Why do you get up in the morning? What gets you to look forward to the day ahead? These are just questions that most people don't really ask, and don't really bother thinking about. Some dismiss it as some random metaphysical constructs that don't really matter. Why bother asking the question "Why" with regards to life when there is too much going on.

There was a time when the question of "why am I here" was commonly answered by religion and spirituality, that our purpose is determined by a god or a mighty entity that controls all things. But as time passes, and ideas grow more progressive, the concept of god is easily dismissed and then society just continued existing. Some may say that the question of our purpose has disappeared, attributing life in the universe as just an accident from a spark billions and billions of years ago.

But I dismiss the idea that a progressive society is no longer asking, because even though the answer "God" has been set aside, the question remains. Elon Musk recently made a claim that we are living in a simulation made an advance version of ourselves, and that time began when the simulation began. But with no means of proving or disproving that theory, it remains as just an answer that replaces "God" in the equation. Is our purpose simply to live out a simulation by a highly advance version of humanity thousands or millions of years into the future?

I guess my argument is that, we existed and came into consciousness many years ago and we have always asked the question why do we exists, and that the only thing that changed all these years is the proposed answer.

But what is the answer really?

There are many proposed by many cultures all over the world, but what I am about to share to you today comes from a mantra from Japan, that serves as a simple guide for you to actually answer the question: "Why am I here" a lot easier.


Ikigai, a short introduction

The Japanese call it Ikigai, coming from IKI meaning Life, and KAI meaning Worth or Reward, so IKIKAI (or more commonly IKI-GAI) means Life Worth. They say that your purpose in life is achieved when you discovered the common overlap across four spectra of life: 1) What you Love, 2) What you are Good at, 3) What you can be Paid for, 4) What the World Needs.

The common idea between all four is your own unique IKIGAI.

We all know of the story that a lot of people in the terminal stages of their careers are. There's always the complainer, the one who had big dreams but never followed through. Or the victim, who blames his misfortune on flaw of the system or society or some big conspiracy of the universe being against him. The bitter retiree who spent all his life living the rat races and the rest to a future full of regret. These are the people who never found their Ikigai, but we also know stories of people who did.

The contented house parent who would rather spend more time with their kids than make a living, the janitor who knows the name of every person in the building and takes pride in the shine of his floors. Perhaps the overworked nurse, who despite working 16 hours in the day still manages to put up a smile as she makes her way home.

I guess you can see the difference, there are a group of people out there who has tons of experience living in a way they need to survive, but not in a way they need to feel worthwhile. And if you are a young reader, idealistic and fresh out of college, you have to understand that you may be setting up yourself to disappointment because the world we live in isn't built to help you find who you are.

How the World is Set Up

Steven Covey said in his famous book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" that the paradigm of success has changed over the years. Since the intellectual renaissance, people have thought about how bigger life is and how a certain way of living leads to a life of purpose. It was during this time that the Master Craftsman became a concept of renown. People everywhere began picking up trades, and sharpening skills and becoming masters in a craft that they ended up doing for the rest of their lives. Guilds began coming up to improve labor, so that not just one master can produce goods, but a whole team of apprentices learning from a mentor would work on creating something through that trade.

A title was awarded to those who would master the skill, be it blacksmith, or painter, or something else. And this earned through a meticulous process that took years, but was engaged in deliberately.

Today, something changed. With technology continuing to advance, life became easier. Certain tasks no longer required specialized skills honed through years, now is the age of instants. Why learn how to cook when you can prepare a meal in minutes, why learn to play an instrument when there are computers in your pockets that can produce music at a touch of a button, why learn how to write when every message can just be typed, spelled checked, formatted and printed at a moments notice.

Why bother learning anything at all? But the convenience of technology is also the trap that prevents us from becoming who we truly are.

When I was teaching, every first meeting of the semester I would make my student stand up one by one to introduce themselves and tell to the class a special trait they possess. Of course the second most common answer is a skill, from singing, dancing, reading (yes it's a skill). But what disappoints me is the most common answer: nothing. This is between 2011 to 2015, and when I asked my students what they do in their free time, it's shocking: watch TV or movies, surf the internet, post on facebook or tumblr. Nothing that makes them unique, they were just trends who go where the flow takes them.

