A hard-charging professional flames out and discovers a better way of working based on the wisdom of long-lived Japanese islanders.
Who’s your business role model? Whether you go for high tech gurus like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos or more down home exemplars of business greatness such as Henry Ford or your shop-keeping mother, one place you probably haven’t looked for entrepreneurial inspiration is elderly residents of Japan.
But maybe you should, writes Justin Jackson on his blog recently. Wisdom from the island of Okinawa, which has a shockingly high number of residents who live to see their 100th birthday, helped him deal with a professional crisis and learn to manage his career in a sustainable way.
Jackson works as product manager at a start-up and is the father of four kids and, despite this full already plate of commitments, he writes, in the past he also dove into volunteering, studying for another degree and various side projects. The result was predictable.
“I loved the busyness. I was firing on all cylinders. Spinning all these plates in the air. The world was my oyster! And it all worked fine until …I cracked,” he confesses. “I had no reserves. The problem with being maxed out is you can’t deal with anything new. I couldn’t fit anything else in. I’d squeezed my schedule, my finances, my energy, and my family to the absolute limit. And then a crisis: the business I’d invested in went bad. I had no extra room to deal with a crisis: all those plates I’d been spinning came crashing down.”
In the aftermath of this crisis Jackson suffered with depression for the first time in his life and went searching for a better way. He found it on Okinawa with its outsized proportion of centenarians. “How do Okinawans maintain such a high standard of health? Researchers have traced their longevity to a Confucian practice called hara hachi bu. Roughly translated it means: ‘eat until you are 80 percent full,” he explains.
Jackson decided to apply this principle not to his diet but to his schedule.
“As I began the slow process of rebuilding, I decided I would start practicing a form of mental hara hachi bu at work,” he writes. “I became conscious of the amount of energy I spent at the office. I would deliberately pace myself so I that I spent only 80 percent of my mental energy throughout the day.”
Without calories to count of an internal fuel gauge, how does he determine when he’s reached 80 percent?
“It’s a state of being mindful. I try not to overstimulate my brain: I pick 2-3 big things to accomplish a day. After that, I focus on little things that don’t require as much energy.” Think of it as another way to follow Ernest Hemingway’s famous dictum on writing: “The best way is always to stop when you are going good.”
JESSICA STILLMAN is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel