The Search for Ikigai

Peoples’ Daily News Personal Writings Radio

            New Orleans      I like to joke that we are all “lifetime learners,” meaning essentially that we have to keep our eyes open and our minds alert on the long journey, so that we can not only make a difference, hopefully, but at the least, fight boredom.  In that process, I collect facts for our radio stations in something I call the “Peoples’ Daily News”, which as its tagline says, is about “actions and issues that demand action”, as well as a daily discipline to force me to try my best to keep up with the world.  In my professional and personal practice, I also can’t resist being attracted to unique and fun facts that come as a surprise.  Reading recently a book I had picked up because I read claims that it was the definitive work on disc jockeys, thinking I would learn something about the care and feeding of our scores of radio hosts, I found that it was actually more about the DJs at dance parties, and how they had evolved.  Fair enough, but in reading, I also learned about a movement in the areas of England I had just visited called “northern soul.”  Now that was interesting to me!

In a similar vein, I was catching up on newspapers and magazines I had missed while overseas and was reading a back issue of the conservative weekly, The Economist, and stumbled on a piece about something called ikigai.  In the usual way of this magazine, the reporter had adopted a bemused, above-it-all attitude about the concept evoked by this Japanese word, poking at the way Westerners had appropriated and recast something as profound and exotic that Japanese in their own land hardly recognized as anything more than banal.  This is part of the Economist style book I’m pretty sure, just like their proclivity to make puns and jokes out of headlines, so that they can seem to be gazing at the rest of us mere mortals not yet heaven sent. But if you’re mining for gold, you have to get past the rest of the dirt and rocks to find it.

Anyway, ikigai is the sweet spot at the intersection of “what you love”, “what you are good at”, “what the world needs”, and “what you can be paid for.”  These days, both during and now in the semi-post-pandemic, it would seem the way many are looking at their work, and that’s not trivial.  I have always felt wildly lucky to have stumbled onto my life’s work and found a path that has propelled me along a straight line for way over fifty years.  At the same time, I work with people and pay attention to them.  Many colleagues, as well as family and friends, are still searching.  Simple as it sounds, maybe this notion of ikigai might be helpful to them in thinking through their way forward in these fraught times.

In fact, the snide, condescending and unknown reporter for the Economist, after going through how some ikigai-west advocates had make a living on this hustle with guides, books, classes, trainings, and various sessions, comes round by Suzie’s house after all of this superior-than-thou dissertation paragraph after to paragraph, to finally get to the point.  In fact, the reporter thinks it would be a grand idea if Japan, given its soul-crunching corporate culture and leading suicide rate, embraced ikigai nationally.

The Economist could have just come right out and said that, but that’s not their way.  It hardly matters.  My point is simple.  Sometimes you have to ignore the messenger and try to grasp and absorb the message.  In that sense, ikigai is a fun fact on its own, and for many, just might be a helpful tool in traversing these times.