Ikigai: The dichotomy of Finding a fulfilling & Rewarding Career

Let’s face it, almost all of the advice you get from so-called adults about how to pursue a fulfilling and rewarding career is complete bullshit.

The cold hard truth is that most people don’t like themselves or their jobs very much.

When you asked your parents, teachers or other “authority figures” for real-life advice or more likely they just told you what they thought you should do with your life despite the fact that you didn’t ask, its usually cliched nonsense you’d expect to read on a Hallmark card.

The reason you can’t seem to get any real advice on how to be truly happy, choose a fulfilling and rewarding profession and build a fulfilling life worth living is that most people havne’t got a clue.

Just look at your parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, bosses, neighbors and ask yourself, “are these people happy? does their work matter? would I want to be them?

I’d bet the answer is a resounding “NO” to all three. And these are the poeple who are suppose to mentor and guide you?!

As  Henry David Thoreau famously wrote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Which is an elequent way of saying that the adults in your life are as clueless as you are!

Do any of these gems sound familiar?

  • Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life.
  • Follow your passion and everything will work out.
  • Go to school, major in something practical and get a good job with a good starting salary and good benefits.
  • You know, there are good opportunities in industry X, you should do that!
  • do something like medicine or teaching, people will always get sick and children will always need teachers so your job will be safe and secure.

All this advice is bullshit and all this advice is good and accurate.

huh? Allow me to explain…

Have you ever noticed the people who say shit like “follow your bliss” in your life are broke, unreliable and are seen as kinda of a joke in the community?

Have you ever noticed the “be practical, be an adult” people in your life look like they pray to god for the courage to blow their own brains out every night because they’re miserable?

And here you are, a reasonably intellegent man not wanting to be a worthless hippie or mindless cog in the corprate machine at a complete loss as to how to solve the whole “what the fuck do I do with my life” problem.

Begin With The End In Mind

As stephen Covey wrote in his now iconic book, “7-Habits of Highly Effective People” you must begin with the end in mind!

We must first ask ourselves what we want out of our careers.

That may seem obviouse as you read it here, but how many people actually sit dwon and think it through?

Not many, most of us simply stumble our way into whatever is directly in front of us. It is no wonder why 85% of people hate their jobs.

Imagine, It’s Easy if You Try

Imagine instead that you get out of bed every morning looking forward to going to work.

Imagine that your work is challenging and interesting every day where you’re constantly learning and getting better.

Imagine making great money that allows you to live the lifestyle you really want and have peace of mind about money and the future.

Imagine that you are well respected in your field and your community and can really be proud of the guy you see in the mirror every morning.

Imagine hitting the pillow and sleeping like a baby knowing that what you do makes a positive impact in the world.

It terns out theres a very old Japanese concept called “Ikigai” that creates a poweful and simple way to think about how to build a career and life that is both meaningful and rewarding.

Ikigai: Your Reason for being

Image: Toronto Star

Ikigai (pronounced like “icky guy”) is a Japanese concept roughly meaning “your reason for being” or “the reason you get up in the mornin“.

Ikigai is used to refer to the things that give your life meaning and fulfillment.

A comprehensive study that took place over seven years and consisted of over 43,000 Japanese adults by Toshimasa Sone and his colleagues found that those with an ikigai were more likely to be married, educated and employed with higher levels of self-rated health and lower levels of stress.

Don’t worry, unlike the west, the Japanese have a practical way of figuring out what ikigai means for each individual.

As you can tell from the concetric circles about, ikigai is the bringing together seemingly oppsoite considerations.

Two deeply personal considerations:

  • What is it that you love?
  • What is it that your good at?

And two selfless, external considerations:

  • What does your community or the world need?
  • What can you do that others are willing to pay for?

Where these 4 concentric circles overlap you have ikigai!

This way of looking at your life and specifically your career is simple yet profound.

It combines the individuals enthusiasms and gifts with an almost altruistic yet practical approach to finding fulfillment and meaning.

Beware These Common Career Mistakes

Remember that achieving a fulfilling life and career requires all four elements.

Do not make the all too common mistake of pursuing a career that only includes two or three of these considerations.

