“I’ve always been pushing that envelope. I want to risk hitting my head on the ceiling of my talent. I want to really test it out and say: O.K., you’re not that good. You just reached the level here. I don’t ever want to fail, but I want to risk failure every time out of the gate.”

Learn by doing

Reading a little this morning about monozukuri, a Japanese principle of craftsmanship [1], and this passage stood out to me:

No one sits down and teaches an apprentice all the techniques he needs to become a master. He starts out as a minarai, and learns by watching. First, he is given menial jobs around the workshop. After a time, if someone calls in sick, he may get the chance to do a trivial part of the process. Later he may purchase his own tools and try things out in his spare time. He gradually gains more responsibility. At no time does the master specifically “teach” him anything. It is up to the apprentice to “steal the art,” to figure out for himself what the master is doing to get the right results. Over time, the apprentice develops a technique like the masters but also all his own.

Amidst all the talk of online education reshaping the role of traditional colleges, one of the things I’m most excited about is a growing re-emphasis of the value of learning by doing. When it comes to the pursuit of true excellence in craft, I think there’s no replacement for the apprenticeship model of old. Learning something deeply enough to call your work craft is a process driven by repetition, attention to detail, and trial & error.

[1] From what I could gather, it looks like there’s some controversy about the use of this word— ideally, monozukuri represents a devotion to making great things, excellence in craftsmanship, but the term seems to have been bastardized and adopted by the Japanese manufacturing industry to describe their processes.

Be Mindful

Leaving this as a reminder to myself:

If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future - and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life. 

- Thich Nhat Hanh

“Which is more important: to attain enlightenment, or to attain enlightenment before you attain enlightenment; to make a million dollars, or to enjoy your life in your effort, little by little, even though it is impossible to make that million; to be successful, or to find some meaning in your effort to be successful? If you do not know the answer, you will not even be able to practice zazen; if you do know, you will have found the true treasure of life.”

I stumbled upon a Hare Krishna drum circle today in a small park in West LA. My first, natural impulse was to capture and document the moment on Instagram. Alas- no smartphone in tow- I was forced to just sit and listen in the moment to the beat of the drums.

Naturally, this prompted another round of rumination about the role of smartphones and technology in our lives. While documenting our lives is certainly useful and important (cameras have been around forever), nowadays the act of capturing a moment actually supersedes the moment itself. I think it’s because we’ve gotten to a point where we’re almost dependent on other people validating the time we’re having. Look at this food I’m eating! ‘Like’ the restaurant that I checked in to!

Why? I think it’s because when this validation is instant and ample (20 likes!), we ultimately get to constantly remind ourselves that we matter in some way. And that’s the deep-rooted need/desire for connection that a lot of new social networks provide.

This is what DFW was getting at at length in Infinite Jest- the endemic problem of modern society is an inherent, deep-seated loneliness— the fundamental human need for connection and validation amplified by the the sea of stimulation and content out there that makes it even harder to feel like we belong.

Forget so-called peer pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young.

Thoughts on a sunny Saturday afternoon.