How to Become an Expert: Lessons from the Greatest Sushi Chef

A while back I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s a fascinating documentary about Jiro Ono, who is arguably the best sushi chef in the world. His restaurant has earned three Michelin stars (the highest possible) and was visited by President Obama when he came to Japan.

In that movie, he was already 85 years old, but he kept working daily. That itself is something to admire.

How did he do it? How was he able to become the best sushi chef in the world?

Fortunately, the movie contains nuggets of wisdom that can answer those questions. Here are some of Jiro’s quotes from the movie along with the lessons on how to become an expert in your field:

1. “I feel ecstatic all day. I love making sushi.”

If you want to become good at what you do, there is no other way: you have to love what you do. It must be something that you are passionate about. In fact, in Jiro’s case, it makes him feel ecstatic all day. Wow!

I see this trait not just in Jiro, but in other masters as well. In Masters of Doom, for instance, there is a story about how John Carmack loved making games. He didn’t mind having just the basic necessities of life as long as he was able to continue making games. That’s how much he loved his field.

2. “We don’t care about money.”

Continuing the previous lesson, what motivates these people is inward rather than outward. They do what they do because of the love of it, not because of external rewards such as money or fame.

3. “Never complain about your job.”

Even when you love what you do, there will be times when you don’t feel like doing it. This is where amateurs and professionals differ. Amateurs will stop, while professionals will keep doing it. As Julius Irving once said, “Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.”

4. “You must immerse yourself in your work.”

If you want to become an expert in your field, you have to immerse yourself in it. It must be what you think about all day long.

In Jiro’s case, he was so immersed in his field that he would dream of making new kinds of sushi at night. He would then wake up and write down what he saw in his dream.

I once watched an interview with Magnus Carlsen, the world chess champion. He was so immersed in chess that he would see chess positions in his mind even while doing something else. He even said that he saw chess positions during that interview.

5. “I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit.”

This is how you achieve mastery: you keep improving yourself bit by bit. You hone different aspects of your skills until you become an expert. The term for that is deliberate practice.

The fact is: there is no quick way to mastery. It can only happen through years of effort. The key thing here is that you keep improving yourself.

6. “I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”

This is the attitude of a true master. They are never satisfied with what they have achieved. They always yearn to achieve more. Many people will become satisfied after achieving some progress, but that’s not the case with the masters.

It reminds me of Pablo Casals, one of the greatest cellists who kept practicing daily in his 80s. When asked why, he said, “Because I think I am making progress.”


What do you think? What are your ideas on becoming an expert? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


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  1. The people mentioned in this article are the lucky ones who know what their passion is. I don’t think the vast majority of people really do discover their passion. They’re too busy just trying to survive each day and accept what fate, or the blowing winds, have handed them. When attending Business Management and Leadership classes in college I had the opportunity to push this idea to my classmates. I was older than most of them at the time and understood the meaning of finding and pursuing their passion. I believe it comes down to this, if you don’t know in your heart what your passion is, and you don’t know the questions to ask to possibly discover it, you’re destined to continue on in life as you always have. It’s so sad so many of us waste our lives trapped in the mindset of accepting a path without passion of what we do.

  2. I think people get too caught up in defining their passion. Passions change and that’s okay! What did you enjoy as a child before money was a concern? What do you like to do now? Try those things and you will find something that you could literally do all day and not get tired.

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