Do what you love — is pointless advice

Here’s how to swap your career to a calling.

«Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.»
— Mark Twain

«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.

What is IKIGAI

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:

What do I love and what am I good at?

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.

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