Triumphing Out of Rock Bottom

“Once you’ve hit rock bottom, impatience vanishes.”

Nobu Matsuhisa


Sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa had left his homeland of Japan in search of success, but all he had found was disappointment, one after another. He had gone through a string of debilitating failures in running his own restaurant in countries such as Peru and Argentina. 

And now, he was in Alaska, determined to give it yet another try. And for some time, everything was going well. 

But one day, the phone rang. “Come quick! There’s a fire!”

Nobu rushed to the scene, and he was paralyzed. He grew numb at the sight of his new restaurant, which had only been open for fifty days, now engulfed in red flames against the oblivious snow falling onto the streets. 

Flashbacks from his past failures replayed in his mind. As the restaurant tumbled to the ground, Nobu had only one thought in his shell-shocked state: My life is over.

He was driven to the point of contemplating suicide — for how long, he couldn’t remember. With depression comes losing your sense of time. For all he knew, it could have lasted a week, or just a single night. 

In his memoir, Nobu would write that it was his family who saved him. His wife was always by his side, even in his darkest moments. In reflection, she told him, “I knew you could rise above it. I was sure that you would carve a path to our future; that you would make me happy.”

With time, Nobu regained his awareness and began to think more clearly. His children had no idea what he had recently went through — they were just more than delighted to have him at home. Hearing the innocent laughter of his children, something in him awoke him from his despaired state.

And suddenly, he thought, “I’ll give it another try! This time I’ll be patient. I’ll keep moving forward one step at a time, even if it’s just a millimeter a day.”

Nobu kept moving forward, finding work in a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles. He would then set up his first successful restaurant, Matsuhisa and later, the Nobu restaurant chains across the world.

After Nobu had been through the lowest point of his life, he realized that hitting rock bottom wasn’t so bad after all. It had made him strong-hearted, as he wouldn’t cut corners in his work — whether that means only using the best ingredients and making sure the food is precisely arranged, even if his guests were never going to notice.

In his first two years of running Matsuhisa, he barely had any money left after paying his bills, even though sales were booming — because he had spent it on the highest quality ingredients he could get his hands on.

Hitting rock bottom made him big-hearted as well. He had developed a strong sense of empathy and compassion for others. His sole purpose, and all he has wanted to do is to see his guests smile. 

Many of his innovative dishes were spontaneous creations, as he would always observe whether his guests were happy with their food. To make them smile, Nobu prepared dishes that were tailored to their personal tastes. 

Every now and then, he looks back at his experience of hitting rock bottom. While he still shudders at the memory, he is also able to accept them with a sense of gratitude. 

He wrote, “I think that losing so much in my late twenties is what led me to my simple way of life. I work hard to make good food and provide good service, not because I want to own a lot of restaurants or make a lot of money, but because I want to make my guests happy.”

So if you ever find yourself in rock bottom, remember this story. It might not seem like it when you’re going through it, but in time there would be plenty of things that you could be grateful for from having had such an experience.

As writer Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

It’s going to be alright, dear reader. You’ll find your way through it, even if,  as Nobu did — just a millimeter a day.

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