Mistake #1: Broke Hippie: This is the most common among the “follow your bliss” crowd. You may love what you do and be damn good at it, BUT if this path leaves you barely scraping by financially it will make you miserable.

No one wants to feel useless, disrespected and looked down upon by their peers. Pursing a passion as a career can often leave you bitter and nialistic!

You’ll walk around all day thinking to yourself, “I’m useless, no one respects me, life is futile, I do great work but no one cares, I should have been a money grubbing ass whole, then at least I could afford to live better and get some respect.”

Needless to say, this is no way to live.

The reason people fall into this trap is they don’t get out of their own selfish way and think to themselves, “what do OTHER people need and value enough to pay for?”

Mistake #2: Mission-driven mismatch: This mistake is the result of a blind spot or unwillingness to be honest with yourself about what your really good at or value most.

You may be able to say that what you do or the organisation you work for is doing great things in the world. You may even be well compensated for your work.

But if your not really passionate and good at what your doing, you wont be doing it for long or you will hit a ceiling in your career progress.

It is possible to see that certain work is good for the world but not feel personally passionate about it and thats ok.

You can also enjoy work and find meaning in it but not really be great at it and that makes you vulnerable to being fired or going out of business because those who are better than you will outperform you.

The people who cry about getting let go from their job after 20 years of loyal service typically fall into this category.

Mistake #3: Just another Brick in The Wall: This is the classic.

Your practical, you studied what you’re suppose to study to go into a career path that is safe, secure, has a good salary and benefits and now you want to blow your brains out.

This is the mistake that many are most aware of and trying to avoid like the plague.

Ironically, being too outward focused, even altruistic in your career decisions will leave you unfulfilled and depressed.

NOTE: In an attempt to avoid this well-known mistake many make mistake number one and become broke hippies.

You have great skill that poeple are willing to pay good money for but you hate your customers, you hate your co-workers you cant see how your work really matters and all you live for is your evening cocktail and watching the game and getting fat on the weekends.

Needless to say, this is no way to live and perhaps the most common mistake.

Ikigai: Figuring out Your Personal Reason for Getting Out of Bed

Lets lay out a practical exercise for formulating your own ikigai so you can gain some clarity and go boldly in the direction of your dreams…

I suggest writing a few lists out by hand:

  • Write a list of things you love and are passionate about, things you genuinely do just because its fun or interesting. This list can consist of specific activities like writing, surfing, writing code, taking pictures…as well as more abstract ideas like a love for the outdoors, math, solving problems, an interest in design…
  • Next, write a list of things your good at or are willing to get good at. this brings your interests, loves and natural gifts down to a practical level. if you like great literature do you also like to write, do you kick ass at math, can you write code, do you know something about great photography or design…
  • Now that you have your personal preferences and practical skills listed out, now its time to switch your focus externally. List out the big picture problems that need to be solved. What desirable outcomes would you like to help create in the world? In other words, what does the world need? Where are the big macro trends going in society? What are the areas of fast innovation, high growth, and important challenges being tackled?
  • Last but certainly not least, make a list of things you can do that other people are willing to pay for?

EXTRA PRO TIP: Once these 4 lists are written, look at each one and ask yourself a few more questions:

  • Which one of my loves or passions align with practical skills I currently have or are willing to build?
  • Which of those passions will be considered most valuable to my community and the world.
  • Which one of those valuable skills will get me paid the most money?

And Voilla, you have a practical recipe for a kick-ass career that makes you happy, fulfilled, gains you respect and gets you paid!

Ikigai: The dichotomy of Fulfillment

AS you can see, simply following your bliss is bullshit advice, unless you don’t mind being a joke who lives in a squalid shit whole appartment in the scary part of town.

And looking at your lifes work strickly through the leans of compensation and job security is a sure fire way to hate every second of your existance.

The older I get the more I realize that the answeres to the big questions in life are never simple black and white.

It takes a balanced, nuanced and objective mind to understand what buddhists refer to as “The middle path“, the balance that makes for the good life.

The concept of ikigai assists us in finding this middle path between personal passion and unique tallents and altruisticly seeking to better the world while being practical by focusing on what people value and are willing to pay for.

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