There’s no better time than right now to be exploring our life’s purpose, and trying to find what brings us, and the world, more joy.
While at first, this might be daunting, we think it can be an exciting and incredibly rewarding practice! We looked to a very old philosophy called Ikigai (pronounced eee-kee-guy), which was born on the Japanese island of Okinawa. It is the reason people get out of bed in the morning with a purpose, a drive, and meaning - and they live the longest of anywhere on earth!
So, what is Ikigai and how do we live the Ikigai lifestyle?
I was delighted to sit down with my friend Tim Tamashiro, author of How to Ikigai: Lessons for Finding Happiness and Living Your Life's Purpose to find out. Tim was formerly a CBC Radio 2 host, TEDTalk speaker, and is always a fabulous musician, teacher, and all-around inspiring person!
Hi, Tim! So, what is the first step for finding one’s Ikigai (life purpose)?
There are four directions: do what you love, do what you’re good at, do what the world needs, and do what you can be rewarded for. In itself, those 4 steps sound great and they sound simple, but they’re incredibly difficult for most people to wrap their heads around. So, I’ve broken down Ikigai into two halves instead, so half-Ikigai is to answer those first two questions – do what you love and do what you’re good at. What are those two things?
In order to be able to boil it down, I have a process that is to step away from it actually and to let your subconscious help figure it for you. The first step is to explore, explore absolutely everything that you’re curious about – chemistry, beekeeping… basically scratch every itch that comes up, even the things that you’re minutely interested in. Maybe you’re interested in comic book characters, scratch that itch – go to ComicCon! Go take in as much stimulus and as much input into your head as possible.
Is it more about emotion than logic? Your reaction to how something makes you feel versus how you think it might fit into your life and rationalizing it all?
Ultimately what it boils down to is that by putting a focus on the fact that you are scratching the itches that compel you, those are steps towards self-actualisation. And I talk about it in the book - Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – you need food, shelter, security, relationships and ego. And those four things we take care of every single day and it’s like a checkbox where you go, 'yes, I am Tim Tamashiro, and I have food on the table and shelter, yes, security, money in the bank account, and I’m in a safe environment.' But the very, very last thing that we do though, is go to the top of the pyramid which is known as self-actualisation. We don’t go to that because we’ve checked off these bottom four and we just go ‘good enough’.
So, by having an Ikigai practice where you’re going and scratching all these itches, that’s part of your self-actualisation process. That’s part of you going, 'I’m going to be relentless about this and I’m going to make sure that I go and do the things that are just super interesting for me because something bigger is going to come out of it'.
So, the second step is to zero in, and that is basically taking shots, 'I learned all this stuff, and I’m really interested in what I’m learning. I’m going to take a shot at zeroing in on what my Ikigai might be.” Take a shot, see where it lands, and then stand back and go, ‘is that it? Hmm, well it’s a little off-kilter…', but the good thing is about taking a shot is that you can recalibrate and take another shot.
The third step is to step back and go, ‘I’m not going to try to solve this problem now, I’m going to go for a walk, I’m going to go on a holiday, I’m going to go spend a couple of days with the kids at the community pool.” And by letting go of it, your subconscious has the ability to start solving the problem in its own. But it’s really important, that was one of the best things that I learned at CBC is that when I had a story that I was really trying to wrap my head around, and I was having the hardest time ever, all I had to do was just get up and take a walk around the block and when I came back I’d always have an answer, because I let it go and the subconscious took over and then all of a sudden, boom, there was an answer. More than anything, it’s about employing your creativity to explore whatever is interesting to you, it could be absolutely anything.
Are there some suggestions for tapping into that deeper connection with the self to uncover your Ikigai? Daily practices?
Think in terms of working out. We know a daily workout is going to impact your health greatly, and that workout could be a 30-minute walk around your neighbourhood, but it does impact your overall health. What I encourage people to think of is, yes, work out, but don’t forget to work YOU into your day as well. And to ensure that you are doing something that is absolutely you every single day. And that could literally be spending time with friends, a 20-minute coffee with somebody, or doing things that you’re really connected to with your family. Just make sure that you include something that’s joyful, work it in every day.
So, it doesn’t have to necessarily be the scary, inward deep dive into our psyche, it’s just taking that Me Time?
And look forward to it! Just know that you’re going to wake up every day and you’re going to do something that is absolutely Me Time. It’s an opportunity to include more you into your day, and people light up when they hear that, they go, ‘wait a second, I can have more of myself in every day?’ Yeah! If you choose to do it and you do it like a daily practice. One of the stories that I tell [in the book] is the story of Mr Miyagi and Daniel-san doing the Karate Kid wax-on-wax-off, paint the house and fence… The real lesson wasn’t in those self-defence movements, the real lesson came when Daniel figured out ‘I’ve been doing all these movements and it’s taught me muscle memory’ and when Mr Miyagi said, ‘ok, you’ve learned it, come back tomorrow.’ That is the lesson of Ikigai, you’ve got to come back tomorrow and do it again.
