Updated: Aug 16, 2022
The Origin of the IKGIAI
Ikigai became a hot topic after Dan Beuttner, a national geographic writer and explorer brought it to the fore with his TED talk. In his video, he talked about the secret to the longevity of people who live in ‘blue zones’ where community elders could live to a hundred years. This interesting TED talk went viral with 3.4 million views and was transcribed in 32 languages since it was first aired in 2010.
Buettner did not, however, launch a new-to-the-world concept. Ikigai, as an idea, has existed in Japan for thousands of years.
Ikigai translated essentially means “the reason for being,” the thing that makes life worthwhile. In its most popular modern day representation, it consists of 4 concentric circles. ‘What we love’ and ‘What we are good at’ magically overlap with ‘What the world values’ and ‘what we can be paid for.’ Hence it implies that we can do something that the world values and is willing to pay for and this makes our lives purposeful.
The original Japanese concept was different. As per the Japanese, one’s ikigai may have nothing to do with income. In fact, in a survey of 2,000 Japanese men and women conducted by Central Research Services in 2010, just 31% of recipients considered work as their ikigai. Someone’s value in life can be work – but is indeed not limited to that. In 1966, psychiatrist Mieko Kamiya tried to contextualize this ancient term to modern times. His idea was that ikigai was similar to “happiness” but has a subtle difference in its nuance. Ikigai is what allows you to look forward to the future even if you’re miserable right now.
Since 2010, the framework caught the imagination of millions across the world. It could be because this period has coincided with the rise of entrepreneurship, solopreneurship and the gig economy as a valid way of livelihood. Many in this world are spurred by individual vision, passion and a need to express themselves.
How to think of Ikigai ?
If one looks at the concentric circles closely, one can see that “What we love” and “what we are good at” are in the zone of man’s internal world. He is answerable to no one for these two zones.
The other two circles are “What is valued in the world” and “What can be paid for.” These two belong to the external world. Most adults adjusted in the daily rhythm of life would actually be “at Ikigai” or hovering close by.
The problem arises when the context of the existing world changes – the world that is VUCA ( Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) rares its ugly head and suddenly what the world values is not the same. Hence we cannot be paid for what were doing earlier. The Ikigai is no longer relevant. The equilibrium has shifted. This results in a deep disturbance, confusion, a lack of control, anxiety and even despair and breakdown.
To emerge from this, one has to redefine one’s ikigai according to the new normal.
One has to relook at one’s internal world, essentially reach within. The two circles of what one loves and what one is good at and its intersection. One can work on what one loves to bring it to what one is good at. Many musicians, dancers, artists will have this story. However, it need not be restricted to the arts. People who understand money and investments can work on it to make it a “skill.” Those good at cooking could train to be a chef. Those good at teaching can make it into a profession. The possibilities are immense. It is about examining our inner world and seeing what we can pull out. And then working on it to make it into a “skill.” This journey of strengthening a talent is the journey of redefining one’s ikigai.
What is most important, is to keep building one’s strengths and adding to the Ikigai. There will be a period of pulling out old plugs, looking at existing talents and polishing them up. But an individual will always be able to find new Ikigai if he just keeps at it. An essential pit stop here may be dealing with fear, anxiety, self-doubt or conditioning. However, awareness and acknowledgement of these mental patterns equips us.
What one does need is plenty of grit and a willingness to emerge from the depths. As Angela Duckworth says in her book, grit trumps talent. Effort put into honing our talents is necessary. And this combination will ensure that we are able to redefine our Ikigai.
The net conclusion is that Ikigai is not a fixed place. It is an iterative process that keeps bringing us to our centre. And it is from this place that we will always find the essential material for new growth and new avenues.
The above explanation is a practical approach to regaining one’s own space when one is displaced due to changes in the external environment.
How to re-spark your ikigai?
1. Recognize your talents, passions – not only from recent times but also from the past. Earmark the ones that can be developed into skills/strengths.
2. Scope out opportunity in the larger world and identify addressable people, organizations, groups where you can manifest your new skill.
3. Start your journey by abandoning the need to be perfect from day one. This relates to the Japanese notion of wabi sabi. Wabi sabi is about embracing imperfection, the unfinished and the transient.
4. Start to build skill – by giving effort to your talents, not used hitherto. Manifest your skills till you attain mastery. At this stage, the combination of two or more skills can create a unique niche for you.
5. Allow yourself to ease into a new identity with your new ability, one practice at a time.