Ikigai what to do when you don't know what to do in your life

Ikigai; And What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do InYour Life?

Estimated Read Time: 21 min

To answer the question – “What to do when you don’t know what to do in your life” – I’d like to refer to a book I just finished reading. It wasn’t the best book I’ve read this year, but it held what I would consider a key…

Ikigai: The Japanese secrete to a long and happy life” was not the best-written book either. In fact, I had wanted to close the book, but only decided to read on because I saw it a couple of times on Social Media; besides, a friend had gifted it to me assuring me that I’d enjoy it. well, I’m glad I did read on.

The book starts by terming “Ikigai” a mysterious word that roughly translates to “The happiness of being busy”. Throughout the book, the authors would struggle to explain what this means. 

I understand their struggle. 

Ikigai is a combination of concepts like passion, purpose, flow, and wellness. Four big ideas on their own. 

So, in order to help you better understand Ikigai, I’d quickly define these terms, and from there get into the topic of the day – “what to do when you don’t know what to do in your life ”

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What Is Ikigai?

As far as the authors (Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles are concerned), Ikigai is the secret to living a long and happy life; and they couldn’t be more correct. I’d even dare to add that it is a key ingredient to success in life. This is because, finding your Ikigai, and embracing it, means living your passion and purpose, in a state of flow and wellness – it means living a life you enjoy – a life you’re excited about.

With your Ikigai, you already know what to do in your life, even if it is something so basic it baffles others how you can be so happy living that way. 

As stated earlier, to better understand Ikigai, you’d have to grasp the concept below. 

Please note that I would occasionally use the phrase “these people” to refer to the individuals who Hector and Francesc identified to have found, and embraced their Ikigai – the people who lived long and happy lives.

  • Passion: In its simplest form, it is a burning desire to do something. People who are passionate about something would do that thing even if there is no intrinsic value attached to it – it’s like an artist who keeps putting out more and more artworks even if no one is buying or paying attention. In fact, many passionate people suffer because of their passion and do not for a second think it is a waste of their time. Someone passionate about writing would write whether they get paid or not – they may often time confess that they are still living because of their passion. As Bukowski puts it, “If I stop writing I am dead. And that’s the only way I’ll stop; dead”. That’s what passion is.
  • Purpose: Purpose has to do with a sense of meaning, direction, or goal (to be achieved). Unlike Passion, Purpose has benchmarks and finish lines. Someone with a Purpose would continue to live and strive to achieve a defined aim, and may then pipe down once that aim is achieved. Purpose can be seeking liberation (where “freedom” is the aim). A Soldier may say their purpose is to protect people (hence “maintaining Security” is the purpose). A Doctor may have the Purpose of treating people. People seldom attach purpose to trivial things – it is hard to see someone who would say their purpose is to make art – most times that art (which they are passionate about) will serve as an overture to their purpose, which may be to expose the beauty of their culture, injustice in the world, or something else. If the Purpose was to entertain a crowd, Passion is the background music, ceaselessly playing till the event is over – in this case, continuing until you’re dead. You can never satiate your Passion, but you can fulfill your Purpose.
  • Flow: Flow usually occurs when Purpose and Passion unites. It is a state of being where nothing else matters except the task at hand. It is when hundred percent of your attention is dedicated to something. You have achieved a state of flow when you get lost – when you no longer notice the passage of time or the little distractions by the corner. Flow is what happens when a kid is playing a video game (which they are passionate about, though only holding a false sense of purpose – think “Mission Completed”). It is what happens when a doctor performs surgery for hours. It is what happens when you dance till your legs can no longer carry you. You may feel it as a deep sense of focus, calmness; peace, joy, happiness…whatever you call it. You relish in it, and may not want it to stop. It is when you are most productive. Flow is that state which enables you to carry out your Passion and fulfill your Purpose whilst enjoying every moment of it. It doesn’t mean you won’t feel pain or even tensed and afraid when carrying out activities that are difficult or dangerous (like Skiing, or fighting terrorists in a jungle), but that you are totally immersed, and want more of the action. It is Flow that explains why a bleeding boxer would keep asking for more punches. Feel the rush, the tingling in the spine, the surge of energy. That’s flow.
  • Wellness: Wellness is perhaps the broadest of all these. Wellness stretches from mental, emotional, down to physical and spiritual wellbeing. Wellness requires being attuned to what your body and mind want. It requires eliminating what is not needed. Strange enough, the book recorded some smokers who still possessed Ikigai. People who embrace wellness incorporate nourishing activities into their lifestyles whilst eliminating the bad ones. They ensure their bodies are moving (no sitting or lying down for inordinate hours), their meals are rainbows (they eat balanced and assorted dishes – lots of fruits and vegetables, fish, tea, and all at healthy propositions), and their social networks are filled with vitality and love (no anti-social attitude – they bond with friends and family, and help each other as much as they allow others to help them). Wellness involves valuing your health and peace over pleasures and thrills. The book recorded that the Japanese have a culture of eating till they are eighty percent full; then they stop. And that these sets of people seem to appreciate walking rather than taking unnecessary rides. Wellness requires disciple, and a bit of flow – you’ve got to love the lifestyle if you’re gonna live it, right?

