Over the last few weeks, I have been sharing my journey of discovery into the Japanese lifestyle practice of ikigai. In my first blog, I briefly described the concept of ikigai as the intersection between a) what you are good at, b) what the world needs, c) what you can get paid for, and d) what you love. In my second blog, I referenced Dr. Ken Mogi’s five “pillars” of ikigai, the foundations upon which the practice of ikigai can be supported. These pillars include starting small, releasing yourself, harmony and sustainability, the joy of the little things, and being in the here and now. Lastly, in my third and most recent blog, I introduced the separate but related practice of kodawari. Like ikigai, kodawari is said to be challenging to translate; however, it appears as though it can be simply defined as the uncompromising and relentless pursuit of perfection. In this final blog of my “mini-series,” I wanted to share with you some final thoughts as we all transition into the next chapter of our respective lives.

Learning about ikigai has been a fun experience. I know that there is still much yet to contemplate, but having now found a goal to aim toward in the pursuit of future happiness feels so utterly reassuring. What do I mean by that? Well, I just find it so relieving to know that there is hope for finding balance among the multiple walks of life that we must all travel. In today’s day and age, there seems to be a real challenge in finding an occupation that doesn’t require some level of compromise. Perhaps you are earning money using a skill, though neither the income nor the exercise of this skill brings you real joy. Alternatively, perhaps you are happy practicing what you are good at, but are unable to find a way to implement your talents in a lucrative manner. Until recently, I had apparently latched onto the false understanding that life would always require a level of compromise like these. It’s so nice to know that there is, in fact, an approach to living which attempts to counter this very misconception.

Despite the excitement that accompanies the recognition that an ideal balance can be achieved, I also perceive the amount of work that must be undertaken to be successful in this journey. To be certain, it is unlikely that one’s ikigai simply manifests in front of them. That’s not to say that it can’t happen; however, I think it is important to bare in mind that like all lifestyle practices, there is going to be a great deal of introspection required as life moves forward. More than likely, it will take years to fully understand what I even want, let alone how to seek out and obtain those ambitions.

Due to the expected timeline that lies ahead, in tandem with the expected changes that will need to be made, there is an equal importance in one’s ability and willingness to adapt. Speaking from my own experience, I can now identify many learning opportunities which have spawned from various life paths which may have been leading me toward my ikigai in an indirect and unexpected way. That is to say, the purpose of many trials we face will probably remain elusive; nevertheless, practicing the ability to adapt helps us to move past these experiences with wisdom in hand, always pushing onward toward finding ikigai.

Finally, I feel it necessary to urge you never to surrender on your journey toward discovering your ikigai. Indeed, the journey may be long and confusing, and there will likely be obstacles which are more or less recognizable as “distractors.” Some will slow down our progress while other may speed it up. In all cases, we are able to emerge from the experience with knowledge gained and wisdom in-hand if we are willing to take a step back and reflect on what has occurred.

I hope this mini-series was as informative for you as it was for me. If nothing else, I hope it ignited a small spark in your mind with regard to ikigai, or an interest in the pursuit of your own balance and happiness. No doubt that there are many philosophies available aimed at similar outcomes, with ikigai representing just one school of thought. Regardless, I believe that with effort and determination, each of us, in our own way, can discover our reason for being. 

For now,

Tyler Sherman
Ph.D., Biological Education
Yoga Instructor, Campus Rec Center