The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai could hold the key to fulfillment

The Japanese philosophy of Ikigai could hold the key to fulfillment

For a decade, Sandra Jacobs slogged it out as a financial advisor. Though she enjoyed
her work, she had a gnawing sense of being emotionally unfulfilled. She knew she wanted more out of life, but wasn’t sure how to get there.

Then Sandra started attending industry events and began listening to successful people talk about their careers. “They’d say the key to their success was doing what they loved and loving what they did. “And I thought, ‘That’s great, but what if you don’t know what you love?’ ”

Psychologist Tunteeya Yamaoka says the word simply means “reason for being”, or “living with purpose”.Credit:Stocksy

Restless, Sandra kept searching. While doing so, she was struck by an idea that she eventually developed into a charity, The Nappy Collective. Pouring her energy into philanthropy enriched her.

“Because I volunteered on the side, that made me feel happier about going to work, and also filled that gap for me of doing what I loved,” the 39-year-old mother of two says.

While her charitable work nourished her, Sandra still yearned for a career that better aligned with her values. So when four years ago she was approached to be CEO of a philanthropic organisation called the Bennelong Foundation, she seized the opportunity.

Sandra had discovered her ikigai but didn’t realise until she had been in her new role for about a year. She was scrolling through a blog on finding fulfilment at work when she stumbled across the term. It was a light-bulb moment, as she realised how perfectly the concept encapsulated what she’d been seeking. In his book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia describes the philosophy as the intersection of four key concepts: your passion (what you love doing); your mission (what the world needs); your vocation (what you can be paid for); and your profession (what you’re good at).

Psychologist Tunteeya Yamaoka understands this well – she recently opened the Ikigai Psychology Clinic in Brisbane. And while she supports Garcia’s definition of ikigai, she prefers to think of it as simply a “reason for being”, or “living with purpose”.

To Yamaoka, ikigai means doing things that make you feel “alive” each and every day. Those activities can vary, from spending time with friends and family through to indulging in your hobbies or engaging in mindfulness practices such as yoga or meditation.

While ikigai is not new, Yamaoka says there’s been a definite recent spike in interest from people in the West. She believes that ties in with people’s desire to embrace similar concepts such as mindfulness.

If you want to jump on board, Yamaoka says that incorporating ikigai into your life is simple – and
the best place to start is by identifying your intentions every day.

You don’t have to set aside a block of time, nor close your eyes and meditate, to do this. Instead, she says, simply “pause” for a moment and ask yourself, “What’s important for me today? What’s one thing I know I can do for myself that will make me feel proud?”

A key part of that lies in ignoring what other people expect of you, or worrying about what others will think. Block all that chatter out and simply focus on what makes your heart sing.

When it comes to finding your ikigai at work, Sandra says this can take time to cultivate. It’s all about finding your strength and passions, and marrying them with what the world needs and will pay you for.

If your primary job doesn’t satisfy, Sandra adds, you can still find your balance through volunteering or indulging in hobbies.

Finding her ikigai has brought Sandra the balance she desperately craved in her life. She’s keen to note that doesn’t mean everything is perfect, “but when I finish a holiday, I’m happy to come back to work”.

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