Sometimes I meet people for the first time (or maybe the second or third or umpteenth time) and I feel they come away disappointed. With me. I have disappointed them. I was not funny enough; connected enough; smart enough; not enough of whatever enough is. I know that sounds very insecure. My husband thinks maybe I am projecting. Perhaps. Perhaps that’s true in some cases, but I do know there are certain people with whom I do not connect and for whom I’m a disappointment. Of that I am positive.
And in these situations I come away feeling a little wounded, and wondering what I could do, or could have done, to make myself less disappointing, more likeable. I want to be liked. Is it embarrassing to say that? That I want to be liked by people? Don’t we all, to a certain extent? Life is easier when people like you tho’, right?
A while back, around 3am, I lay in bed unable to sleep, wavering between a medium and high anxiety setting, going over an interaction in which I disappointed. I tried to recall everything I said and analyse the point(s) at which I went wrong. I obsessed over it, over my failure to connect, my stupid jokes, my inane observations, my lack of knowledge on this or that, my stilted, awkward attempts at conversation. Then, in an attempt to take a mini-break from the toxicity of my own thoughts, I began to do what I often do when I’m discombobulated and in need of calming: I think about food, a beloved past-time of mine and one of the few things in which I feel confident of my abilities…. A green curry with jasmine rice; salmon with a lime and chilli crust served with mango and avocado salsa; a vegetarian taco with black beans, feta, and a generous helping of chipotle sauce and guacamole; thai salad with peanuts and lashings of chilli and mint and coriander and those little deep fried shallot things; a large bowl of spicy pumpkin soup with coriander pesto and crispy croutons; pan-fried haloumi with lemon, coriander and pine nuts...The list went on. And on. And on. Until it stopped and like a car in reverse, I backed up: coriander, or cilantro as they call it in America...I had heard recently that some people really really do not like coriander. What? Why? How can this be true? Social media investigations revealed that infact, some people not only dislike it but downright hate it, detest it, loathe it. For some it's due to a genetic variant; others have no biological reason per se - they just can't stand it. I saw people describe coriander in very dramatic terms: accursed, a mouthful of burning aluminium death, devil weed, devil vomit, death. They claim it ruins everything; it’s the ISIL of the herb world. There are poems denouncing it, websites dedicated to its downfall and scientific studies into those calling for its annihilation.
The depth of the feeling had me fascinated; the veracity of the hate - be it by an inherited trait or by choice. Coriander tends to feature in all the dishes I love most. I like coriander. My husband likes coriander. My small children who don’t like much, like coriander. My parents like coriander. My brother likes coriander. Tutankhamen liked coriander (about half a litre of coriander mericarps were recovered from his tomb). I can understand someone not liking something; but to HATE it, to hate coriander with such fervour, where their tone changes dramatically, lips recede and they physically recoil at the mere mention of it - that’s haters hating hard.
The thing that struck me in the middle of that anxiety-filled night of insecurity was that coriander is loved, and coriander is hated, but what remains the same is that coriander gives no fucks. In the face of all this disdain, this loathing, of people calling for death to coriander, coriander doesn't try to appease by trying to be parsley, or sage or thyme or basil or mint. It remains what it is: coriander. Unafraid and unencumbered by the haters, it’s there, doing its thing, in the way only coriander can.
Love it or hate it, I think there’s much to be said for coriander. It’s often raw, which takes guts. To just be itself. It's fine on its own, but it really sings when it’s with other ingredients, elevating those it works with. Now, granted, the attributes and platitudes I place upon coriander could well be said for many other food items, but I believe coriander’s different in that it’s rare to find something that is so divisive.
And I find that comforting.
It takes strength be real and true and raw. Especially in the face of disapproval and dislike and disdain.
So whenever I feel my anxiety levels rising over what others think of me, I now try to think of coriander. I try to think of those who love me, rather than those who don’t. I try to remember that nothing is liked by everyone. And in doing so I claim my space. I am claiming my voice and saying fuck yes, this is me, this is who I am, this is what I feel and think. If you don’t like that, then that is your right. But the right to be me is mine and I’m going to do just that.