So, there you have it; the key components of Ikigai.

From the components of Ikigai mentioned above, it would seem those who possess it already have their lives figured out, right? For all we know, they do not really have money problems, health challenges, nor have that incessant voice in their head telling them they need to post a picture with a spouse on an island resort. For all we know they are Zen…but here we are, yanking off our hairs, thinking, “what am I doing with my life?”, “I don’t know what I am doing with my life”, “I am wasting my life”, “I need to figure it out”, etcetera, etcetera…

Breath in.

Breath out.

Why You (May) Feel So Confused, Unhappy, And Lost In Life [Why Do We Need Ikigai?]

I had a conversation with a dear friend recently. She was a bit sad when we started the conversation. She was pondering a similar question – “what should I do with my life?”. A question that is hard to answer…because it has none.

For most of our childhood and early adulthood (especially if we had the opportunity to go to University), we had our lives well-structured and programmed. You had tasks and deadlines. You had people telling you what to do, and giving you all you need to do it. For the first 18-25 years of most humans, their lives make perfect sense – all you need to do was get good grades.

However, as the phase of education, well, phases away, and all educational structures wave goodbye, they step out into the “World” with a shiny certificate, to experience a world without any inherent purpose.

You now have this obscene freedom to be and do anything, yet there is also the crippling effect of rudderlessness and freedom. This is a degree of freedom you’ve never experienced before in your life, as you are no longer a kid – so no Daddy, Mommy, Uncle, or Aunty is very much inclined to give you instructions or commands – they all “Respect” you – they believe you “know” what’s best for you. With no tasks – assignments, tests, exams, or grades to pursue – you feel absolutely no pressure to do anything. And as time becomes a blanket that stretches to infinity – entirely pointless; wrapping you more and more in thick layers of boredom – you don’t only start feeling jaded, but worried…worried that you are wasting your life.

But this is all the preamble. Things get super scary and annoying when you start getting nudged by society to “show what you’ve got” – I’m talking about the insinuation and implications – poking to know how much money you’ve made, if you’re single, or if you are still jobless….

Then it gets worse: As you stand there with no answer, others people start responding – they show off their cars, partners, occupation, and so much more. Yet you are stuck in a rot – sitting at home, now paying more attention to the gestures and expressions of your parents, siblings, and pairs, more than you are paying the Netflix you’ve always craved back then in school.

In the twinkling of an eye, you’ve gone from trying to escape “this stressful life school imposes on you” to not knowing what the heck to do with your life.

Most people quickly try to distract themselves with a job, relationship, religion, drugs, etc. Many are so good at distracting themselves that they never get to experience that gaping void of meaninglessness. 

Then there are some who would transition smoothly from the educational structure to the corporate world, a happy family, or some other structured environment. These are the lucky ones

Sadly, most people aren’t always lucky…

[…] when you’ve been in this void for long enough; when you’ve been jobless, singles, bored to tears, suffocated by jealousy, and battered by the sheer embarrassment of being clueless of what to do with your life, you simply begin to try everything. You lose any sense of purpose or passion – you just want it to stop. 

Some people dabble into a number of dysfunctional and toxic relationships, others move from one shitty job to the next, whilst the rest double down on drugs, anger, religiosity, and any other distraction they can find. Some even “settle down” in a toxic relationship that provides some sort of structure, a shitty job that pays the bills, or a substance that calms the nerves… the noise is muffled – we are all mediocre, it is okay not to get all you want out of life… A mantra well-soothing. But there are some who can still see through the smokescreen of an unsatisfactory life – a life that is not on their terms – a life that is suffocating.

