Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Bring Meaning Back To Your Work

Shiro Kunimitsu was an 18th century master swordmaker. Although Japan had thousands of swordsmiths, the emperor wanted a katana forged by Shiro’s hand.

In honor of his skill, all Shiro’s descendants bear his name. And over 200 years later, the Shiro family still hammers metal the traditional way.

By hand.

The first step is preparing the steel.

Shiro carefully places several pieces of steel into the lit forge. And when the steel is red hot, he pulls it out of the fire and puts it on an anvil where his disciples hammer it flat.

Once every piece of steel is about as thin as a cracker, the wafers are dunked in water.

Shiro studies the steel crackers and discards the bad. He then stacks the remaining sheets until he’s built a block the size of a brick.

The brick is put in the fire where the bits melt into one solid.

Again the steel is taken out, beaten by hammers and placed back into the flames.

Once the block is double its original length, the ingot is folded back onto itself so the process can start over.

This sequence is repeated at least a dozen times to remove impurities.

To the untrained eye, the bangs of Shiro’s hammer may seem mindless.

“Far from it,” assures the master craftsman. “From the very beginning to the end, you cannot be careless, as it will show up in the finished blade.”

Between hammer blows he adds, “There is no easy or difficult part with sword making. You have to be careful during each and every part.”

Altogether, the crafting of a single sword takes many months. And the family finds great meaning in making them. 

“It’s said they represent the soul of the Japanese people,” says a smiling Shiro.

Most people lack such sacredness in their work.

Why?

Because of our culture’s obsession with passion. The fixation on finding the line of work that’s a perfect fit.

If the work doesn’t instantly feel right, it’s brushed off as wrong. 

And so we kick any notions of meaning to the curb until we successfully hunt down our true, one-of-a-kind career.

But meaning doesn’t depend on the details of your work.

Whether you have a meaningful relationship with work or not depends on you.

Just because your job doesn’t lead to an elegant sword as evidence of your worth, doesn’t mean your work can’t create meaning.

All work involves craft and creativity of some sort. No matter how mundane.

So it’s your job to sharpen your skills and apply them with love and care.

A katana is by itself not sacred. But its forging can be.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach