I definitely anticipated that my life would be in a strange state of flux when I got to this point - ending one chapter and beginning the next. Even so, I never imagined that I would finish my doctoral degree, a five-year journey that includes a dissertation in viral research, during the very same semester that the world is experiencing a viral pandemic. The irony is certainly not lost on me. 

What to do now? The answer may seem obvious. I’m a laboratory-trained virologist with BSL-3 certification and there may quite literally never exist a more appropriate time to exercise my newly-acquired knowledge and skills; however, the raw, honest, truth is that I’m just not completely sold on the idea of more lab work just yet. Don’t get me wrong, I want to contribute to the greater good, and I intend to, one way or another. I’m just not sure how.

It may seem absurd that I would be finishing my degree in higher education and still not know what I want “to do” with my life moving forward. Well, believe you me, the irony is not lost here, either. At the same time, I try to derive solace from the countless conversations I’ve had with fellow students, undergraduate and graduate alike, that likewise feel a lack of direction. There have even been occasions where I’ve expressed my concern of a nebulous future to faculty, some of whom have surprisingly reciprocated by sharing similar anxieties. Cool, so I’m not 100% alone in this, then. But where to go from there?

In the next few weeks, my hope is to share some of the lessons that I have been learning in regard to my predicament described above. More specifically, I’m excited by the opportunity to try and disseminate a semi-ancient concept which I’ve only just recently started to dive into – the concept of ikigai.

If you are unfamiliar, ikigai is a Japanese principle that attempts to encompass all of the aspects of daily life into a core reason (gai) to live (iki). I’ll be sharing what I’ve learned, and am still learning, about ikigai in a “mini-series” over the remaining four weeks of the semester.

As one can see, ikigai takes into consideration many aspects of daily life, residing at the intersection of what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you’re good at. Further, ikigai highlights the imbalances that may exists when these foci of daily life are unequally distributed; in other words, one cannot only focus on one’s passion, mission, vocation, or profession, but rather, true ikigai can only be achieved when each of these respective areas are equally represented.

If you’re like me, then perhaps the first time you hear about ikigai you think “that’s nice, but isn’t it sort of obvious?” Likely, we’ve all been urged by friends and family members to “find a way to make money doing what you love.” While that is not bad advice, I now believe that it is overly-simplified. So again, if you are like me, perhaps you will chew on this new finding for a few days before thinking “hmm, maybe there is something more to be said here.”

Granted, hearing about the concept and seeing a diagram is always the easier first step in learning about a new piece of wisdom. I will be the first to admit that I am still learning, myself, all of the intricate and underlying details about ikigai, including how to actually implement such a broad but precise way of living. Nevertheless, it seems appropriately timed to learn about these principle now as I transition into the next chapter of my life, considering what I do (or don’t) want to pursue as a future trajectory. 

I hope that it may prove useful to some of you out there, too. Maybe you are likewise nearing the intersection of your next big adventure. Alternatively, maybe you feel anxiety about the future on a regular basis (I relate), and are constantly seeking out various philosophies that may help to mollify that inner monologue… It would bring me no greater joy than to offer a potential solution. 

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

 P.S. If you’d like to learn along with me, I am currently reading/referencing the book below!
Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up To Joy and Purpose Every Day by Ken Mogi