What we can learn about life from centuries-old Japanese culture, with bestselling author Beth Kempton

To celebrate the release of ‘Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect lifeby the author, Japanologist and recent McQueens Flower School graduate, Beth Kempton, we sat down with Beth to explore her career path and what we can all learn from her beautifully written and highly anticipated new book.

What has been your journey so far and when did you decide that you wanted to help people rediscover a passion for life, work and happiness?

It has been a winding path of curiosity, serendipity and many adventures. When I set up my company Do What You Love almost a decade ago, the world was going through a global financial crisis, people were starting to realise that they are better off taking responsibility for their own security and happiness, and I wanted to help them do that. I have always lived in a fairly unconventional way, making career moves based on what makes my heart beat faster, or what I find fascinating, and I realised the way I make decisions was quite different from the way we are taught to make decisions (mainly based on what other people tell us we should do). At the same time, the internet had developed to a point that it could offer original learning experiences to people all over the world, and through that medium, I could personally support them through major life changes. When you do that, and you see the results – someone flourishing in a life they love, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Along the way, I got a Masters in Japanese and lived and worked for several years in Japan. I never set out to become a Japan specialist or a life coach, but by following the next most interesting thing, I have been blessed with a fascinating career which has ultimately brought me to a place where I can bring together my loves of foreign cultures, personal development and beauty, into one place, in this new book.

Wabi Sabi Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life 2018 Beth Kempton
A recent graduate of the McQueens Flower School, Beth has a Masters in Japanese and lived and worked in Japan before writing her latest book

You have written two books. What’s the experience like the second time around with your new book Wabi Sabi?

My first book ‘Freedom Seeker: Live more. Worry less. Do what you love.‘ was written from a place of being stuck, and setting myself free, and was very much based on my own theories about navigating life. This second book ‘Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life.’ has been written from a place of curiosity and joy, based on a twenty-year love affair with Japan, and is more an exploration and curation of centuries-old Japanese wisdom – much of which is inaccessible to people who don’t speak the language – and extracting the life lessons that are most vital in our lives today. It was truly a wonderful challenge and adventure, and I am honoured that I got to be the one to share this wisdom with the world.

Wabi Sabi Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life 2018 Beth Kempton
Based on a twenty-year love affair with Japan, ‘Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life.’ is an exploration and curation of centuries-old Japanese wisdom

What is ‘wabi sabi’ and what can readers expect from your latest book?

‘Wabi sabi’ is a captivating concept from Japanese culture and aesthetics that has been quite misunderstood in the West. We have come to use it as an adjective to describe objects with some kind of imperfect beauty, but in truth, wabi sabi goes much deeper than that and is less about what we see, and more about how we see. It’s a worldview that helps us recognise the impermanent, imperfect and incomplete nature of everything, including ourselves, and inspires us to reflect on what that means for our lives and the way we see ourselves and others. It’s also a feeling – a response to a particular kind of beauty which reminds us of that true nature of life, and as such is a marker of our attention and presence in our own lives.

You have made a career of helping people unlock their potential and find happiness. What makes YOU happy?

Precious moments with my little family, time in nature, discovering beauty in unexpected places, good conversation, and writing as a way to discover things about the world.

Wabi Sabi Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life 2018 Beth Kempton
According to Japanologist Beth, the ancient concept of ‘Wabi Sabi’ is less about what we see, and more about how we see — a worldview that helps us recognise the impermanent, imperfect and incomplete nature of everything

We love your podcast, the Freedom Seeker ChroniclesYou get to meet lots of interesting people and share inspiring stories. What’s has been your experience with this and who do you think podcasts continue to grow in popularity?

Thank you! I absolutely love podcasting – given that having fascinating conversations is one of my favourite things, it’s a real treat to be able to ask my guests all about their life paths and lessons they have learned. I think one of the main reasons podcasts are so popular is that you can listen while you do something else – walk, make art, cook dinner etc, and you don’t need to look at a screen so it feels much more like you are sat at the kitchen table with the people on the podcast, sharing a good chat. There is an unbelievable amount of valuable information and advice shared for free on podcasts, and personally, I just love getting to know people through the sound of their voices. As a podcaster, it’s a real privilege to have people’s attention for 30-40 minutes in this age of distraction, and I love thinking about our listeners as we are talking.

Life is full of surprises and we all learn lessons thought out our lives. What’s the most important lesson you have learned?

There are so many, but perhaps the most important is that you always have a choice. Even when difficult things happen to you, you can always choose what to do next. That, and the fact that everything is connected, so nothing is ever wasted. Even if your career path doesn’t ‘make sense’, there will be value in each step of it. Your heart knows the way.

Wabi Sabi Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life 2018 Beth Kempton
One of the most important lesson’s Beth has learned on her journey? “You always have a choice”

What are your plans for the future?

We are just about to move to Devon to put some roots down for the first time in many years, create our home between the forest and the sea, slow down, cook a lot more, keep writing and spend a lot of time with my precious family. This new book is already opening so many wonderful unexpected doors, so I am staying open to possibility, and welcoming the next interesting thing!

Find out more about Beth and her work here:

All images by Holly Trelour, shot at McQueens, London