Saturday, December 14, 2013

This blog is for the birds

Part One: Bird Feeders

The saying “for the birds” is an old one. Etymology: based on the idea that birds eat seed, which is not worth much.  So, something that is “for the birds” is deemed to be worthless or undesirable, without value.

This television program is for the birds. Winter weather is for the birds. “What do you think of the new software?”  I think it is for the birds - it won’t work.

This year, we put up a bird feeder. Actually two, one that hangs from a tree, and one that sticks to a window in our den. I did not participate in these projects. So, when I first heard the noise at the window, I did not know what to think. And so came the conversation with my wife: “You know that once you put out the bird feeder, you have to do it all winter. Otherwise you will kill the birds.”

Excuse me?

It turns out, that if you put out a bird feeder, certain types of birds become dependent on that food for the winter. Certain breeds don’t live more than a small footprint from where they were born; they don’t migrate. So, if they find food - they become dependent on that local food source. If that local food source goes away, they are not capable of making the adjustment. They don’t know how to go find another source of food. So, putting out a bird feeder becomes a commitment. Doing it only a few times is actually more harmful than not putting out any food at all. If you are not going to feed the birds all winter long, you are better off not feeding them at all. Finish what you start, or don’t start at all.

I had to actually Google this, to see how many stories support this notion. There were many. Some birds can overcome this food / no food scenario. Others, not so much. Some breeds pass the point of no return. They stake out a source of food for the winter, and they are stuck with their decision. It is the little birdy version of crossing the rubicon. Now go Google “crossing the rubicon.”

Part Two: Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 American documentary film directed by David Gelb. The film follows Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Michelin three-star restaurant, on his continuing quest to perfect the art of sushi. The film also profiles Jiro's two sons, both of whom are also sushi chefs. The younger son, Takashi, left Sukiyabashi Jiro to open a mirror image of his father's restaurant in Roppongi Hills. The 50-year-old elder son, obligated to succeed his father, still works for Jiro and is faced with the prospect of one day taking over the flagship restaurant.

My youngest son Bobby turned me on to this documentary. I watched it - twice. I think it should be required viewing by every business school. The film received very positive reviews from critics. The film earned a rating of 99% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 70 reviews and an average rating of 7.8/10, with the critical consensus saying, "Beautiful, thoughtful, and engrossing, Jiro Dreams of Sushi should prove satisfying even for filmgoers who don't care for the cuisine."  

While watching it, I found myself drawn into the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes in his life? Secret diversions? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough? Standing behind his counter, Jiro notices things. Some customers are left-handed, some right-handed. That helps determine where they are seated at his counter. As he serves a perfect piece of sushi, he observes it being eaten. He knows the history of that piece of seafood. He knows his staff has recently started massaging an octopus for 45 minutes and not half an hour. Does he search a customer's eyes for a signal that this change has been an improvement? Half an hour of massage was not good enough; 45 minutes was much better. Jiro notices things.

Part Three: Finish What You Start

If you start feeding the birds, you must be committed to the task. Otherwise, your initial good deed turns into tragedy. You started out trying to do a good thing, but if you are not committed to the cause, you actually do more harm than good. Starting without the commitment to finish is a bad thing. How many people will start a business this year, especially an online business? How easy is it to turn up a website, making posts on social media, and open your little business to the world. How many people will “just do it” with the feeling that if things don’t work out, it is no big deal. You asked people to come to your store, but if they don’t you can just close it down. You might start a blog, and then stop. Not enough people are reading your words. No big deal. Or you might start a class and then drop out, as it's just not for you.

Finishing what you start is always within your power. No one can force you to do anything that you truly do not want to do. And, no one can prevent you from starting - and finishing - what you start out to do in life. There is a big difference from “quitting” and modifying your plan. Being “indifferent” is never a strategy that leads to success, unless your plan was to fail. Making mistakes, and learning from these mistakes is what makes life wonderful. If you must quit doing anything, let it be this: quit starting things that you had no intention of finishing. That’s just nuts. Modifying your plan: good. Not finishing what you start: bad.


Once you start down the road of being a parent, it never ends. There is no finish line; once the parenting journey begins it wonderfully never ends. There is no quitting being a parent. As your children get older, they will have their own experiences, and their own mistakes to make. They will have their own families, the own careers, and their own successes and failures. Do not let your children go through life with a cavalier attitude. Like Jiro, I have two sons - and they are very different. No matter what they do for a career, I can only hope that they find a little of Jiro's passion in their own lives. I’ll never stop trying to give my sons advice, but as my youngest son Bobby said to me:

“Dad, you have to check out Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”  

Something tells me that little birdy #2 left the nest when I was not looking. And I just noticed: it is time to go refill the bird feeder.

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