“Once you discover your Ikigai, pursuing it and nurturing it every day will bring meaning to your life.”
Francesc Miralles, co-author of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
We continue our journey to unearth our raison détre, our Ikigai, through the reflection of our own life. Please have a look at the diagram below once more – you will notice that in our last post, we concentrated on the intersections of What you Love and What you are Good at, which essentially focused on our professional lives. The confluence of these two factors is your passion, but could you live your life by just following your passion?
We have a couple, my ex-boss and his wife, who have a son, a musician, in his mid-thirties now. He is good at his art and creates soulful music which he regularly uploads on web platforms, including YouTube. He has a decent following but nothing substantial to earn him a steady income. He has not been able to get a break in the competitive music industry. On top of that, he seems to be hitting a creative plateau mainly because there is no tangible incentive in front of him (that’s my assessment.) His parents, though quite ‘cool’, worry about the future of this young man. Like all traditional Indian parents, they want their son to ‘settle down’ in life and which they feel is contingent upon his earning a regular income. I will not get into a debate about whether the parents are right or wrong, but one thing is clear – the young man is good at what he loves. This is what we had discussed last week – what you love to do, and whether you are good at it?
Let’s take our discussion on Ikigai forward with the help of this real-life example. Please have a look at the Ikigai diagram again, the intersection which depicts your profession. In an ideal world, what you love and what you are good at should become your profession. Remember we talked of Monday Morning Blues (MMB) and Monday Morning Excitement (MME)? If your default mental state is MMB, you have chosen the wrong profession. But for this young man, he is not able to convert what he loves and is good at (music) into his career. Let me contextualise it further – this man has been in this creative field for almost fifteen years now and hence has adequate experience and practice to be able to produce his best. If we go by Malcolm Gladwell’s assertion (in the book Outliers), this man would have put in close to 10,000 hours of practice into music by now and should be at his creative best. But even his best, or near best, has not fructified into a break with a music company or millions of followers on YouTube etc. which could provide a steady source of income.
The reason for the young man to feel frustrated is abundantly clear – he is doing what he loves rather well but is not able to make it into his profession or source of steady income. If you keep creating music, or paintings or books, which no one listens to, sees or reads and you don’t generate a source of income, at some stage, it will result in an empty feeling. To reach your Ikigai what you love and are good at must result in a source of income. Two square meals are also necessary for life. The millennials and Gen Z people are sold on the western thought process – you have only one life to live, live it your own way. Nothing wrong with that fundamentally, but what if you don’t feel satisfied with your initial choice? Should you be obstinate and continue despite not being good enough at what you currently do? It’s not much fun to be financially dependent on your parents at thirty-five, despite you living a lofty ‘independent’ life.
We recently learnt of the tragic demise of a Bollywood actor, Faraaz Khan, in very unfortunate circumstances. He was suffering from a brain and chest infection which required intensive medical treatment that could have cured him. But there was one small issue – he didn’t have requisite funds for his own treatment. As Faraaz went into a coma, his brother, an actor, put out a plea on the internet to raise funds required for the treatment of Faraaz. Some Bollywood actors contributed money, but alas, it was too little, too late and Faraaz succumbed to his disease at the young age of forty-six. The money which could have saved the life of this man was not a vast sum – just twenty-five lakhs, but Faraaz and his family couldn’t raise this money.
Faraaz had made his film debut way back in 1996 and worked in a few movies and TV serials but could never make it big. Well, I have watched a couple of movies in which Faraaz was the lead actor. He was strikingly handsome and dashing but only an average actor, a reason for his lack of success. He was doing something which he loved but clearly was not very good at his craft. We return to the intersection of profession on the Ikigai diagram in Faraaz’s case and find that he tried to make a career out of something which he loved but was not good enough to generate a steady stream of income. Despite working for nearly a quarter of a century, he still lacked enough money to bail him out of a critical medical condition.
