Service 101: Vocation vs Career

I went and saw the documentary film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” this week. If you haven’t been to the movies lately, I recommend you skip the big flicks and go check this one out. Grab a cup of coffee, make a reservation for sushi after the film, and slip into an hour and a half meditation on the passion and tireless commitment it takes to dedicate yourself to a life in the food business.

The filmmakers dive into the simple–yet vibrant–world of one of the world’s oldest and most respected sushi chefs in the world. If you haven’t heard of Jiro Ono, it’s probably because his perfect-star Michelin restaurant is tucked into an in an elbow of a corridor the Ginza train station. The space is the size of a walk-in refrigerator. A seat at Jiro’s will take you at least one month to get a reservation and will cost you about 300,000 yen.

Jiro will make you every piece of sushi. He will watch you eat every bite. The 85 year-old chef will not smile. He will measure you up. You will think he is judging you as he presses every glittering morsel of fish with his fluid hands.

Jiro is, without question, a man obsessed. Rather than retire, the chef works seven days a week. He holds himself to incredibly high standards and when he meets those impossibly high standards, he elevates them again.  He is always striving to become better. As the documentary’s title suggests, the man eats, lives for, and dreams of sushi.

Jiro’s introduction to the audience comes with a deadpan monologue to the camera about his vocation:

You have to love your job. You must work hard. You must work long days. You must not complain. You should be grateful for the work. You must enjoy dedicating yourself to doing what you do every day.

Chef Jiro is a craftsman with simple ingredients. Every item is hand-picked and hand-crafted by true artisans of the food world. Jiro Ono may not be famous, but he is one of the most respected sushi chefs in the world by people who know good food.

A still from "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

Vocation, Not Career

Watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi reminds me about the importance of putting my time and energy into my vocation, not my career. Whenever I wake up with my mind spinning with to-do lists, restaurant priorities, and frustrations with situations beyond my control, I know I’m obsessing over my career. When my sleep is interrupted by an overwhelming feeling of excitement and anticipation for what the day may bring, I know I am working towards my vocation.

A career is something you do in hopes of achieving something. A vocation is a path you painstakingly carve for the love of creating beauty in the world.

Dedicating my life to my vocation isn’t always easy. There are plenty of reasons that come up every day that make me want to wrestle back my ego, start a spread chart on all the hours I work, and create slideshows dedicated to all the things that aren’t fair in the world.

A vocation requires surrender. In order to pursue a vocation, I must give up on the notion of success, prestige, and recognition. I have to submit to the idea that my work should be simple and beautiful. As the Quakers say, “Tis a gift to be simple tis a gift to be free.” In short, there’s a lot less pain and anxiety in a vocation. The challenge is wrestling one’s ego and pinning it to the mat.

So today, I remind myself to push back the drooping ivy of impossible deadlines and negative thoughts that block out all the light. Today, I dedicate myself to creating beauty in everything I do. Starting now.


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Food Woolf Written by:

Brooke Burton is an Los Angeles-based restaurant professional and hospitality expert. She is a freelance food writer, speaker, and co-author of The Food Blog Code of Ethics.


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  2. Adam Eats Code
    April 21

    I’m really trying to refocus on my vocation and away from my careers/jobs. Perfect entry on the subject.

    Love the movie. I should watch it again. Reminds me of all the early market days, growing and buying fresh food.

    Great Quaker quote. Getting to be simple and free in our society can be challenging.

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