The idea for this article came from the work of Dr. John Day, a cardiologist and author of The Longevity Plan, a book that took five years to research and write. In the early part of his book, Dr. Day describes how years ago he was "eating trash" in between surgical procedures and hoping to make up for it by running marathons. In that respect, he failed; his health was miserable. Read more on Forbes...
Bruce Kasanoff and just launched Ikigai Park City, a new institute designed to help successful professionals like you discover, articulate, and maintain your purpose. 🦋 And to celebrate, we’re giving you a free gift. We created a brand new guide, “Give Yourself Permission To Be Your True Self,” which includes seven profound lessons about discovering your purpose. Click to watch Amy's video...
This post took me 26 minutes to write; I timed it and am writing this sentence last. Why did it go so fast?
It's Monday afternoon on Memorial Day weekend, a holiday in the United States. I've spent the weekend researching overlaps between ikigai—the Japanese term for "reason for being"—and the flow state, which some call "being in the zone."
Why did I work all weekend? Did a client make me? Not at all. My purpose is helping other people find their purpose, so my whole weekend felt like play.
Few things excite me like finding an idea that other people can use to great effect. In this case, asking a simple question can lead you to a life elevated with purpose and meaning:
When have I experienced flow?
Flow is what happens when time seems to stand still. You are operating at your very best, 100% focused on what you are doing, and utterly enjoying yourself... even if what you are doing is especially challenging. In reality, flow often comes as a direct result of challenging yourself.
True confession: I cheated slightly. In reality, I want you to ask the same question four times, with only a slight variation:
- When have you been in the zone because you so much loved what you were doing?
- When have you been in the zone because you were so good at something?
- When have you been in the zone because you were helping others in such a meaningful manner?
- When have you been in the zone because it was so effortless to make money?
I'd like to suggest that the presence of the flow state is a wonderful clue that you are doing something you are meant to do. It is nearly impossible to achieve flow when doing something you hate. You might think of flow as an extremely helpful sign leading you towards ikigai (represented by that white circle in the center, where the other four elements overlap).
Starting at the top left and moving clockwise, the circles represent:
- Your passions
- Your strengths
- What others will pay you to do
- What others need
Finding your ikigai and shifting your career to focus on it is more complicated than this, but following your flow is a wonderful way to begin the process.
Photo credit: Dick Sijtsma/Flickr
After years of being consumed with your day-to-day craziness, one day you suddenly awaken…and discover that you’ve been denying and even hiding parts of yourself.
You may have an outwardly successful life and career but still feel something is missing. You’re no longer content with good enough; you want great. And you want it now.
I can attest to having my own midlife awakening when I finally stopped hiding and fully stepped into my why…my purpose…what the Japanese call my #ikigai, or “reason for being.” I was born to inspire transformation. To help others positively change their lives.
To help others find THEIR ikigai.
According to Psychology Today, back in 2008 Toshimasa Sone and colleagues at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine concluded a seven-year longitudinal study of 43,000+ Japanese adults. "The researchers found that individuals who believed that their life was worth living were less likely to die than were their counterparts without this belief."
The Japanese word for this sense of purpose is ikigai. It means believing that your life is worth living. Google the word, and you're likely to find an image that looks like this:
Here's how Psychology Today summarized the researchers' results. "95% of respondents who reported a sense of meaning in their lives were alive seven years after the initial survey versus about 83% of those who reported no sense of meaning in their lives."
Now imagine that you are one of those fortunate professionals who believe that your abilities are not fixed. That is, with effort, you can grow your abilities. Here's my picture of what that means:
The yellow represents the growth in your "What You Do Well" circle. Through persistent effort, it gets bigger. As it gets bigger, the potential overlap increases between your best abilities and the other three circles.
To put this simply, you get more ikigai.
Can I prove that doing this will extend your life?
But would I take that bet?
Here's the deal. You can't control whether a volcano will erupt in your backyard, or whether your boss will suddenly decide to hire his daughter and fire you.
But you can control the amount of effort you invest in expanding your skills, growing your experience, and opening your mind. All of these are likely to deepen your appreciation of your life and the role you play in our world.
May you enjoy more ikigai with each passing year.
Photo credit: chibitom/Flickr
A few years ago, David Brooks wrote an eloquent piece, The Moral Bucket List, in which he made the case that there are resume virtues and eulogy virtues; the former are skills you sell, while the latter are those that your family, friends and colleagues celebrate at your funeral.
Few of us want to be praised at our funeral as a "darn good product manager," but most of us lead our lives as though that outcome would be good enough.
My headline may be a bit inaccurate. The question isn't what will others say at your funeral? It's...
Where should I focus my efforts, for all my remaining days?
David's piece outlined six ways that some make the leap to eulogy virtues. In truth, all seemed a bit intimidating to me. It occurred to me that I could share a simpler formula for acquiring eulogy virtues. I didn't invent it, but rather pieced it together from the work of others.
1.) Growth: You start by recognizing what Carol Dweck wrote about in Mindset, which is that people with a growth mindset tend to outperform those with a fixed mindset. That is, if you think your abilities are fixed, you won’t do as well as people who believe that with enough effort, they can expand their capabilities.
But it's not enough to simply understand this. Doing so won't change the quality of your life.
You have to.. make growth your #1 goal, in both your career and personal life.
To be clear, if you embrace this mindset, your number one goal will no longer be "become a CEO" or "take my startup public." It will be growth as a long-term, unrelenting goal.
Once you adopt this mindset, you will never be content to plateau.
2.) Grit: Next, you apply grit behind your long-term goal of growth.
As University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor Angela Duckworth explains, grit is “the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.”
Duckworth, like Dweck, believes that effort is more important than talent. Her research suggests that the longer the time period you consider, the greater the advantage of effort over talent.
For example, if you are betting on a impromptu race between two teenagers on a football field, bet on talent. But if you are betting on which teenager will have the most rewarding life, bet on effort.
3.) Giving: Focus on the needs of other people, not just on your own needs. As Adam Grant - also at UPenn - pointed out in Give and Take, the most successful professionals in the world have a giving mindset; they are primarily focused on the needs of others.
A giving mindset brings purpose to your life. It gives your life a massive nudge in the direction of eulogy virtues. It is what transforms a great career into a stellar life.
I'd argue that a giving mindset is both altruistic and selfish. On the one hand, it vastly increases the odds that you will help others and make our world a significantly better place. On the other, helping others has a way of coming back your way with numerous personal and career benefits. I can't fully explain how this works, but have experienced firsthand that this is true.