At the cross roads of Love, Necessity, Skill, and Reward we find Ikigai. Roughly translated, Ikigai means Life’s Worth – a fitting definition after my last post What’s Your Life Worth? This concept has captured my imagination since the first time I heard of it years ago. In the pursuit of happiness I truly believe that a person must reflect to find their calling or their Ikigai.
Growing up I was surrounded by examples of people who served others. I often reflect on the implied sense of duty in their life choices. What it boils down to for me is the following – if you are capable of providing beyond your own needs, then you have a duty to care for those around you. Many people in my family chose to serve, either in the military, through medicine, or education. They all gave a part of themselves to make the lives of strangers in their communities and beyond better. That message follows me wherever I go. My Ikigai is to serve others.
I think the real struggle we find in our hearts and minds this day in age is how to align pursuing a successful career with a life filled with purpose. We all want to have an opportunity to advance, achieve mastery, and be well compensated while we pursue our calling in life. My parent’s generation often told their children, me included, that we could be whatever we wanted to be. I think that is in-fact true, but it leaves out some important caveats. For example, you can be whatever you want to be, but it might be incredibly difficult, or low paying, or highly dangerous, or looked down upon by others, etc. One of my family members, in reference to the “you can be whatever you want” saying once told me he regretted ever telling us that when we were young. He now believes the advice that we ought to follow is, “find a well paying job and pursue our passions on the side”. He thinks that his generation did my generation a disservice by telling us we could be whatever we want to be. I’m not sure I agree with him though.
I think a person can pursue their calling in a profession that compensates them well and provides for a sense of security , mastery, and advancement. While I can’t say that I have necessarily found that for myself at this point in my life, I know that my fiance has. The lesson that I have taken away is that it is extremely difficult and requires an uncompromising ability to self-reflect and drive to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles. My fiance has truly been an inspiration for me and an advocate in my pursuit of happiness and finding my calling. In-fact she is the inspiration behind this post.
The good news is that this all fits nicely into our construct of pursuing happiness. In my earlier post about The Happiness Factors I spoke about the eight behaviors and thoughts that affect our happiness. I believe that pursuing Ikigai can positively affect four of the happiness factors – Optimism, Expressing Gratitude, Emotional Poise and Strength, and Life Long Goals and Ambitions.
To achieve this though one has to invest in themselves. As the saying goes
“If you want something you’ve never had you must be willing to do something you’ve never done” – Thomas Jefferson.
That’s why I feel one must start planning for and executing on major changes that allows them to pursue their Ikigai. For me, that meant going to school for a formal education. It turns out that nearly no amount of self-study inspires confidence in the world of business when it comes to finances. People want to see that you have a degree. So, in my case and in the diagram below I have used symbols for higher education, but for you it may be something completely different.
The important question to ask yourself is “How can I invest in myself to most efficiently and effectively achieve my goal of pursuing happiness?” For some people that will be focusing on changing behaviors to optimize their current career path, for others that will be building an entirely new skill to augment what they are currently capable of. Often times the best investment one can make is in themselves. The question is simply what is the path that makes the most sense for them. To make a clear judgement it is important to understand what it will cost you and what the long-term benefits are. In other words, what is the opportunity cost of investing in yourself? This question is fraught with difficulty because while the cost may be in terms of money and time the reward may be in terms of satisfying your passion. In other words, you may need to exchange money in order to pursue your passions.
This all may sound strange coming from a self-proclaimed finance geek, but it is true. In-fact I did it myself. When I decided to leave the military I was giving up an above average income with very attractive benefits to pursue a career in finance. That resulted in me being without full-time work for six years. The opportunity cost of giving up a steady stream of income for six years, the benefits associated with that, and the incredibly low-cost of living associated with deployments and field exercises is truly mind-boggling. Certainly this didn’t make financial sense, but it aligned with my passion for finance which is something I am good at. It is true, that if I continue to work for long enough, the marginal increase in pay I have received after my education will make up for all of the time I spent in college just scrapping by, but it will take a long time.
So, was it worth it? Absolutely! I have learned more than I ever imagined, met incredible people with similar interests, and found myself much further down the road of mastery then where I began. While I don’t imagine several years of college is the right path for everyone in their pursuit of happiness and Ikigai, I do believe that investing in one’s self is necessary for growth to ensure that you are rewarded. On that note, I leave you with the following Ted Talk by Tim Tamashiro.