In Japan, there is an ancient concept known as ikigai. Functionally, this concept represents the intersection of what a person is good at, what a person loves, what the world needs, and what a person can be paid for. As such, it could be said that the goal of discovering one’s ikigai is the goal of discovering one’s “reason for being.” Spiritually, ikigai is that which brings a sense of fulfillment and purpose to daily life.
Over the past couple weeks, I have been sharing my thoughts and discoveries as I embark on my own journey toward finding my personal ikigai (if you like, you can catch up on my first blog: Thinking About The Next Chapter: Considering Life After Graduation and Learning About Ikigai).
Indeed, the concept of ikigai can be realized in numerous ways. For example, in his book Awakening Your Ikigai, Dr. Ken Mogi, a neuroscientist and practitioner of ikigai from Japan, tells the story of a tuna salesman who has discovered his ikigai in a rather unexpected way. Every morning, this tuna salesman raises early to meet incoming suppliers at the dock for the their daily delivery. Here, he sorts through the morning’s shipment, hand-selecting only the finest fish (which, until recently, I hadn’t considered to be such a process). These fish are then sold to specific buyers who, like the fisherman, have realized their own ikigai in the art of sushi and fine cuisine.
This example touches on each of the five fundamental “pillars” of ikigai as described by Dr. Mogi (summarized in my second blog, found here). In brief, these pillars include: 1) starting small, 2) releasing yourself, 3) harmony and sustainability, 4) the joy of the little things, and 5) being in the here and now. As we consider the tuna salesman, we can identify each of these pillars as supporting various aspects of his daily life. For example, we can imagine that he must have started small before building his clientèle. Likewise, there is an apparent harmony and sustainability in his daily life, as he has chosen to continue with the trade, despite any societal judgment, something which also reflects his ability to release himself. Finally, through interviews which confirm that the aforementioned observations are indeed accurate, this tuna salesman has shared his joy of the little things when it comes to relishing in the details of his tasks, and his ability to practice being in the here and now each and every morning.
Recently, I have learned about an additional concept, similar to (but distinct from) the pillars, which is practiced by the tuna salesman and others who have discovered their ikigai. This concept, known as kodawari, is sometimes described as the uncompromising and relentless pursuit of perfection. For many of us, this term may be synonymous with the advice to “always do your best, no matter what.”
Although the implementation of kodawari may not always be readily apparent, I think it could be implicated of as the fuel or currency which drives ikigai. While the pillars act as support and guidance for those willing to seek out their ikigai, kodawari provides the impetus to live with intention. Revisiting the tuna salesman one final time, we can recognize how kodawari is practiced, alongside the pillars, in his daily routine. Raising early to meet the incoming fishermen, even when the weather is cold, necessitates a steadfast commitment to the business. Granted, it could be said that this necessity is born from obligation, rather than choice; however, because the tuna salesman is dedicated to his ikigai, he is happy to practice kodawari despite any personal inconvenience.
When I reflect on my own daily practices, and commitment to kodawari, I can willingly admit that I often default to “good enough.” And I think this is okay… Sometimes. We all have a lot on our plates, and we all struggle to find motivation (a statement which I believe holds a particular relevance at the present). Nevertheless, there is merit in perseverance, especially when dedication is coupled with self-improvement. In truth, I’m glad that this lesson has resurfaced over and over again over the years – almost as if the universe is sending me a gentle reminder, and asking the question: at the end of any given day, are you proud of what you’ve accomplished?
Ph.D., Biological Education
Yoga Instructor, Campus Rec Center