elicited from the student or client; or counting how many individuals you help feel better at the end of the counseling session. That's the metric.
That is it.
Count how many times you are able to elicit smiles and happy faces. Count the many times that you develop education pathways for students. Or count how many times you finish a class feeling emotional and inspired by your students.