And that is how the world is set up. From a time when people pursued to become creators, to now where everybody is a consumer. And it is this system that prevents you from becoming who are supposed to be, so you have to be vigilant that the trap set up before you doesn't turn you into another story of the bitter old man who never enjoyed his life.

The Secret to Happiness

If you made it this far, congratulations! We live in a world where reading was simplified from narrative that explains things in details to bullet points in lists to digest information easier. It means that you are not bound (completely) to the trap I have mentioned above. But if you are reading this, it means that you interested to know how to achieve Ikigai, and you are willing to undergo the tedious process because the secret cannot be condensed into a 10 step program.

But if you have noticed anything from what I have been saying so far, the secret to happiness is SKILL. It's that simple, if you have a skill and practiced it for years, I'm betting that you are fine just where you are. But like majority of people born to this age of convenience, I'm going to guess that you have are in job you don't like because your dream job is beyond you, because the economy is against you, or your family isn't supportive, or that you didn't grow up with the advantages that gave successful people what they have.

I'm telling you that all the problems in the world boils down to you lacking the mindset needed to acquire happiness. The thing is, every happy person is a master in their own right. Because they have found the overlap among the four aspects of life that led them to their Ikigai.

Let's recall the four aspects: What you Love, What you are Good At, What you can be paid for, and what the world needs.

Looking at that list, it's quite obvious that the overlap is a skill, a trade, an ability that transcends you personally and effects other people. The list can be divided into two parts, Internal & External. The internal aspect involves something that makes you look forward to the day. The external is effect of that passion to world around you, that thing flow that creates a cycle that sustains what you are doing so that it benefits everybody else as well.

If you love something you'll want to immerse yourself in it constantly, and that immersion makes you good at it. Of course, you enjoy doing that thing and you keep doing it everyday, growth will come naturally. But the world is filled with resistances, things that keep you from doing what you love.

People call responsibilities. I have to get a job, I have to be early, I have to finish my assignment, I have to complete 8 hours, I have to earn money, I have to get a raise, I have to work longer hours. Later, what they end up doing everyday for the rest of their lives doesn't fall in the four aspects.

You write reports everyday, but your heart isn't in it. So you half ass your job, and because you don't do it properly, you never achieve competence, and you drone through the day working for a pay check which you are likely to spend on one night because you need to destress.

The fine point here is that: you need to do something everyday for the rest of your life because the world demands it. And if it isn't something that you love, you will never be good at it, which means people won't pay you for it, and if you can't sustain yourself to keep doing it, you'll never end up contributing to the world.

Where to Begin

So it's a cycle. Believe it or not, the world is full of opportunities that allows you to discover something that you love, this in turn leads to mastery which will lead to capacity to sustain that living and give back to the world that gave you the chance to do what you love. Respecting this cycle is the key to discovering Ikigai.

It's easy to identify what the world needs, just look around you, there will always be some complaints that need fixing. And these days people are willing to pay you for almost anything, even for something as simple as clicking on an ad. And you are better than anyone on identifying what you are good at, maybe out of necessity because you just have to know how to do something.

But what you love is tricky? Because in some cases you find a hobby that really interest you, only to have it become boring a few weeks later. This is the question that becomes more difficult to answer as you grow up because answer the question "What do You love" becomes replaced with "What do you Need". We become restrained to look for ways that would make us conform to the standards of society instead of embracing our uniqueness.

And it's that uniqueness that serves as the springboard to discovering your purpose in life.


That is part 1 of this short series on Ikigai. If you learned something from this post, please feel free to let me know in the comments below and share this with your friends. In the next part, I'll be talking about discovering the internal aspects that would allow you to discover your Passion by understanding and appreciating "What you Love" and how it relates to "What you are Good At" which will feature advice from many role models from late and recent history.

If you would like to know about my own personal journey to finding my own Ikigai, please visit my blog [Nothing at All] where I chronicle my experience as I put together the slices of my life to find my own overlap.

Published by Aga Aquino