“You are not for everyone.
The world is filled with people who, no matter what you do, will point blank not like you. But it is also filled with those who will love you fiercely. They are your people. You are not for everyone and that’s ok. Talk to the people who can hear you.
Don’t waste you precious time and gifts trying to convince them of your value, they won’t ever want what you’re selling. Don’t convince them to walk alongside you. You’ll be wasting both your time and theirs and will likely inflict unnecessary wounds, which will take precious time to heal. You are not for them and they are not for you; politely wave them on and continue on your way. Sharing your path with someone is a sacred gift; don’t cheapen this gift by rolling yours in the wrong direction.
Keep facing your true north.”
My father’s name is Rex.
He is an intelligent man. Could have been, could have done anything I believe. Very capable, he tries things, takes risks, and is pragmatic. He chooses not to dwell on things that he is now unable to control - deeds done, mistakes made, words said. Find it and fix it, or forgive it and free it. He chooses to be positive.
He is interesting, and is interested. Interested in people, and curious about things; how they work, why they work they way they do. If something is broken, he enquires, investigates. If something is broken, he doesn’t replace, he repairs.
My father has simple, varied pleasures. He’s an avid reader - science fiction mostly. He likes a good beer, JS Bach, Creedence, and the Doobie Brothers. He likes going for long drives; he's mad about fishing; he loves chopping wood, and every evening, before dinner, he enjoys 12 Meal Mates, with tasty cheese and too much marmite. He eats food very slowly, savouring every mouthful, “conscious-eating” some might call it. He is careful to collect every fallen, errant morsel; waste nothing. Leave no crumb behind! This is how Dad is.
He is brave. He saved a baby from a burning house once. I found the article from an old newspaper, in a box at the back of my parents’ wardrobe. He doesn’t boast. He did what anyone surely would do, he says.
He is tough. Cuts, bruises, burns and blows don’t stop him, nor does a cracked head when an industrial sized chain fell from a 30 foot rafter in his workshop. Drove himself to A&E with his head out the window, careful to not get blood on the seat. Didn’t want to cause a fuss or make a mess.
By day, Dad fixes stuff. He's a fitter and turner by trade. He fixes cars, trucks, tractors, diggers, dozers, graders. Engines and everything else - huge and small. He fixes them when they're broken, burst, blocked, boiled over or blown up. He does this in the pit of his workshop or on the side of the road, in hot sun; in torrential rain.
My father gets up every morning at 4.30, to start work at 6am. My father is 69 years old.
I don't know a whole lot about fitting and turning and all that it entails. But I do know he is great at what he does. Brilliant, even.
He's old school. He doesn't necessarily do things the easiest or the fastest way. He does things the proper way, the right way. He’s a good man, and thorough.
But at the same time, he's willing and ready to adapt and improvise and innovate. If a part doesn’t exist, he’ll make one. If one way doesn’t work, he’ll find another. He’s Macguyver-esque.
We'll be driving down the motorway. Someone’s car has broken down on the side of the road. Dad will be the person to stop. He’ll be the person to try to fix their broken alternator or johnson rod, and he'll try to do it with whatever he has on hand. If his toolbox isn’t there, it’ll be with whatever is: a bobby pin, a broken pencil and plastic spoon.
He'll do what he can, with what he's got.
When I was 19 I had my first “proper” job, in an office, wearing a suit, 9-5, very professional. I didn't really like it. It wasn't that it was bad. It just wasn't good. I'd been trying to stick it out - maybe this is what work is supposed to feel like. Maybe that’s just the way proper work is.
I talked to my Dad. I expected him to give me a sternly worded reminder of the sacrifices my parents made, outline the privileged position I’m in and follow up with the responsibilities we all have and that like them or not - endure we must. I expected he’d finish with a trifecta of pith: “harden up; stop complaining; get on with it”, that sort of thing.
