How many of you woke up this morning knowing exactly what your purpose is in life? If I asked you right now, what is your reason you got up this morning, would you be able to tell me in a heartbeat?
This blog post is about finding your ikigai? According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. An ikigai is basically a reason to get up in the morning. A reason to enjoy life. A reason for being. Finding your ikigai requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. I want to invite you on this journey with me of taking a deep introspective look at your life. If there is one thing that I have learned over the years, is that life is too short not to know what your ikigai is.
I recently read this fascinating book called the Blue Zones. The author spent five years visiting areas of the world where people tend to live longer, healthier lives, areas he calls Blue Zones. One of those Blue Zones was in Okinawa Japan. Okinawa is located on the Ryukyu Islands between the North Pacific and the East China Sea. The population consists of 1.3 million Okinawans.
Okinawans have one of the highest percentages of centenarians in the world, people who live to be 100. One of the main reasons for this is that they keep their traditional roles throughout their life. They maintain their ikigai. The reason for getting up in the morning.
I want to share a story with you about Ushi Okushima, one of the most famous centenarians who ever lived. She was born on August 7th, 1901 in Okinawa Japan and lived to be 109 years old. She was a woman of great vigor, growing her own food and hosting parties for her friends. Rumor has it that there was plenty of Saki flowing at these parties. People from all over the world would come to visit her. And there was a reason for this. It was said that you could feel this wisdom from her that she got from walking this earth for over 100 years. So many people fear getting old, but Ushi defied all the odds, living a life of vibrancy right until the end. The way she lived would make you look forward to aging.
So what was Ushi’s ikigai? According to her daughter it was her longevity itself. She brought pride to her family and to her village. She felt she must keep living even though she was often tired. When Ushi was asked this question, she said her ikigai was playing an important role to her family. She said, “If they die, I will wonder why I am still living.” And it is when people lose that sense of their role in life things usually deteriorate pretty quickly.
A sudden loss of a person’s traditional role can have a significant impact on mortality. There is evidence that early retirement can lead to early death. One study showed that people who retired at age 55 are 89% more likely to die in the 10 years after retirement than those who retire at age 65.
Two real world examples of this are from the college football coaching world. Joe Paterno who lost his job of coaching after 46 years, died just two months later. Bear Bryant, the once legendary coach at Alabama died just four weeks after his final game at Alabama. This confirmed his prediction that he would probably croak in a week after retirement. These two coaches had a very clear sense of purpose and were very well respected. Once they retired, they lost that sense of purpose and their health declined rapidly.
The Okinawans had this strong sense of purpose and this correlated into living longer lives. Knowing your purpose in life can potentially be worth up to seven years of life expectancy according to the Blue Zones research. In the Okinawan language there isn’t even a word for retirement.
So if you don’t know what your ikigai is, how do you find it? The first thing you have to do is to become a spiritual warrior. You have to become very introspective and look deep within yourself to see what path you are currently on. Are you excited to get up in the morning or do you have that feeling of dread come over you? Are you living a passionate and adventure filled life? As they say this life isn’t a dress rehearsal, we only get one shot at it. If you aren’t excited about getting up in the morning, then it may be time to look at making some changes in your life. This may be just an attitude shift, a change in perspective.
There was a period in my life, not too long ago where I was struggling with my ikigai. I wasn’t engaged in life like I should have been. Every day was an exercise in drudgery. I was simply checking the box day in and day out. Does anyone know what I am talking about? Have you ever felt that sense of dread in the morning that you have to get up and go to work? Or maybe it hits you on Sunday evening that the weekend is almost over. I saw this quote the other day that says can we start the weekend over again? That’s how I felt. On Monday I was already looking forward to getting to the weekend. Not exactly a good way to have an effective work week.
Why did I have that sense of dread about going to work? It all happened because I wasn’t clear on my ikigai. I didn’t have a strong enough why to be excited about when my morning came around.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and the speaker was talking about how we should be tap dancing to work. We should be so excited to get up in the morning because we get to go to work. We should be literally tap dancing to work. If you aren’t doing a two-step, then you seriously need to consider another career or at the very least change your perspective on what you do day in and day out.
When I am struggling with my purpose, it usually just takes a shift in perspective and not a complete overhaul.
One way to shift your perspective is how you view your job. Instead of thinking about your work as a job, start to view it as a calling. A job is simply a material task you do in exchange for money. A calling emerges from the deepest aspect of who you are. It is a fulfillment of what you were created to be and to do. You have a calling in life simply because you are alive. You have a calling in life because you were put on this earth with a purpose. Your purpose is to elevate yourself to be the best you can intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically in order to make the world a better place.
The second thing you need to do to find your ikigai is to write a personal mission statement. Begin by answering this question: Why do I get up in the morning? Take into consideration what you are passionate about. What is your hearts burning desire? What can you not stop talking about? For me I love to talk about health, fitness and nutrition. I can learn and talk about it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My reason for getting up in the morning is to help people make transformational lifestyle changes. That is my burning desire. To help people live their best life. My personal mission statement is: I will be the light for other people. I am here to contribute to the healing of the world. There is so much pain and darkness in the world. If I can be the source of light and encouragement for just one person each and every day, I know I served my purpose on that day. This gets me excited to wake up each and every morning because I don’t know who is going to come across my path that is going through pain and darkness and needs some encouragement. Not a bad reason to get up in the morning.
I think of Mother Theresa and her ikigai of humbly ministering to lepers, the homeless and the poorest of poor in the slums of Calcutta. What a great sense of purpose she must have woken up to each and every morning. Her mission statement was to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.
I think of Tim Tebow and what his ikigai is. He has developed a platform to share his faith and to do charity work. The mission statement of the Tim Tebow foundation is to bring faith, hope and love to those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need. I am sure Tim Tebow can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning and tap dance to work.
But you don’t have to be Tim Tebow or Mother Theresa to have personal mission statement. Maybe you are a stay at home mom. It may sound something like this. To provide a peaceful home environment for my family that is conducive to living simply, loving deeply and laughing abundantly
Finally, find someone to hold you accountable to living your ikigai. It is easy to get bogged down in the busyness of life and forget about why we are put on this earth. To bottom line it, we are here to love and serve others. Having someone to hold you accountable to living your life with purpose can make all the difference in the world.
One of Pastor Rick Warren’s quotes is, “If you are alive, there’s a purpose for your life. Find your ikigai and you will be on a path of fulfillment and happiness. You will feel your energy increase as your serve others and make a difference their life. The only way to be fully alive is to live a life of purpose. So what’s your ikigai?
Troy Ismir, MS
Health Coach and Personal Trainer