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What It Means to Seek Perfection

I’ve always strived for perfection in everything I do, much to the dismay of others. My obsession with the details often bothers most people, so the selection of who works alongside me has to be carefully chosen. I’ve learned through a series of trial and error, those who compromise, have an aloofness about their work and settle for “good enough” don’t pair well with me. Thankfully, I’ve found a life’s work that celebrates my obsessed and obsessive tendencies.

What was once thought to be an Achille’s heel, has now turned into my greatest strength. For years, I tried to change myself. I thought if I could be less of a perfectionist, lowered my expectations, and even learned how to throw up my hands when it didn’t meet my standards, perhaps things would be easier. But one day, someone very close to me said, “Yes, you are intense, and yes you are unbelievably meticulous, but it’s your finest quality.” That statement allowed me to embrace what I deemed a weakness and understand that this rare quality is what separates me.

[Tweet “‘It’s always the result of high attention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.’ – Aristotle”]

Aristotle said, “It’s always the result of high attention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution.” When I hear things like ‘it doesn’t need to be perfect,’ I go a little mad inside. Having that kind of mindset begets mediocrity. If you love something, if you want to truly make something succeed, you will demand perfection not only in those around you but of yourself.

With Motto in its 10th year, I’m finding some time to reflect on what this infatuation with perfection has helped us accomplish, reminiscing about the amazing projects we’ve worked on and the incredible clients that we’ve worked with. And looking back, I realize that my obsession hasn’t just been about needing everything to be perfect, but that I am obsessed and obsessive for all the right reasons — I continuously strive to be better, hungrier and give of myself in a way that pushes myself beyond ordinary to reach extraordinary at all times.

I recently watched a fascinating documentary — Jiro Dreams of Sushi. 90-year-old Sushi Master Jiro Ono has spent his entire life pursuing perfection. Considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef, he is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat sushi restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first tiny restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin rating. Sushi lovers from around the globe make the repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance for a reservation and shelling out top dollar for a coveted meal at Jiro’s sushi bar.

Yet Jiro, a fountain of wisdom and inspiration, is never fully satisfied, constantly seeking to master his craft. “I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top…but no one knows where the top is,” he says.

The Japanese word ‘Shokunin’ roughly translates to ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ though the spirit, honor, and essence of the word is greatly lost in translation. The Shokunin are true masters of their craft. They dedicate their entire lives to mastering their profession, often in the face of criticism and sacrifice. A true Shokunin will always continue to reach perfection, and find the pursuit immensely rewarding.

Jiro is incredibly self-aware. A true Shokunin, his pursuit has required plenty of sacrifices, especially as it relates to his family-life. Jiro highlights how he neglected his duties and responsibilities as a father. “I wasn’t much of a father. I was probably more like a stranger,” he says. If he was found sleeping at home, his children would say, ‘Mom, there’s a strange man sleeping in our house.”

It’s clear that at the core of the Shokunin philosophy is the idea that in order to truly master and perfect anything, one must give their life to it. It is an obligation that is both spiritual and material. “Even at my age, after decades of work I don’t think I have achieved perfection. But I feel ecstatic all day. I love making sushi. That’s the spirit of the Shokunin,” Jiro says. Those that know him talk about his remarkable work ethic, his reluctance to take time off even for a holiday or personal vacation, and his eagerness to return to his craft day in and day out. “I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it,” he says.

[Tweet “In order to truly master anything, one must give their life to it.”]

In western culture, it’s difficult for many to appreciate this way of thinking, as perfection is often seen as the enemy or at least a trap. However we can learn a great deal about success from Jiro. “Once you have decided on your occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work,” he said. “You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

[Tweet “‘Dedicate your life to mastering your skill.’ – Jiro Ono”]

Jiro’s is an inspiring story. He has reached levels that many aspire to, and commands the utmost respect from his apprentices who seek only to gain his approval. His story teaches that perfection is really about pushing yourself to greatness and not settling for mediocrity.

What are your thoughts about perfection and mastery? We love great conversation. Leave a comment below.