“Do what you love” is one of today’s most widespread axioms - on Instagram, stuffed into blog posts and sanctimoniously stamped across stationary. But how useful is this advice in actually finding your life’s work in the real world?
Things you might love: yoga, snowboarding, seeing your buddies, dining out, movies and the rest. But how much would you really love the above if you were to do it day in, day out, 365 days a year? This might suit some people, but for most of us our hobbies aren’t necessarily the best indicator of what we might consider a “calling”.
Some are on the camp of ‘my work and life are separate and I wouldn’t have it any other way’, but for an increasing number of people, work and life are merging into one. And with good reason, as millennials will on average retire at the age of 70 or not at all.
In a previous life, our career paths may have gone like this: nursery, school, university, intern, first job (and last job), retirement. Today, it can be said that to have ‘made it’ means finding that ethereal ‘purpose’, as well as being able to pay the bills (and of course, getting on that property ladder!). So we thought we’d share some ancient wisdom to help you on your way.
A good place to start is by understanding the Japanese term, Ikigai. Ikigai, a mix of two Japanese words, ‘iki’ meaning ‘life’ and ‘gai’ meaning ‘value or worth’, dates back to the Heian period (795 to 1185) - a time when Buddhism, Taoism and other Chinese influences were at their height.
The term Ikigai today can be understood as “the source of value in one's life or the things that make one's life worthwhile.” In Okinawan culture (Okinawans are thought to have the longest lifespan on the planet), Ikigai is known as their “reason to get up in the morning”.
It’s believed that each individual has their own unique ikigai, which directly reflects their truest ‘self’ whilst also providing a feeling of contentment and ease. In other words, your ikigai is what provides your with an overall sense of fulfilment, healthy dose of challenge and regular moments of ‘flow’ (a feeling of energised focus and total immersion in the activity) in your everyday life.
"People can feel real ikigai only when, on the basis of personal maturity, the satisfaction of various desires, love and happiness, encounters with others, and a sense of the value of life, they proceed toward self-realization." - Kobayashi, Tsukasa (1990-04-04). "Ikigai — jibun no kanosei, kaikasaseru katei". Nihon Keizai Shinbun. Tokyo.
Western cultures have more recently appropriated this term in a Venn diagram (below) - perhaps a more tangible way to start thinking about your purpose or ‘calling’.
So next time you’re thinking ‘what should I do with my life?’, ask yourself:
E.g. I love maths and I’m good at geometry.
How can I be paid for this AND support what the world needs right now?
E.g. I could work as an architect - the world needs more innovative, forward-looking architects to design future-proof buildings that will withstand natural disasters in the most impoverished areas of the world.
By reflecting on these simple questions, you never know what you might find.
Charles Darwin took long walks around London. Kurt Vonnegut made listening to jazz a daily priority. Fiona Apple disappeared for 6 years after the release of her third album.
I ask because I can often be found agonising over the "more". If only I posted on Instagram more, I'll think in the bath. I'd have more followers if I pitched to more publications. I need to post 2 more times a week, minimum. I could go on...
Between you and me, I've got frustrated with myself for browsing Facebook or watching too much TV more times than I can remember.
And I'm not alone. So many of us are terrified of taking a break, creatively speaking. We won't let a moment pass without listening to a podcast, consuming an article or sharing something.
The cognitive load is real, y'all.
But like Vitamin D, sleep and good food, it's not only ok to take a break, it's essential.
Living a successful life is also about knowing when not to work. For your best output, you need to focus on your input, too.
The world won't end if you disappear from the internet for a week or so. Your creativity won't suddenly stop. Your time is now, but your time was also then and it will be again.
Many of us confuse being "busy" with being constructive. But you can only do your best work by taking breaks.
And science backs it up, too. The brain requires substantial downtime to do its most innovative thinking. The ideas you have while driving or in the shower aren't coincidental. They're a result of you taking a step back, whether you're aware of it or not.
Let yourself take a wonderful and indulgent break. Several breaks. Hell, get downright bored.
Put airplane mode on for a while. Sit down. Lie down. Be still. Do nothing. Observe. Listen to your mind. Let it do what it does without judging it.
Wallow in it. Don't be afraid of it. Push it as far as you can.
When you leave your laptop behind, something always happens. A new idea or a fresh perspective appears.
Take proper breaks, often. Completely clear your mind. Your next best idea depends on it.