Ikigai - Freestyle
, | May 2, 2018


On a quiet Sunday morning while sipping on some coffee, I received a text message from my friend Linda with this diagram included asking, “Have you heard of Ikigai?”

I told her that I had not heard of Ikigai and she casually explained it to me by saying, “It’s basically what you talk about all the time.”

I have spent many days in my life pondering the meaning of life and although simply pondering on such deep questions and quandaries is fascinating, I have a need for discovery and further understanding of the world around me. It is through this continuous pursuit that I arrive at the same conclusion:

To think without action is meaningless and to act without thinking will kill you.

It is my belief that in order to find meaning one must act on developed intellect to be able to achieve a greater understanding, while simultaneously exercising consciousness in regards to how we are developing ourselves and interacting with the world us. We must acknowledge and explore how our actions impact our planet, ourselves, and the space we occupy. As obvious as this may seem, it is harder to achieve then it sounds.

It is our intellect and cognitive abilities which defines us as a species – Homo sapiens – and have been our ticket to the top of the food chain. Our intellect has also been our greatest downfall. It is through our cognitive development that we have found technological solutions to facilitate getting our basic needs for safety, shelter, food, and water met. Our cognitive abilities have also helped us to create cultures that regulate how we operate as a species and subgroups within the human race.

It is these structures which have created a state of abundance and have led to a shift in focus from acting out of priority to meet our basic needs, to chasing progress according to the metrics established by a modern society. Thus for a great majority of us in modern times, we get caught in the rat-race of life. We have moved away from focusing on what makes us human at the most basic level and we have become goal setting-status climbing-title collecting machines, and thus have lost a sense of meaning in life. The main MO has become go to school, get a job, make money, find a life partner, buy a house, invest your money and save for retirement where after long years of sacrifice you will finally be able to enjoy the beauty of life.

It is in the formula for living life today that we have gotten lost and somewhere along the way fallen off balance. We have become successful in some areas of our lives and yet are failing miserably at others. Take a guy working on Wall Street for example, he makes millions of dollars, yet his health is dog shit and he drinks, smokes, and does cocaine on a daily basis to stay afloat; or the married mom with kids, but doesn’t have a relationship with her kids because she works two jobs, sixteen hours a day just to cover expenses; or the artist who is killing it at their craft as a singer, painter, and dancer, but can’t land a gig and now has to eat Cup O’Noodles soup and lives with a roommate who is always late on rent, never does the dishes, and has no greater aspirations apart from playing videos games with a kid on the other side of the planet.

How is this possible? Where did we lose touch with who we really are?

If you find yourself in a situation where you are living in this state of imbalance, how does it feel? I can imagine it feels incomplete, maybe confusing, frustrating, and/or scary. Either way, from my perspective I view it as lacking ownership, balance, and furthermore, pride. Whatever it may be, although you seem to be going in the right direction in certain areas of your life the other ones that are being neglected are the ones limiting you from closing the gap with your own potential, and subsequently a sense of fulfillment and self actualization.

This is where the Japanese, in true Japanese form, have arrived at Ikigai- a concept which translates to “a reason for being” and is believed to be the formula for a happy life. The Japanese believe that everyone has an ikigai and it is in the long, in depth, and important search for self and finding ikigai that one brings satisfaction and meaning to one’s life.

“The term ikigai compounds two Japanese words: iki (wikt:生き) meaning “life; alive” and kai (甲斐) “(an) effect; (a) result; (a) fruit; (a) worth; (a) use; (a) benefit; (no, little) avail” (sequentially voiced as gai) “a reason for living [being alive]; a meaning for [to] life; what [something that] makes life worth living; a raison d’etre”.
In the culture of Okinawa, ikigai is thought of as “a reason to get up in the morning”; that is, a reason to enjoy life. In a TED Talk, Dan Buettner suggested ikigai as one of the reasons people in the area had such long lives.
The word ikigai usually is used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not linked to one’s financial status]. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai.” -From Wikipedia

The way it works is simple. There are 4 categories to keep in mind when considering finding purpose within your life.

(1). That which you love.
(2). That which you are good at.
(3). That which you can be paid for.
(4). That which the world needs.

These 4 categories differ from person to person and must be identified in order to have presence in one’s daily living to begin to find a more purposeful life. I think about it as a table – the 4 categories are the legs (your purpose) and the tabletop is your ikigai (the foundation). If one of the legs is shorter than the others, the table will be wobbly or off balance and harder for you to enjoy playing the game of life as you get distracted by the movement of the table and not the movement of oneself. Through these 4 categories you can begin to exercise balance and identifying them will help bring clarity.

Once you’ve identified the legs of your table, you can now begin to build the table top by realizing the relationship between each category and how these are expressed in your life.

The sum of that which you love + that which you are good at is your Passion.
The sum of that which you are good at + that which you can be paid for is your Profession.
The sum of that which you can be paid for + that which the world needs is your Vocation.
The sum of that which you love + that which the world needs is your Mission.

This simple exercise of identifying the four legs and realizing their expression through your passion, profession, vocation, and ultimately mission is where Ikigai finds its strength and meaning in our lives. Give this exercise a shot and compare notes to how you are currently expressing your passion, profession, vocation, and mission. Finding Ikigai is where you will able to break free from the rat-race of life and develop your own expression of it; it is where you can become an observer and student of life, and ultimately have a deeper understanding of your intellectual development and the way its applied to shape ourselves, others while respecting the planet we live on in a more meaningful way.

I encourage you to continue going forward full force with all of them if you are currently living in full alignment with what you discovered, and if out of alignment to have the courage to begin making the gradual changes necessary towards your ikigai. Although this may be a challenging path to take, I believe that what is waiting for you on the other side of it is what you have been looking for.

Contributor: Carl Paoli

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