Last week I attended Agenda Emerge, an event coinciding with the street/surf/skatewear tradeshow event Agenda.
Speakers included Bobby Hundreds of The Hundreds, Marc Ecko of Ecko/Complex and Jeff Ng of Staple Design.
It was during Jeff's talk that he shared the video of Korehira Watanabe, one of the few traditional swordmakers in Japan who has been trying to perfect a style of swordmaking for the past 40 years.
It's hard not to be reminded of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary showcasing the passion of a sushi chef in Japan, along with his sons, in the art of making sushi. And another documentary I recently watched as well called SOMM, about a group of sommeliers, wine stewards, studying to take the Master Sommelier test (think The Bar Exam for wine).
Then there's that time I met Katsu of Bear Pond Espresso, which I wrote about here, on his passion for making coffee.
"Bigger Isn't Always the Goal - He doesn't want to be the next Starbucks. He's happy with the size he is now because he defined the goal. To continue to explore and make good espresso. He doesn't need a chain of 1,000 stores to do this. He just needs one. (Though they do have a 2nd location, it does not serve espressos or dirtys.)"
- Five Things I Learned from Katsu of Bear Pond Espresso
What I noticed in all these examples is there was never any doubt in what they were doing. When they are there to perform, to pound the sword, to sip the wine, to pull the shot, there is nothing else but the pursuit of mastery on their own terms. Not once did these people talk about trying to get rich.
"I started studying people who were doing something very difficult and demanding for no good reason -- no money, no status, nothing. But just because they like to do it. My understanding of what motivated these activities was not anything that came from outside. But it came from the activity itself. I gave the name Flow...to this kind of syngery of different aspects of consciousness, where you wish could go forever because it feels like you are completely fulfilling that you can do well. That you can see it happening and you feel like nothing else matters."
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University. From the Documentary, HAPPY.
It often feels condescending when people of a higher income bracket or level of success tell you to follow your passion. And that money doesn't matter. And that true wealth is ultimately defined by you.
These answers are frustrating when you're staring at negative cashflow. Or $50,000 in student loans. Or asking yourself why does the world need another leather jacket, another photographer, another writer. But you have to wonder too, if "do what you love" and "money isn't wealth" the most common answer from those that have experienced both sides of life, surely there must be some truth to it.
I can only transport myself back to my childhood. A pen, some paper and glue occupying hours of my time. Attempting to construct cheap model car kits I convinced my parents I was old enough to assemble. How lost I got in those projects and how happy I was working with my hands.
To master channeling that feeling again in all aspects of my life seems like a worthwhile pursuit.