Ikigai – Your Reason for Being
What is learning – getting the know-how of society, or passing the exams and landing a right job?
Answer to it is: None.
We often misinterpret education for learning – learning is the natural process that we undergo in our journey of life. It is a deep and lengthy search of self that helps us adapt and grow. The process to hone ourselves is inbuilt within our system.
While learning is an ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge, education isformally acquiring information, habits, values. It develops the potential to broaden your mind, to open the access points, to build capability to connect the dots, and to differentiate right from wrong.
As put in the Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover, “Education should always be an expansion of your mind, a deepening of your empathy, a broadening of your perspective. It should not be something that hardens your prejudices. If people become educated, they should become less certain, not more. They should listen more; talk less. They should have a passion for difference and a love of ideas that are not theirs.”
To give a simplistic rendering of it, the concept of holistic learning is to open a world of possibilities for oneself, infusing within self, the ability to realise and appreciate our calling, and education is just a chute to assist with it. It does not happen in a day, for it is not a task or mission, but a never-ending journey to attain happiness.
But when do we start venturing onto our lifelong learning adventure?
Our life is a journey that begins right from our mothers’ wombs. We get on this journey without an itinerary, devoid of a definite path, but, along the way life and learning happen.
A path that should have been carved by us and the choices we should have made, is staved off under the influence of our surroundings. We are shackled and shoved to take a route that is already ridden by many. Somehow, we let go our in-build instinct and hit the road taken by many. We misapprehend it to be our journey and follow the herd, striving to do better than others.
We misconstrue someone else’s journey as ours and run a race that is not even meant for us.
And this is where the ‘struggle’ begins.
Why does it happen, after all? The answer to it is Learning – a term often misinterpreted. Learning is not just the formal education that we are imparted at educational institutions, learning is an on-going process. A presumption that humans learn only via schooling is what becomes a hitch to our wholesome growth.
Undeniably, learning is what makes us humans an intellectual species. Our ability to comprehend things, debate, differentiate the right from wrong is part and parcel of it. But what must not be forgotten is, the process of learning happens at each step in our life, our body adjusts and reacts to new surroundings, and that is what helps one to survive, sustain and grow.
It would not be wrong to earmark learning as the essence of human existence. Without hesitation, one should be able to embrace it and let it take its course. That is how one progresses on the path to self-discovery. Make sure, learning should be pursued vigorously and enthusiastically.
What comes across as a question now is, how is learning different from education?
Education is one of the learning mechanisms that was introduced to perpetuate learning, however, we have diverted from the sole purpose it had. It has reduced to the activities which take us to our predefined destination, rather than help us wholesomely live our life journey. Our education has tapered to prepping people to earn a living, instead of moulding them to lead a purposeful life.
Strictly stated, learning is an incessant process. We learn at all times and places, by the means of situations we encounter. Considering the pit stops such as schooling, job or career as our life’s rationale is unjustified. While these stopovers are necessary to make a living, these are not life. We must carry on with our journeys with all awakened sense of purpose, without being restricted to achieving lofty life goals. Society has made us perceive (a yardstick) that if we do not achieve those goals, we will be pulled and tossed into the ditch of incompetency; we will be reckoned as skill-less. However, this is not the case. Falling short of achieving a temporary life goal does not define your understanding about life journey, or lack of it.
It must be understood that human life journey is quite intricate. To carve a design that beautifies our life is on us. We cannot just go around copying others’ patterns or following their footsteps but need to prep ourselves up to model a journey that befits us.
Keep reminding yourself that the journey is a part of your story and that is what shapes who you are. Do not allow anyone to rush you through the perceived timelines. Every individual operates on a different clock and has their own set of milestones to be achieved within a particular duration. Einstein once rightly quoted, “not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that is counted truly counts.”It implies, what matters to you may not be quantifiable or important for anyone else, and what matters to others may not largely make a difference to your life. Thus, focus on something that gives you the joy and satisfaction of fulfilment.
When we are trying to unlearn the unimportant and learn what encompasses our journey, life happens. But what is life? It is a convoluted concept and takes a substantial amount of time to get a hang of. It is not as easy to understand as portrayed by the spiritual advisors and the likes. They often demand us to follow our dreams or passion, but isn’t dream without a plan, a mere wish? Instead of pushing yourself towards the realisation of your dream, surrender yourself to life, let it take its course, live every moment, and learn from it.
Profession and passion are often considered to be simple concepts, but in reality, these are beyond clichéd. An important part of letting life’s journey take its course involves chucking the concepts like following the heart. Wouldn’t a better approach to a satisfactory life be realising your reason for being – realising your Ikigai?
A renowned Japanese concept – Ikigai – is a more refined approach to finding your purpose and a direction in life. It is about taking actions which would give meaning to your life and make it worthwhile. To be precise ‘Ikigai’ means ‘a reason for being’.
Let’s understand through the diagram below. Ikigai is not just passion or mission or profession or vacation, but a point of amalgamation of all four. These are the elements of our life that keep us going, push us to figure out our reason for being. And once you zero down on your ‘reason for being’, you stick to it.
The original diagram was created by British community activist Marc Winn in 2014 from a TED Talk on Longevity by writer Dan Buettner.
While growing up, the question we had to encounter the most was, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, isn’t it?
Having a constructive reply to this question was a must, or else you would bring disappointment to your family as being someone who has not thought of his future goal. Certainly, we dreaded the question. Adults in the family, who had their career path chalked out, often expected us to reply with a job that we would want to land or a profession we would want to follow. But this is not what a reason for being is.
More often than not, having a job or building a career is considered to be a common misconception of living a proper life. However, the essence of our life is not restricted to being an entrepreneur or establishing a good career, our life’s purpose – Ikigai – is to kickstart our continuing learning process, and carry on with our mission or vocation with a purpose in mind.
It must be noted and remembered, identifying your Ikigai (the reason for being) cannot and will not happen in a couple of days. It is an incessant process that we have to undergo in order to realise it. You have to be through and keep searching for your calling until you are face to face with it. If you navigate the lives of some of the most successful people in their fields, you would find that most of them attempted various odd jobs, had a career in which they excelled, but continued to look for their calling. It took them a couple of years and even decades before they found their reason for being.
For this to happen, you must have an accepting mindset and must own your journey.
Let’s look at some examples. These would portray Ikigai in the right light and set the context for you. You will note that these humans pushed themselves enough to reach the level where they felt satisfied with their journey.
First, Philippe Petit, a high-wire artist, who attempted high-wire walk at places such as the World Trade Centre and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. His walks are absolutely awe-inspiring. The attempt made on the WTC was done for his pure pleasure. The moment he crossed the north tower, he sat on it and reflected on the process and proceeded to cross it again for nine consecutive times. Crossing it sufficed his sense of self-realisation, gave him the elation he needed and made him realise that, life is not just about fame or money, but about your doings that bring meaning to your life, activities that offer bliss.
Second, Alexander Honnold, a solo mountaineer from America, best known for his 2017 accomplishment of free soloing El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park. This feat performed by him is regarded as one of the greatest athletic achievements of all times. Before accomplishing this feat,
Honnold is known to have spent a year choreographing thousands of precise moves so as to survive a gauntlet of physical and nerve-testing challenges.
In conclusion, Ikigai is the secret to a long, happy and fulfilling life – a life you should not reduce to mere work and career. It is so much more than that. It is about finding something that makes your soul happy, something that makes you jump out of the bed every morning, and pursuing it. The objective of an activity you perform or a career you pick should be to derive euphoria, and fame or money will follow.