But he didn’t. Instead, he said, "every morning I get up, I have my shower and my toast and coffee, and I think about all the things I've got to do. The problems I've got to deal with. I think about how I'm going to fix them. I plan my day around all that. And I look forward to it. If you're waking up hating what the way you're about to spend your day, seeing no value, then, there’s a problem and that needs to be fixed.”
And so I moved on. It took a while. But still, I moved on, inspired by my Dad who likes his job and who looks forward to his day.
Now, this job of his is not one that pay heaps. It's really quite modest.
And he’s spent a lot of time doing it, forgoing other things. He wasn’t around that much growing up: always working. Late nights. Weekends. Holidays. They had time and a half then; double time on the statutories. That extra pay made a difference in our household.
He's not in a senior management position. He's not interested in that, never has been. He wants to be in there, his big permanently oil-stained hands dirty, getting under the machinery, fixing the problem, making it better than before. And in the fixing of the pistons and the distributors and the brake pads and the crankshafts, there is evidence of the craftsman at work. Of skill. Of care and respect for the work he does and of that which he works on. Here's a man who chooses to enjoy how he spends his working day.
He doesn't leap out of bed, singing a happy ditty, skipping out the door like some toothpaste commercial.
But he doesn't dread it. Doesn’t find it a drag. There is no drudgery there. There is no clockwatching, no wishing the working day away. He’s never pulled a sickie because he can't be bothered. He doesn't slag the job off. Yes, he talks about his frustrations and challenges, but therein lies opportunity - to fix, to make better. There’s pride there. Love for the work. Love for the opportunity the work presents.
He looks forward to the contribution he'll make. To the conversations he’ll have. To the people he'll get to meet. To the driving he'll do. To the problems he'll solve. Simple things perhaps. But stuff that matters to my father.
He has been in the job, for the same company, for 51 years, 5 months, 21 days. This dirty, messy, modestly-paid job he likes. That he looks forward to every day. Content and fulfilled and busy and challenged. Feeling everyday like he's helping in some way to make stuff and things happen.
To do that, for that long, and feel that good about it, I think, is remarkable. And inspiring. And wonderful.
To choose to enjoy what you do, to know you’re good at it or to work till you are, to know you are contributing, for it to be your craft - that there is real gold. It's wealth. That is, to paraphrase Thoreau, to be paid handsomely and made rich by the satisfaction which one’s labor yields. Propelled not by pecuniary profit, but instead by a sense of purpose, of pride in one's performance, and by passion for proficiency.
As Annie Dillard says, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Like my father, I want to choose to spend it fulfilled in the way I spend my days, fulfilled by the meaning and mastery of the things I do, the disposition I maintain, the contribution I make, and the help I can give. For that, in my eyes at least, will be a life well spent.
In a tiny, picturesque valley, nestled in the southern alps of Japan’s Yamanashi Prefecture, lies a traditional Japanese hot spring hotel, or onsen.
It’s not big. There are fewer than 40 rooms. Unlike other typical onsens, which operate during certain hours, the baths at this onsen are open 24 hours a day to serve its patrons.
The water is of the highest quality: pure, alkaline, neither artificially heated nor treated.
The meals served aim to "balance taste, texture, appearance and the season". Fresh, seasonal ingredients are used, foraged and caught in the nearby mountains and river. The finished dishes have an art-like quality, garnished with leaves and flowers, served on plates and trays highlighting the quality produce, its preparation and its seasonal theme.
The staff are hardworking, courteous and have an absolute commitment to providing exemplary hospitality. They are the embodiments of omotenashi - best summed up as the spirit of selfless service, humble hospitality. Anticipating guests’ needs is at the heart of the concept, as is attention to even the most minor detail. With an understanding that each of those they serve has different needs, there is a desire, a commitment, to put them first, personalise their experience, and exceed all expectations.
There is no internet at the onsen. But there are hot springs and trees and mountains and rivers and tatami mats and a sense of calm and tranquility, and the staff with their spirit of absolute service, of dedication. A staff who, imbued with their spirit of omotenashi, work not to reach the top of the corporate hospitality ladder, but instead to protect the onsen, to help it thrive and keep it for years to come. They do this year after year after year.