The real-life story of Faraaz is a clarion call for all of us to choose our professions deliberately. While we may love to do something and think that we are good enough to make it into our career, it may not always be so. The sooner we realise that our passion cannot be converted into our profession, we should initiate steps to acquire new skills which are aligned to our Prakriti. Like I mentioned in the last post, with a wonderful array of online courses and study material, any skill we wish to acquire is ours for the taking within a few weeks or months. Important is for us to be sure of our Ikigai – the all-important intersection of what you love, what you are good at and what you can be paid for. All three are equally important and require deep introspection.
Let us now shift our attention to the right half of the Ikigai diagram – the mission and vocation part. So, you have selected your profession carefully, meaning you are doing what you love, doing it very well and being paid handsomely for it. Congratulations, but have you nailed your Ikigai? Don’t you sometimes get an empty feeling that whatever you are doing is only for yourself? Aren’t there things you want to do for others – for your society, the underprivileged, your city, your community, your country? Any activity which is for a larger cause than for you alone is sure to give you more happiness and satisfaction. This cause could be far away from your profession like teaching underprivileged children on weekends or doing community service. The cause could also be done as part of your career, which is bound to be the best-case scenario. Hence, you do what you love and what you are good at, you get paid handsomely for it, and this work is beneficial to a broad cross-section of people.
Being from the armed forces, I have felt it in my bones for the last thirty-two years. There has never been a day when I have not woken up with a feeling of excitement and anticipation. The days and nights have been full of bullets and artillery shells flying around, of temperatures of plus 50 degrees and minus 30 degrees, the heart-wrenching losses of comrades-in-arms, the warm embrace of fellow soldiers, but the MME has never ebbed. The feeling that whatever hardships I am enduring is for my nation is too great to feel any discomfort or pain. Col Santosh Babu and nineteen other Bravehearts sacrificed their lives on the icy heights of Galwan in Ladakh for a cause which was much bigger than themselves. The desolate piece of ground for which they fought and succumbed was not their property, but it was part of their motherland which had to be defended. They bravely took on an enemy force which was many times larger in strength and ensured that the sanctity of their country was not infringed. The perfect Ikigai, I would like to believe.
But is it true that one has to be in select professions to be experiencing Ikigai? Everyone can’t be in the armed forces or in other jobs where one is lucky to serve his country directly. How does one find his/her Ikigai in other career options? I will answer this riddle by narrating a real-life story. The year was 1962, and the American space programme, Apollo, was in full swing. The US president John F Kennedy had decided to give a motivating speech to his nation to inspire them to stand solidly behind the Apollo mission. He was to give the speech from one of the hangars of NASA. While preparing his talk, he lost his way in the labyrinths of the NASA complex and landed up in a janitors’ closet. Looking to find his way back to the hangar from where JFK had to give his speech, he saw a janitor cleaning his mop. Being the friendly person he was, JFK struck a conversation with this man, “Hey, what do you do here?” The man interrupted his work momentarily, stood up to face the most powerful man on the planet earth, and answered matter of factly, “Oh, Mr President, I am putting a man on the moon.”
The conviction of this janitor hit JFK like a tornado. This man was not a scientist or astronaut at NASA; neither was he involved in the R&D in any way. The janitor was one of the lowest on the food-chain at NASA, and yet he was convinced that he was also contributing to the spectacular mission of NASA. It is not the job that we are doing which is important; it is the ‘why’ we do that job which should appeal to us. Most of us who are reading this post is in a leadership position in our respective organisations. We must make everyone on our team hook on to the cause for which the organisation exists. If we are in a job which is more individual in nature, we must convince ourselves that we are indeed contributing to a larger cause than looking for our own profit and well-being.
I hope the trilogy of posts on ‘finding our ‘Ikigai’ resonates with you. I would also exhort you to go back and read the series on ‘raison détre’ once again to perceive the subtle differences between the two concepts. Next week we will change tack and read “fun Maths” for personal finance.
Read more motivational articles by Anand here: