The hardest simple questions in life

How do you know your ikigai?

Somi András | October 23, 2017

You can stumble upon the chart below rather frequently around the web (this time on The Big Picture), but for some reason the message hit me now stronger than usual. Maybe it’s because we are on holiday in Southern Portugal, no stress, no crowd, no bad weather, so I have time and mental ease to contemplate things like this.

The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions. (Wikipedia)

It might be also interesting to observe which circle you instinctively start the process with. Do you ask yourself what do the world need, or do you focus on what you can earn money with?

As I looked at the chart I immediately thought about the top section: what do I love to do? Maybe it’s just pure selfishness, and not some noble awakening of self-consciousness, but here’s my train of thought from there, anyway.

1. What I love to do?

It’s the hardest one, and I do remember the times when I was struggling with it. Nowadays I tend to think I have an answer: I love to understand suff. Read, study, analyse, reason and find logical and practical proofs about connections, trends, currents, possible outcomes and impacts in complex systems.

Luckily, everything is a system, from the human mind and behaviour through companies, societies and economies (stock markets!) to all aspects of Mother Nature, so there are plenty of things to think and read about. But that’s too general to test with the other filters, so let’s make it more specific: I love to understand data, the process of understanding data and to explain what I understand.

2. Am I good at it?

As it’s my natural habit I definitely have comparative advantage in carrying out (data) analysis, but even if this sounds promising, it just means I suck (even more) in many other things.

In the meantime I am definitely not amongs the best, neither by theoretical or academic background nor for practical skills or competence. I just have a little of both, but luckily the lack of crucial knowledge (or at least assuming it to be crucial) creates enough frustration to fuel the drive to learn more.

But the most important realization is that the criterium for ikigai is not being the best, just simply being good. So with all my humbleness I settle with this: in general I am good at analysing data.

3. Does the world need it?

For me it’s a crystal clear yes. The world needs people to make sense of data and help utilise it in a productive way. And luckily this field is getting broader every day, so all sorts of people can make themselves useful in data related areas. Of course, it’s a much more nuanced question whether the world needs the specific data analysis that I do… This brings me back to the previous point: I’m willing to learn the ways the world needs.

4. Can I be paid for it?

It’s not by chance that this is the last one. Money is the least important of the four aspects, which does not mean at all that it isn’t important (it is very important, but there are even more important ones). And let’s not forget that being paid for what you do is also part of ikigai.

Anyway, I dare to say yes to this one, too. I do see the possibility to build a sustainable freelance career in digital data and analytics, and also see job openings (not many though) that I would be willing to take, not only from passion but for financial reasons as well. (Also, I was payed for doing analysis before, though not strictly in the digital data field.)

Bottom line

The bottom line here is not how incredibly enlightened I am to oversimplify the greatest questions of life while casually vandalizing thousand years old oriental wisdom (I’m not even sure mine would qualify as real answer in a philosophical sense). The questions are not simple at all, and on top of that, your perspective might change over time, making certain parts clearer or more opaque. So the only real point here is that it’s worth meditating on ikigai every now and then.

Header photo by Oliver & Hen Pritchard-Barrett/ Unsplash