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A moment with Beth Kempton

It was such a joy to chat to Beth recently, someone I admire enormously and that was made even more exciting as this week she launches her sixth book, Kokoro: Japanese wisdom for a life well lived life which is a follow up to Wabi Sabi - one of my all time favourite books.

Beth is a Japonlogist, a bestselling selling author who has had a quarter-century love affair with Japan and has made it her work to uncover life lessons and philosophical ideas buried in Japanese culture, words and ritual. Beth has two degrees in Japanese and has a rare understanding of Japanese cultural and linguistic nuances.

Beth is also a qualified yoga teacher, Reiki Master and is the founder of Do What You Love, a company which produces and delivers inspiring online courses for living well, with a community of more than 250,000 people worldwide.

This is a very special moment for me and I hope you enjoy learning more about Beth's story as much as I did.


Describe yourself in 3 words

Curious question-asker.



Do you have a morning routine?

Yes, I love mornings. I often wake around 5am and go downstairs in the dark. I switch on the fairy lights in the kitchen and put the kettle on. While the water is boiling, I do a simple movement sequence to loosen up my body. Then I make tea and toast, take it into my study and close the door behind me. I sit at my desk, where my notebook and pen are waiting, along with a candle and a box of matches. I take a few deep breaths, inhaling the gentle energy of early morning, then I light the candle and welcome a new page. In the summer I often take my tea outside and watch the sky lighten as the morning arrives. I write for about an hour and a half, then my children wake up and the family day begins.



Do you collect anything?

I wouldn’t call myself a conscious collector of anything in particular, but if collecting is defined by owning something in greater numbers than is practically necessary, I collect typewriters, teapots, Japanese ceramics, cosy cardigans, feathers, poetry books, oracle decks and pens.



Where is your favourite place to travel to?

Japan, particularly Kyoto and the countryside. I first lived in Japan at the age of 19, when I was studying Japanese at university, and it has had a profound influence on my life ever since. At the same time as things being so different, they have often felt familiar in a way I cannot logically explain. I always feel a sense of serenity, and a sense of possibility in Japan, and the people I have met and befriended over the years are some of the most thoughtful, kind and generous souls I know.

 

After university my first job in Japan was working for the Japanese government in a remote snowy part of northern Japan, and it has recently become apparent to me that my twenty-two year old self was laying a path for my midlife self to follow in the writing of my latest book, Kokoro: Japanese wisdom for a life well lived. I think we often do this without realizing it as we grow and take in new experiences. Nothing is wasted along the way, even if it takes many years before we can look back and see the connections.

 

Writing books about Japan has been one of the greatest privileges of my life, because travelling with the kind of questions I carry on research trips has led me to conversations, places and encounters I would not otherwise have experienced. The older I get the more I realise the vastness of all I do not know, and every question answered opens up new questions. This is a great way to travel, and it’s even better when there are hints of beauty, hot springs, amazing food and beautiful stationery at every turn!

 


What have you learnt over the last three years?

The last three years have been an immense time of rupture and renewal for me. I have learnt that life is fragile and precious and we never know how long we have on this earth, and that those of us left are the lucky ones. I have learnt that worrying gets us nowhere and we might as well focus our limited time, energy and attention on things that bring us joy. I have learnt how much I treasure some people and how I get to choose to distance myself from the energy of others. I have learnt that however difficult things are, there is always a ray of light trying to shine in. And I have learnt that tea, poetry and the sound of my children’s laughter always make things better.



What would you tell your younger self?

I actually had a conversation with my younger self in the pages of my new book Kokoro I told her many things, including this:

Anytime you feel lost, look up to the night sky, and let the moon and the stars remind you that life is a miracle, and in the grand scheme of things, most of the things that you will worry about do not matter at all. Don’t cling to stuff or people or ideas. Take risks. Good unknowns usually lie on the other side, and you’ll learn something along the way. Stop being so concerned about what other people think. It just gets in the way. If you try to think your way through life, you will be restricted to choices within the limits of what you intellectually know. But if you feel your way through it, and respond to the world from your kokoro (your intelligent heart), you will have the full expanse of possibility open to you, and you will always know, deep down, what to do.

I leant towards her and whispered, Live your life and love your people. Nothing lasts for ever.



What do you love about running your own business?

I love the freedom it gives me and my husband (who works with me). We get to choose how we spend each day, which projects we focus on, what we want to offer the world, and how much we want to work in any particular season, and whether we want to drop everything to go paddleboarding on a sunny day. It has given us the flexibility to work around our young children. There is no ceiling on our earning capacity in the way there can be in a salaried role, and we see the results of our work directly in the form of emails and DMs and gifts in the post from people who say our work has changed their life. I also love that we are modelling for our children the idea that you can take something intangible in your head and heart - an idea – and turn it into a roof over your head, food on the table, and the joy of doing something meaningful.



What is the best piece of career advice you have been given?

When I was fresh out of university and working for Japanese local government, my boss at the time wangled me an opportunity to have my own TV show. It was both exciting and terrifying. Sensing this he just looked at me and said “Why don’t you just have a go and see?” That is largely how I have approached much of my career. (The TV show turned out to be a lot of fun!)

 


Who would you like to collaborate with?

I would love to partner with the Japanese national or local government to promote tourism to rural parts of Japan, encouraging people to go off the beaten track and spend time just being in a place, rather than rushing from one Instagrammable sightseeing spot to the next. This helps local communities thrive, and offers a much more profound experience to the traveller.

 


What are the most rewarding aspects of what you do?

Hearing from students of our online courses about how our classes have given them the confidence to make a major life change, led them to discover the joy of writing, helped them heal, inspired them to do what they love, or helped them fulfil a lifelong dream of landing a book deal so they can help and inspire others. I also love making real connections with my community through my Substack essays and social media accounts. It reminds me that we are not alone, and that we can support each other through this wild adventure of life.

 


What advice would you offer budding entrepreneurs?

It can be intimidating to join the world of entrepreneurship at this point, when social media gives us the impression that there are so many people already doing it, that there couldn’t possibly be room for one more. I want you to know that there is absolutely room for you. In the past twelve years of doing this, I have seen new entrants fly in and succeed very quickly because they have fresh ideas, or a new approach, and don’t carry the baggage of all the ways things have been done in the past. It is an amazing time to be lean and nimble, and run a business with minimal overheads and a lot of flexibility. The amount of free or low cost technological tools available to support entrepreneurs these days is staggering, and perhaps more importantly the audience for your offerings is so much more open to making purchases of products, services and education online. In most cases I think is worth investing a little time and money early on to learn how to use these tools effectively. Perhaps the most important thing I have learnt is that if you have a creative business, it is better to focus on community rather than platform – business growth comes from a conversation, rather than a broadcast. It helps you get to know the people you are serving, gives real meaning to your work, and reminds you that your customers are real people, with real lives, which keeps you tuned in to what they need. Finally I’d say that life is too short not to do what you love, so why not ‘just have a go and see’?



Links for books and podcasts:


 



Links:

Substack @bethkempton

Instagram @bethkempton

Photo credits: Holly Bobbins Photography

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