Ikigai Myth Busting

In the popular TV show, MythBusters, the team perform intricate scientific experiments often accompanied with fire, explosions and cool gadgets. I’m going to take a more sedate approach and base my Myth Busting on my experience as a coach and the examples I have seen of people who are on the journey of successfully integrating ideas of Ikigai into their daily lives.

My ikigai is set in stone. 

This is one of the most limiting of the myths about Ikigai. 

There seems to be some feeling that I need to set my path, decide my Ikigai and then stay on that path until the day I die. And there also seems to be a lot of shame and feelings of mediocrity or failure if you are not on that path already. Sure there are people who set out on a path of mastery and are able to commit to that for their entire life. More power to their elbow. 

But for the rest of us who are still wondering “what do I want to be when I grow up?”, the pressure to settle on one clearly defined purpose can feel heavy and restricting. 

By being kinder to yourself you allow yourself the space to explore. As Mogi defines it “releasing yourself” is a great place to start on that.

I coached a single mother who was looking for ways to move from a well paying but unfulfilling corporate job to setting up her own freelance business as a translator. When she realized that it was not only “OK” but better for her not to be tied to a single ikigai, she was able to lead with her values.  She could focus on designing her life with her son. They travelled, created a beautiful life and a successful business emerged naturally out of that.

Your ikigai is also going to shift as you learn and gain life experiences.

The world around you changes. 

It may only be after experiencing a crisis, a loss or an unexpected opportunity that you discover the magic mix of the elements brought together to make you feel fully connected to your ikigai.

What seems like a disaster can be the opening to a new perspective and new opportunity. I am writing this in the during the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. 

In April. With the kids at home, a state of emergency announced in Tokyo, the days felt endless and it was impossible to plan.  It made me look at how I spend my time, what I want my home and relationships to be like. How can I reduce my consumption? How do I increase my mindful connection with others when I can’t be in the training room with them? What does the shift to online communication mean for my Ikigai?

You may be able to find your Ikigai in a dark time. Loss of a loved one, a job, health can be the catalyst or the start of your awareness of a calling, a different view on what is important to you

In times of crisis, you can realise truly what matters to you and why you are here. You may be able to use this shift in your environment to invest in the inner research necessary to move forwards. To turn the low level hum of awareness to a full chorus of action and implementation of behavior change.

For example, Glen Wood became an activist against “Pata Hara” (Paternity Harassment) in Japan as he became embroiled in his own court case with his employer. With his personal experience and being a Japanese speaking foreigner, Glen was able to give voice as a change maker to many Japanese who felt they could not upset the “wa”, the harmony. 

If you find that the idea of a single ikigai, a singular purpose to answer the question “Why am I here?”, restrictive, fear not! 

You and your environment are constantly shifting and adapting. New levels of awareness are emerging. Your task is to be open and alert to opportunities. Look out for patterns and hints about what, who and which moments are making you feel most alive.

Ikigai is only about work 

What if I am retired? On a career break? Can I not have an ikigai?

I hear this myth a lot when I work with expat spouses in Japan who are not able to work due to visa restrictions. 

Of course you can have a reason to live! Ikigai originally did not have a context of income and the Venn Diagram only added an extra element by incorporating what you can be paid for. So you have some choices here.

1. Expand your idea of “payment”  – does it need to be monetary? Can it be in recognition? Thanks? Status?

2. Remove the question from your discovery process. You are the boss of your life. If it does not feel relevant, then remove it. 

However, do ask yourself, why are you removing it? Is it because you don’t like the idea of sales? Or that you think your service has no value?

Is that releasing yourself or are you focused on a limiting self belief? I encourage you to challenge your resistance and ask “What is really happening here?”

Ikigai is nothing about work. It’s a spiritual practice.

It is a spiritual practice, correct. And you can integrate this practice into your work and how you approach your career as an essential part of your life

One of the phrases I hate the most is work/life balance. Last time I checked, my pulse was still beating whilst I was at work. And I have days when I feel so completely ALIVE at work, when everything is going smoothly and I am getting paid to do what I love, am good at and the world needs. 

Of course, what people mean when they say work/life balance is about making free time, time for family matters, hobbies and so on.  In 2017, Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo  said, “The term ‘work-life balance’ has been used in Japan for the past 20 years, but the concept has yet to take hold. Given this, I think we should take the initiative and change this phrase to ‘Life-Work Balance’, as I believe that ‘life’ should come first. “ 

I like to think that Koike was talking about Ikigai here and that meaningful, engaging work can be seen as an integral part of a well-balanced life.

Following my Ikigai means I have to join NPO as a volunteer

Did you miss the memo about the money question “What can you be paid for?” There is nothing in the original cultural concept of Ikigai that suggests that you need to be a starving artist or live like a monk.  Indeed, for many years post war Japan projected an image of having a very large middle class but in recent years income inequality has risen with Japan having the third highest income inequality in the G7 behind the UK and the US in 2019.

I believe that you can be comfortable and live a life of purpose with an integrated ikigai.  This is what makes this venn diagram model of Ikigai more powerful than other concepts about purpose. Many of us were raised that to follow our passion means that we will not be able to have financial freedom. I think that the Venn Diagram model of Ikigai gives us the freedom to explore what is possible without compromise.

I want to add a caveat to all of this. My experience is coming from a place of English, white privilege. I was raised in an working class turned entrepreneur’s family. My sister and I were the first generation to go to University straight after school but we were privately educated. I had many advantages before me. I have not had to fight past hardships based on the color of my skin in my home country.  Then even as a foreign business owner in Japan, now a minority, I still have white privilege. And I have a supportive partner who wants the freedom of choice that a dual income gives to him.  My coaching clients are generally successful corporate professionals, university educated and with more than their basic human needs covered. I talk a lot about gratitude for what we already have as well as being comfortable with believing that it is OK to want to live life differently.

Following my Ikigai means that I have to quit my job and start my own business

Entrepreneurship or freelancing might be the answer for you but it not the only way! In fact you can have such huge social impact when you are in a large corporation. 

I ran a workshop for high-potential women in a global FMCG manufacturer. One of the participants shared that she was passionate about sustainability. She had considered the idea of starting her own NPO but then realized that setting her sights on becoming the Director of SCM would allow her more impact.  Within a large scale organization she could leverage her talents and align them with the company sustainability goals and have huge impact at the source of the issue. Instead of building awareness in consumer behavior, she chose to focus on the way that she could influence that behavior through design of the supply chain.

Ikigai is selfish navel gazing

Quite the opposite. Ikigai is about finding your place in the world and living it fully. Using your gifts and energy to have a positive impact. 

It is focused on others what does the world need, not only on what you can get from that.

The most powerful impact though of integrating your ikigai is on other people. If more people were balanced and engaged, feeling ready to leap out of bed, can you imagine what an amazing world that would be?

It’s too late for me at 30,40,50,60 to start living my Ikigai

Bullshit! Just google “Late Bloomers” and see the inspiring stories of people who found their Ikigai later on in life. Stop using your age as an excuse. You might have missed the timing to be an olympic gymnast sure, but with a 100 year life on the cards you likely have plenty of time to retrain and refocus in whatever are you want. I don’t say it will be easy but challenge this belief that it is impossible due to your age. There may be a parallel or connected approach that would work for you.

What are some other myths or limiting beliefs you have or have heard about ikigai? Let me know your thoughts.

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