Sunday, March 21, 2010
Do you have an Ikigai?
About a week ago my co-worker (and librarian extraordinaire) Kathy found this post-it note on her computer.
"Do you know what it means?" she asked.
I looked at the letters and tried to think of every possibility. Was it an abbreviation? A clue? Some new library jargon? (that was my best guess, because the good people who come up with library-type terminology are always thinking of new exciting phrases)
"Did you notice who put this here?" she asked.
And even though my desk is a mere six feet away from Kathy's, I was clueless.
So Kathy turned to Meg, who is six feet away from her on the other side.
Meg, an endless source of knowledge when it comes to interesting random things, knew right away. "Ikigai. That's a Japanese word for "life's passion" or "the reason for existing". Finding your ikigai is a journey, but a rewarding search that leads to lifelong satisfaction."
"And do we know who wrote this?" I asked.
Meg shook her head.
For Kathy's sake, I hoped that the person who put the note on her pc didn't mean it as another task for her "to do" list. This one would be a major project and she's already got her hands full.
Perhaps it was a note from a library patron. Maybe someone needed help finding their ikigai. (After a few years of fielding questions at the reference desk, nothing would surprise me).
We still don't know who put it on Kathy's desk or why, but it got me thinking. Do I have an ikigai?
We did a little research and found some interesting facts. A recent seven-year study of tens of thousands of Japanese adults showed that those who said they had a ikigai significantly outlived those who did not. It seems that having a life's purpose is essential to our well-being. That sounds like a decent reason to continue the search.
I tried to think of what mine would be. At first, I thought about the people I love. Hey, this ikigai stuff is a no brainer. There's nothing more important than having satisfying relationships. We all want that. But I think the need to build connections with others is one of the traits that makes us human. Since it's a common desire for all people (or most people), can it be an ikigai? There's no reason for a lifelong search if it's the same thing for everyone. We can tell small children, put it into the fifth grade curriculum (and then add it into the tenth grade just to reinforce it). Your life's purpose is your relationships. We could do worse, but maybe we need to dig deeper. We all interact with each other in our own unique way. Maybe it has to do with how we see the world? Perhaps it's also something more.
I thought about writing. I've given writing a lot of thought since I've been published. (It seems I enjoy having a philosophical crisis with every major milestone). Is the act of writing enough? Do I need to get published? Is it a simply a creative outlet? Yes, I feel a deep desire to write. I hope to be published again. No matter what my publishing future holds, I can't imagine not writing. But is it my ikigai?
I'm also a librarian. There's so much about being a librarian that I love -- seeking out information, being a literacy advocate, doing research, helping people, etc. But if this is my ikigai, then why do I feel compelled to write?
A few days ago, I thought I found the answer. I tasted this amazing homemade caramel topped with the perfect amount of coarse sea salt. One mouthful and I decided my life's purpose would travel the world in search of salty sweet caramel treats. I had found my ikigai. But I wondered if that would get old after a few years (oh but what a sweet few years).
I'm still searching for my ikigai. There are times when I think it will remain illusive, but then there are other moments when I can't help thinking..I'm getting close.
(btw, if you already found your ikigai, let me know)