Gordie Howe

Why You Should Never Retire

On a typical evening we put the kids to bed around 8 o’clock. Exhausted from a long day of work, kids, chores (and ideally), exercising, we spend the next couple of hours watching Netflix from the comforts of our sofa. Last night was no different, but after the Mrs. cashed in early, I stayed up to watch a documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I came away from that screening with the notion that people should never retire. Let me explain why.

In the film, Jiro, an 85 year-old sushi chef and restaurant owner in Toyko, Japan, shares his secrets to delivering a consistently excellent product over a period of seven decades. He’s a firm believer in perfecting one’s craft to the utmost. He feels it is an obligation to love his work. Jiro’s life is a case study in how consistent, repetitive execution with small tweaks here and there can lead to mastery and success.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

It’s easy to see why Jiro still works as hard as he does (even now, approaching age 90), from 5AM to 10PM each day, repeating many of the same tasks day over day. Simply, he is devoted to his craft, and through endless execution, his craft has come to define who Jiro is. If Jiro were to retire, he’d be, “bored to death.”

I came away from this documentary with a new perspective on work and retirement. Is it taking the easy way out to retire early? Am I simply giving up? Why can’t I be like Jiro, and devote myself to project management and continue to master my craft? I don’t know the answers to those questions right now. I hope the answers emerge over the next three years, at which point I become eligible to bolt.

Jiro never suggests that you need to find a job you love. Fact is, he struggled mightily in the beginning, and it took many years for him to achieve a level of success we would define as “making it.” Persistence and resilience are a big part of what got Jiro from a place of hardship to a place of great reward.

Now, despite all of the toil and repetition, there are subtle aspects of the sushi chef gig that make it rewarding work. If you’re looking for a Blue-Zones case study on healthy longevity, look no further than Jiro:

  1. You’re on your feet all day, and you’re in constant motion. This is absolutely HUGE for folks looking to live a long time in good health
  2. You get to sample the goods. Jiro and his staff ensure quality control by tasting the sushi throughout the day, to avoid putting a bad product in front of customers. In the process, Jiro is consuming some very healthy and very anti-inflammatory seafood, while avoiding junk food.
  3. You get instant gratification. Jiro’s customers respectfully gush over the extraordinarily simple and flavorful bites put in front of them. Putting forth your best effort (and seeing the results) builds great pride in your work.
  4. You establish long-term friendships. From the vendors at the fish market, to the rice-dealer, and even the restaurant critics… They’ve all bonded with Jiro. And also, of course, have his two sons, even after working under his harsh tutelage for many years.

On the flip-side, there are some compelling reasons why early retirement remains an appealing goal:

  1. I want more time with my kids. Jiro admits that he wasn’t a good father, mainly because he simply wasn’t around when his sons were growing up. He was that dedicated to his craft, and by necessity of poverty, he had to be. Fortunately, he was able to bond with his sons once they were old enough to work as apprentices in his restaurant. Still, I know I would have major regrets missing out on being “Daddy”.
  2. I don’t have a job where I’m in constant motion. I suppose this is fixable, but I don’t think a traditional desk job can ever come close to the physical activity of being a sushi chef. Stand-up workstations only get you marginal results. You need to be in motion. If only I could get over the reluctance to do body-weight squats in my cube. I’d look like a human whack-a-mole. Fitting?
  3. I’m not my own boss. Even Jiro had bosses early in his career, and he reflects on some pretty rough early-career discipline with cheerful stoicism. Maybe that’s because he is the boss now, and he can implement his vision as he sees fit. That’d sure make any job a little bit more enjoyable, right?

There is a middle ground, somewhere out there. I think if I can find work that’s in-line with both of the lists above, I’ll have hit the jackpot. Maybe it’s simply managing the rental properties? In that case, I’d have to hope for enough maintenance projects to keep myself “in motion” for a good amount of the time. Ideally, your rental portfolio is passive, with the occasional elbow grease involved.

Where I’m at with all this, at least today? I still plan to keep my early retirement goal, but I’ll certainly be mulling over Jiro and his very stoic approach to work. He is a throw-back who would surely laugh off the notion of early retirement. He uses the word “honorable” to describe work. You’ve got to respect that.

Whether or not his attitude towards work would play out any different if he were a lawyer or a janitor, who knows? One thing I do know: I’m craving some good sushi.

An earlier post from LifeHacker.com does a very nice job of posing these and similar questions. It’s definitely worth checking out:

http://lifehacker.com/5958304/lessons-we-can-learn-from-jiro-ono

If you’re interested in some fun tips on how to eat your sushi, check out Jiro’s restaurant website:

http://www.sushi-jiro.jp/dining-at-jiro/

 

Comments 8

  1. I think if one were in Jiro’s position as a business owner, the choice to remain working is a good one. Being a cog in a giant corporate wheel is a completely different story. Having to follow someone else’s goals and “towing the line” are another story. The stress alone can rob you of your health and possibly send you to an early grave. Having worked in a corporate setting, I can say that with complete certainty.

    I come from a family business and my father worked until the week before he died. My brother continues that tradition at age 72 and will never retire. The satisfaction of being the author of your own destiny is very rewarding.

  2. You know I often wonder what life would be like, especially now that financial stress is starting to go away, to work a repetitive job. Sure it might get boring but especially if your the boss you’d skip politics, unwinnable issues, and other soulless experiences you get to enjoy as a white collar employee? Sometimes it’d be nice to go into work for a week and know what you’ll be doing to a t each day. Weird when you think about it as many of the blue collar folks would probably say the same thing the other way.
    Fulltimefinance recently posted…The World of FreeMy Profile

    1. You made me reflect on some jobs from my past, FTF. Funny enough, the repetitive jobs where when you leave you completely forget about the work – those were the least stressful. Particularly the jobs with manual “on your feet” effort involved. Whether it was working in the retail store as a clerk, or moving furniture or painting on the summer dorm crew. It’s work and work you can be proud of, but doesn’t come with the mind-bending politics of the white collar gig. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
      abandoned cubicle recently posted…When it Makes Sense to Pay-off Your Mortgage EarlyMy Profile

  3. While I consider myself lucky to have a job where I get to be my own boss, set my own schedule (to a degree), and stay in near constant motion, there are still days where my desire for the ultimate freedom of retirement overwhelms my passion for my job. I can’t help but think Jiro has days like that, too. But on my better days, I am able to look at the greenest of the grass on my side and reignite the fire that keeps my passion of helping my community burning. I think the key to happiness is cultivating the gratitude that comes with examining our good fortune (whether ‘big’ or ‘small’).

  4. I’ve heard about this documentary — will check it out at some point.

    I think you’re right in that there is a sweet spot someplace between stopping all work the moment you have 25x expenses and the other end of the spectrum of working 17 hour days until you drop dead. I think it’s closer to the former than the latter, but being your own boss can help make “work” feel like something else.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

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