Some other articles I read about Ikigai had a real focus on the future – improving yourself for a better future, discovering your purpose and then fulfilling it and setting goals.
That seems like retirement planning to me! Which, in itself, is a great safety net, but what about today? That’s the question that I ask people – what are you going to do today that’s going to bring you joy?
Because tomorrow might not come.
That’s exactly it. I had three things today that I was really looking forward to, 1) a phone call with the lady from Paris [regarding a speaking event], 2) I get to come and see my friend Kristen, 3) I’m going for lunch with my friend David and his daughter. Those are three things that I wake up and look forward to. Other days it might be just as simple as spending time with my dog. As long as its Me Time. Work IN – I love that concept, work in time for yourself.
Sometimes that feels hard to do!
I’m going to write other books on Ikigai, and I’m going to focus on periods of life – Ikigai for recent graduates. Adults are asking you, ‘so what are you going to do now?’ A really hard question for any kid to answer because they’ve gone from high school where they’ve done everything that adults have told them to do, they’ve followed all the rules, they’ve learned to read and write and do arithmetic, and now they’re prepared to make a decision to choose and follow through [on a life career]? No, explore! Zero in and step away and take as much time as possible to get to know yourself, that’s your job. And then you choose and follow through.
That’s a really different mindset from today’s society thinking that kids that take that time are lazy for not knowing what they want right away.
I think it’s crazy that society says that it’s OK for a kid to come out of high school and to take a wild guess at a career and pay $30K per year [at college] on a guess. That’s irresponsible of us to make those assumptions that kids are going to be able to figure it out. My dream is that the concept of Ikigai becomes as well know as karate, they both came from Okinawa, that it becomes so well known that it becomes implemented into parenthood, so you can teach your kids that, and this is a fake Buddha quote but, ‘that your work is to figure out what your work is’.
How can parents help kids be conscious and have their ‘me time’ and follow that passion instead of siloing them?
By example. It’s pretty hard for a kid to dedicate time to themselves if they don’t see their parents doing it. And as a parent, I always believe that we only have three jobs to teach our kids: be smart, be funny and be kind. By smart, what I mean is that you’ve got to be smart to realise that life is going to try to teach you lessons. And if you don’t learn those lessons you have to take them over again, and again, and again. So be smart enough to learn your lessons. And then to move ahead to learn more lessons. And be funny - to yourself and others. And be kind - to yourself especially, and others.
From an Ikigai standpoint, I think that one gift that millennials are teaching older generations is that life is supposed to be based on mutual satisfaction, it’s supposed to be based on joy and purpose and family connection and friendships and those types of really good things. And we’re seeing it more and more that companies are starting to figure out that by allowing each of their employees to be more of themselves, that is really an investment in the employee, and the employee puts back that investment into the company ten-fold. I read something the other day from a company in Australia, they implemented a new policy that was something called Life Leave. All of their employees are entitled to 3 months of Life Leave every year. Basically what that allows individuals to do is use it as vacation, secondment someplace, go back to school, or even sit their ass on the couch and binge-watch Netflix. Whatever they want!
Millennials are practising Ikigai without even realising it! How does a person find their Ikigai while maintaining their community, how can their community support them, and how can we move toward a society that supports this idea?
In our chosen time for ourselves, we tend to do what we feel compelled to do. I mention this in my TedTalk, the difference between our work and our job, a job is something that compensates you in exchange for your time, whereas your work is creating something bigger, a more meaningful you. So, bring your work to your job!
There’s something called job-crafting that I talk about in the book. For example, [former colleague and co-host of CBC Calgary’s morning radio show the Eyeopener] Angela Knight, a lovely woman who understands that her passion is volunteerism and to be able to make the community a better place through volunteerism. There was nothing in her radio co-host and traffic reporter job description that says that she is going to be bringing charity and community into that role. She crafted that herself, she brought that to CBC and look at how well it’s done! Now there are Do Crews [monthly community volunteer projects coordinated through CBC] across the country, it’s a beautiful story. So as far as community is concerned, if you really, passionately believe in something, bring your work to your job and your community will follow you. Don’t ask for permission, just do it!
If there was one thing that I would put an exclamation mark behind, is that Ikigai translates to ‘life’s work’! What is your life work? If you say, ‘my life is worth everything’, then my question is ‘what are you doing about it today? What are you doing that you love and that you’re good at?’ The interesting thing about Ikigai is that once you answer those two questions, you start seeing the world come back to you and say, ‘you’re telling the truth about what you’re passionate about and I want to learn more! Thank you for sharing this!’ and as the person doing it you say toyourself, ‘that was a reward, ok, I’ll do more of that!’ And it’s like a boomerang that goes around and around.
Let tomorrow take care of itself. Be more YOU now.