Some of these people (who couldn’t find any meaning for their existence, can’t distract themselves from it, or at least settle for something unsatisfactory) kill themselves…suicide – the ultimate escape from a purposeless existence. 

Side Note: The cure to suicide is finding purpose, and restoring hope that a better life awaits. Read the full article here [A Cure For Suicide]

Yet, there are those who still want it to stop: They are resilient and never want to give up hope of finding happiness in life. They may hold onto the dream of finding the right one, job, or profession. Some may even come up with vague plans like praying (or manifesting) a partner, traveling out to seek greener pastures, or even paying for a few courses online to see if they can, you know, change their lives.

This last set is usually the strongest, wisest, toughest society ever produces. They would study, work, and pray tirelessly to get the life they want. Yet, most fail to live the life they dream of.

The problem with this last set of people is that they seldom know how to get what they want. 

They think Money, Relationships, Occupation, etc. would make them happy… For all they care, having those would mean having the life they want. But the question is, how do you get all these? 

When you think, try, and pray enough, you would realize that it is by becoming the person who attracts those things. 

If you want to have a happy, prosperous, and healthy life, you would have to be a happy, prosperous, and healthy individual. It all starts from fixing yourself. And that is why Ikigai is key.

Ikigai generates the structure, meaning, and energy required to live a happy and meaningful life; it is the joy of being busy (with life) after all

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This Is What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do In Your Life [How To Ikigai]

As our conversation proceeded, I told her, “I think everyone is already responsible for what’s going on in their lives. The question is beyond accepting or not (accepting). It’s about defining how you’re going to go about it. What do you think you’re going to do to make yourself happy?”. To which she replied, “Honestly, I do not know”.

And that is the problem with trying to be happy – trying to get a better life without first discovering and embracing your Ikigai. 

You see, happiness is not something you get by doing X, Y, or Z. Happiness is purely subjective – it is up to you to choose what makes you happy. This means you can choose to stop wanting a better life in order to be happy. Surprised? Monks do this all the time when they forfeit all desires and retire to the mountains. But my best guess is that that is not what you want out of life – you want to really go out there and live (that is what you are choosing, yes?)

So, here is the thing; you need to forsake the desire to be like A, B, or C, and focus on defining what makes you happy (i.e. finding your Ikigai). Once you do this, you would be the next D millions would be dying to be like.

Your Ikigai is the life you want to live. If you discover your Ikigai and embrace it, you would live each day with excitement.

Our conversation continued…

“Before anything; you must understand that there is no end to desire. If it is by what we want, we would never be happy. Because the truth is that even those who are rich, married, or whatever, are still unhappy about something – they still want something. 

Unless you are presently contemplating what you’re going to eat or where you’re going to sleep, most of your worries come from “wanting”.

And at a point the wanting becomes pointless. Think about it, the person earning millions and the person earning a hundred thousand may eat the same type of food, sleep in the same kind of bed, and experience similar romance. At a point, it stops being about wanting more but about appreciating what you have and who you are. It is about focusing on the little things you already enjoy.

Think about it, there are people succeeding doing all sorts of things – teaching, cooking, modeling, painting, singing, dancing, constructing, designing, you name it… The point is not just to succeed, but to decide how. Once you figure out what you already enjoy doing (the thing that makes you happy), you simply double down on it – find a way to do it better – find leverage, and take care of the business aspect so you never have to worry about money.

There are people Painting on Instagram, Singing on TikTok, and so on. At a point, it stops being about the numbers or glamour. It is about figuring out what you enjoy – what you can be happy being busy about.

Sometimes it may not be what you are even currently aware of. A few years ago I was all about Art – I was obsessed with it – but now I am all about writing (it is all I talk about and do all day). I used to enjoy Art; now I enjoy Writing – both have paid me very well. Interestingly, the more I enjoyed doing them, the more they paid.

There is something you are naturally inclined towards – something you have as a talent for, or would easily learn, master, and enjoy if you put your heart to it. I know you have to be strategic and be pragmatic, but you never want to be in a place out of fear…or in a place you hate. You never want to be in a place where people think you are happy, whilst you’re miserable. Never.

I think, what is really crucial in all these is that you never forget what is most crucial – You. 

You also want to keep your character intact. Why? because with the right character widows of opportunities would easily swing open for you; and all you’d have to do is walk-in. 