Over 1,300 years in fact. This onsen, Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan, is the oldest company in the world. Established in 705 AD.
At the time this onsen opened, it was the Western Middle Ages; before Charlemagne; before the Islamic Conquest of Spain; it was 1000 years before the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.
At the time the onsen opened, my country of birth, New Zealand, had not yet been discovered by our Maori ancestors.
And in all that time, it has been operated by the same family. The same family operating the same onsen for over 1,300 years.
It is currently in its 52nd generation of continuous management. Some of the staff are from families who’ve held the same post for generations, passing it from parent to child, child to grandchild, grandchild to great grandchild.
This onsen has stayed small. They know what they do. They do what they know. Their focus on service is relentless; their team of employees is family - stronger than family possibly - for it is unified, united in its mission to protect, to nurture, to tend to, to keep alive.
They have successfully achieved a delicate balance of continuation, innovation and dedication. 52 generations. 1,300+ years.
Several months ago I came across an article written by a start up advisor and mentor. This article was about the exit, which the author said, is the end goal of any start up.
This article reflects what appears to be a widely accepted attitude that to be an entrepreneur, one must have an exit strategy. To focus on it as their end goal. Encouraged by investors to build towards the big pay out - even if that means abandoning their customers, who helped them achieve that which made them attractive to the investor in the first place. The acquirer may then shut the business down, or more commonly, shift focus and neglect that je ne sais quoi, oh so very special, that made the company and service what it was.
Entrepreneur is a French word, for one who undertakes. It is a person who "sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risk in the hope of profit". It is a person “who organises and manages an enterprise, usually with considerable initiative”, talent, and a lot of hard work.
Would Fujiwara Mahito, founder of the onsen, and surely by this definition an entrepreneur, have considered the exit strategy as his end goal back in 705AD?
I wonder if Fujiwara Mahito’s child, or his child’s child, or his child’s grandchild, or his child’s great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandchild considered their exit strategy?
I can’t imagine they did.
I imagine they focused, not on an exit strategy, but on an exist strategy, a strategy built on sticking around; a strategy not for a buy-out, but for a handing down, a passing along.
I wonder what decisions we would make differently if we inherited the work we do?
I wonder what decisions we would make differently if our duty was to pass on the work we do?
Over the past few months, as I’ve sat in my little office, in the house I call home, working on Webstock, I’ve thought how beautiful it would be to have my older daughter, or my younger daughter, or my youngest son, or both my daughters and my son, all working alongside me. To have my children share in the love and passion of Webstock, and for the people Webstock works for; to have them want to protect it, nurture it, nourish it, tend to it, craft it, feel grateful for it, and to try to keep it going for a long time, for themselves, for future generations.
What if our “exits” were bestowing upon someone you love, the thing you have created and crafted with love?
What if, instead of focusing on exits, we focused on sticking around?
What if the focus wasn’t on selling up and moving on, but instead was on handing down and passing on?
I wonder what our decisions would look like if that were the ultimate goal?
What would our businesses be like?
What would our communities be like?
And if such thinking were truly celebrated in business, what would its overflow effect elsewhere be?
What would our governments be like?
What would our planet be like?
I think of this as longtrepreneurial thinking. Entrepreneurialism, but rather than expansion and acquisition as primary goals, with the long game - and the concept of omotenashi - as the focus.
Success, surely, needn’t be measured only by the hockey stick or the exit sign.
We can choose to remain small. We can choose to devote ourselves to something, and to those we serve. We can choose to do our small things in small ways, which over a period of time, can build upon themselves.
Surely this is success too.
Interact meaningfully with the people we serve. I love that.
Not eyeballs. Not users. But people. The people we serve.
The spirit of service: continuous, continual, selfless service - of omotenashi - is something that sits somewhat oddly at the table with a focus wholly on the exit strategy.
What could we do for ourselves, and each other, and those we serve if our goal was the long, or at least, the longer, term?
Not five or 10 years but 20 or 50 years, 100, 150, more...
What would longtrepreneurial thinking do for how we worked, who we worked for, what we created, and for the communities of which we are a part?