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Kaizen is a Japanese term meaning “improvement”, often associated with the American term “lean manufacturing”. Lean manufacturing, derived from the Japanese manufacturing industry, mainly Toyota, aims to eliminate waste so that all resources are used as efficiently as possible to create value.

American culture has adopted the concept of “lean” and encouraged us to incorporate it into our lives as well as business. Media offers us suggestions as to how we can achieve all we’re expected to more quickly: how to prepare a stress-free holiday meal, how to build a basic wardrobe with style. The trouble is that all of these suggestions that offer to simplify our lives don’t address the source of the problem – expectations. The problem is not how to best cook a meal or what to wear to the office. The problem is we allow ourselves to be bound by social norms that tell us we have to cook the Thanksgiving turkey ourselves versus eating out, and that we can’t dress with the routinization of Woody Allen unless we are as successful as Woody Allen. Other people can be eccentric, but we cannot.

Personal fulfillment won’t come from learning how to fulfill all of society’s demands more quickly. Fulfillment will come from learning how to prioritize what you value most and focusing your time on how to achieve it. Discovering what we want to do and creating a life doing it demands a rigor that pre-occupation with norms hampers.

Toyota developed a reputation for building reliable cars efficiently by evaluating which steps in the manufacturing process created value and minimizing those that didn’t. To do the same in your life will require you to evaluate what you value most and to make peace with dismissing what doesn’t.