Views on Ikigai – Mieko Kamiya
Japan is known for both incredibly long work hours and one of the lowest levels of actively engaged workers in the world. It is no surprise that according to a 2010 Survey by Central Research Services, 73% of those Japanese surveyed stated that they “had an Ikigai”, but only 20% said that they actively found their Ikigai in their work. In the same survey, when asked how they would further develop their ikigai, the most popular answer was to find new hobbies and interests or deepen the knowledge and skill in existing ones (46%). Only 13% thought that their Ikigai could be found in volunteering or working for the benefit of social good. This is certainly a quite different approach compared to how the Ikigai Venn Diagram positions Ikigai in our life at the intersection of passion, skill, income and social impact!
In her seminal book, Ikigai ni Tsuite, (About Ikigai) Mieko Kamiya, the grandmother of Ikigai, talks about her work with leprosy sufferers and the meaning of Ikigai.
Kamiya talks about ikigai from two perspectives
1. The object of Ikigai – a person, a task, a moment in time
2. “Ikigai-kan” – the feeling of ikigai – of being alive and purposeful
Instead of the four questions of the Ikigai Venn Diagram, Kamiya focuses on two main lines of inquiry
1. What is my existence for? Is it for someone?
2. What is the purpose of my existence? If there is any, am I faithful to it?
Examining the first question, we can see alignment with a Central Research Service survey mentioned above where people found their ikigai in their family, existing for someone, not in their work, for something.
What is my existence for? Is it for someone?
Humans are pro-social animals. We generally do better in communities, in groups and altruism is our modus operandi. We can align this question about the existence being externally focused, being for someone with the concept of “What does the world need?”.
If our existence is “for someone” then we are more connected to the wider reach of humanity. To me, this allows the perspective that finding your ikigai, rather than being selfish navel-gazing, is actually the most generous and selfless thing that you can do for your family and wider society.
What is the purpose of your existence?
It really is the big question – Why am I here? It is simple and difficult. Possibly and probably you will never know. Maybe for everything, maybe for nothing? Are we just here to procreate and ensure survival of the species?
But as thinking creatures, this survival story is usually not enough. Why do you want to be here? How do you want to live? How do you want to pass through this life? How do you want to impact others? How do you want to impact yourself? What do you want to leave behind? You are reading this book because you are thinking about those questions seriously and the second part of this question might be the key to your happiness.
If there is a purpose to my existence, am I faithful to it?
Are you faithful to it?
This is where you have the opportunity to catch yourself. Imagine, you are in the middle of a yet another meeting where the same old office politics derails things and you ask yourself.“Is this it? Is this why I am here? Is being in this room with these people right now connected to my purpose in life?” What might you do differently in your day to day if you consider if each decision, each moment you chose to be in is linked with the idea of being faithful to your purpose, to your Ikigai?
Am I acting in alignment with my Ikigai?
Do the things I do each day support my purpose in life or are they keeping me in a holding patterns or worse, in conflict with the person that I believe I can be?
It is this conflict that leads to the mid-life crisis, to confusion and disappointment, to disillusion and despair. When you are not faithful to your Ikigai, you pull yourself away from your true potential. You refuse yourself the opportunity to exist at a fully integrated level. In the third part of the book, you will discover ways that you can be more faithful to your Ikigai. To integrate in a small way each day and keep the feeling of “iki-iki”.
Ikigai and Fame
Kamiya also talks about the fact that people with Ikigai are not necessarily famous or distinguished. They can be moving simply and deliberately towards their goals. To live your Ikigai is not about a search for riches, fame or status. It is about progress and the journey.
Kamiya argues that reaching your goal is not the important part. Intentional steps and mindful consistent action are the hallmark of alignment with ikigai and purpose.
For me, this is such a freeing concept when we consider our Ikigai. Your purpose and existence does not need to be grand. It does not need to be compared to others. It is the passion for existence that is meaningful for you. Following this path and being true to it all have a great impact on society and make you feel powerfully connected to your own heart.
Ikigai and Comparison
Comparison is something which I’ve always struggled with and see these high expectations in my coaching clients all the time. The people I work with in my executive coaching practice are always intelligent, driven achievers. Otherwise they would probably not be at a level where they would be sponsored by their company for their coaching! And yet, a recurring theme is often that they are not enough. They compare themselves to their law school classmates, their MBA peers, the other leaders in their industry and they worry, “Is my ikigai big enough? Is it meaningful enough? Will I change the world?”
I love Kamiya’s offer, that your Ikigai doesn’t need to be so “extra”. It can just be.
When you remove the weight of comparison how does it feel? Lighter? Easier? Then you might be on the right path. Instead of fighting against the voice, “is it enough?”, accept that it is and move towards it.
Now, I’m not trying to say that you shouldn’t have an ikigai that is broader in scope. More power to your elbow! My offer is to accept that everything is ok. Work with what moves you. You can’t manufacture passion sustainably over time however much you want to so make sure you connect your true self with your Ikigai.
Ikigai and the Path Less Travelled
According to Kamiya, another area where conflict occurs in the search for Ikigai is when our new reason for existence, our enlightenment about our ikigai, seems to be a break with the current mode of existence.
The voice of “should be” rises strongly. Social pressures about the correct path based on your previous qualifications and experience, background, gender, age, race, sexual orientation, ability etc all start to come into play. A common refrain from my Ikigai Coaching Clients is the fear of external judgement, “What will people say if I do X?” What if people say “Who do they think they are?”
Often the cruelest and most powerful judge is our own inner critic, holding us back to keep us “safe”, maintain the status quo rather than approaching the new mode of existence.
Ikigai and a Second Life
This new mode of existence, a renewed ikigai, can reveal itself at any time. It can be a nagging thought, a recurrent call to action or a lightening bolt upon having a new experience. And it can come at any age. It is very powerful to find role models of people in the public eye or in your community who have shifted their Ikigai at different stages of life.
Ikigai and Internal Alignment
The main message from Kamiya is that those who are faithful to their Ikigai are able to live in alignment with themselves.
Ikigai can be a source of contentment and can drive your actions in a meaningful way regardless of your situation.