Fridays on the oLo #33

The Ikigai of Work

Deep thoughts

After a single-blade shave to round out the haircut, Ahmet gently wraps a hot towel around my head. He’s old school like that, and the barber shop he’s owned in downtown San Francisco for the last thirty years even has one of those red, white, and blue spinning barber poles out front.

With the hot towel wrapped around my head, it’s now time for dessert: a back massage from one of those ancient handheld massagers on my shoulders for about two minutes, which I always appreciate, but also consider to be kind of hilarious knowing it would be just as easy for him to use his hands. But Ahmet knows better—you gotta get those shock vibrations.

Once he’s finished applying these niceties, he combs my hair with the care of professional. Then, when it’s all said and done, he holds up a mirror behind me so I can see just how perfectly he cut the hairline, and evened out my tricky double cowlick. 

Each time he does this, anointing the mirror for his customer to admire his finished handiwork, Ahmet can’t hold himself back from smiling in admiration. And then if he sees me smile or hears me compliment him for doing another good job, this stocky old Turkish gentleman starts beaming even brighter. Out of the forty-or-so haircuts he’s given me throughout this past decade in California, I’ve never seen him not look proud when showing off his finished product.

And after receiving my most recent (and much needed) haircut, during which he transformed my jew-fro into a fresh fade and line out, I caught Ahmet glowing particularly bright and proud. The look on his face was of complete satisfaction, like he just watched his daughter walk across the stage to receive her college diploma. And in that moment, I had the realization that it’s the rare guys like Ahmet who actually—truly—take pride in their work. No B.S. about it, just a man appreciating his craft.

It might be a stretch to infer that he’s the happiest career man alive based on this, but there’s no doubt that he gets some deep satisfaction from cutting hair. You can’t fake a look like that—he was literally blushing.

Ahmet’s eagerness to take pride in his small accomplishments at work, like one finished haircut out of the fifteen-or-so he does a day, illuminates an important capacity for satisfaction in the work place. It’s one of those big little things.

So many people struggle with work. It’s hard to find alignment at the center of the Purpose Venn Diagram—the intersection of your talents, something you love, what the world needs, and something you can get paid for. The Japanese call this ikigai: a reason for being. But even if you haven’t found that perfect alignment or calling, let Ahmet’s pride be a reminder that even the simplest jobs can be fulfilling.

Because Work (with a capital “W”) is put on pedestal, but it doesn’t have to be the end all be all—after all, you work to live, rather than the other way around.  And often work is the least interesting part of a person. But no matter what your work is, if you break down big tasks into the smaller ones to focus on the task at hand with undivided attention, you can take pride in whatever you are doing, like Ahmet. The work process itself—not necessarily the end result—brings deep fulfillment.

Ahmet makes me think of a famous Zen saying that goes something like this:

“There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes. And the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.”

You are most alive when actively engaged in a task. You can’t daydream while cutting hair—otherwise, Ahmet would have a couple Van Gogh ears and a lawsuit on his hands. And for a stylist or barber, the pride that comes with a client’s fresh cut of hair can only come through the focus and discipline that it takes to get there.

Hair will always grow back. Even if at my spritely age, it’s not quite as thick as it used to be, it consistently needs to be revisited. The final product only truly lasts for a day or two before little stubble starts growing on the back of my neck.

It’s like doing the dishes. You can clean and clean them, but they will get dirty again. And as frustrating as it is that so many California homes don’t come with a dishwasher, there’s something deeply satisfying about the process itself.

Work in many ways is like doing the dishes. But no matter what your job is, you can find fulfillment in taking a step back, and intensely focusing on the task at hand—whatever it might be. You’d think after thirty some odd years of cutting hair, and thousands of haircuts, you might get bored. But not if you cut hair to just cut hair, like Ahmet does.

What I’m listening to

Fall is here and so is November’s harvest of crisp beats. This mix is especially fresh this month. 🍂🎧

You can always find an archive of October’s songs on “DJ oLo Presents: Archive” (which has all the jams from my old monthly playlists). And if you only want last month’s playlist in full, message me and I can send.👊

1) ✨DJ oLo Presents: November 2019✨ — the only playlist you’ll ever need to cut through the noise and get straight to the month’s freshest jams 🙌

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Here’s to the weekend,