Let me share something with you: A lot of people see me as a sort of influencer or something, but literally going back 365 days ago, no one really looked at me as much – I was obscured. But just this year, after making a few “adjustments” everything bumped up a bit – my finances, relationships, and all. I wasn’t even the one who identified or suggested the adjustments.

On my part, all it really took was developing and maintaining myself – my character and abilities. It was the reason I had people (who I didn’t know from home) reach out to me and help with the “adjustments” – i.e. suggesting I get into freelancing, referring clients to me, and allowing me to work with/for them. The result of all these was that I made a decent amount of money this year – way more than I had ever made in my life. The major thing is to focus on your character and competence; because you do not know where opportunities would come from. If you’re being a dick to everyone, no one would like you; and no one would present an opportunity to you

Success is all about enjoying what you’re doing with your life. Remember, Ikigai roughly translates to “the happiness of being busy”. It’s simply about doing something you really enjoy. I love writing, and that is why I can do it for hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Writing is part of my Ikigai.

I know a friend who enjoys public speaking – it is part of her Ikigai. She really enjoys talking to the crowd and being social. You can see from her eyes that she is having the time of her life doing it. It is natural to her. So, to her, taking courses, and attending seminars is not a way to find quick success, but to better advance her successful life – being happy with what you’re doing with your life is the success. 

That is why my conversations are usually centered around what you enjoy doing. Forget about being like somebody else – forget about comparisons, forget about succeeding in a certain way – a way you saw on social media or TV – that is only going to make you unhappy and miserable. Even if you ask a newly divorced billionaire about their love life, they would still feel the sting – they would be unhappy about that. So stop comparing – looking at what you have and do not have.

Your major strive should be to be in that place where you are doing the things you love, being in a relationship with people who respect you and who you enjoy their company, living a healthy lifestyle, and so on. 

You know…there are a lot of people who bring in a lot of violence into their lives. A lot of people in course of trying to live a certain way destroy their lives – they break hearts, step on toes, and so on. It’s not something you want.

As long as the world is not on fire – there is no war – you should focus on discovering that Ikigai of yours. What is important is that you are happy with your life. Try not to look back, or get lost in the future. Focus on the present. The difference between your life now and the life you want is not really dramatic – it can be subtle, as subtle as receiving a phone call or reaching out to someone today. 

So, try not to compare. 

Do what makes you happy.

Focus on your Ikigai. 

Refine and tweak it to the extent where your entire life – profession, relationships, etc. – are all within the Ikigai – are all things you enjoy doing all day.”

Interestingly, there is no Japanese word for “retire” (in the context of leaving the workforce for good). Think about it, why would you retire if you enjoy what you are doing?

The first rule, out of 

“10 Rules of Ikigai” in the book put’s it this way:

“Stay active; don’t retire. Those who give up the things they love doing and do well lose their purpose in life. That’s why it’s so important to keep doing things of value, making progress, bringing beauty or utility to others, helping out, and shaping the world around you, even after your ‘official’ professional activity has ended”.

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret To A Longg And Happy Life

I strongly recommend you read the book to get all the details; hopefully, this piece allayed the questions, “Is Ikigai worth the hype?”, “should I read Ikigai?”, or “Is Ikigai overrated?”. Yes, it is totally worth it. And if you find a section you do not enjoy, don’t hesitate to skip it. If you struggle with reading, you can check out this article to learn [How To Cultivate The Habit Of Reading].

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Conclusion: How To Find Your Ikigai

Perhaps, all that is left now is how to find your Ikigai. So, to round off this article – which I would consider a review of the Ikigai book by Hector and Francesc, an interview with my friend, and a short guide to finding your purpose in life – I would invite Tim Tamashiro to come on stage. You’d enjoy this video, I promise 😉

How to Ikigai | Tim Tamashiro | TEDxYYC

Listening to Tim Tamashiro (who happens to be the author of “How To Ikigai”) teach about it, I understood that my Ikigai is To Create and To Teach: As an Artist, I take delight in creating things, and as a Writer, I love breaking down complex ideas and making them easy to understand – it is practically what good writing is all about. 

Not, it’s your turn to tell me. Below is the list (of all the several categories your Ikigai may fall under) again in case you missed it from the clip

  • – To Serve
  • – To Create
  • – To Delight
  • – To Nourish
  • – To Provide
  • – To Teach
  • – To Heal
  • – To Connect
  • – To Build

Now, tell me, what is your Ikigai?

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