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)
I shrugged.
"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.
So...
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)   



26 comments:

Anna said...

Wow, thinking about my ikigai makes my brain hurt! I wonder if it can be a combination of things. Maybe if you're lucky enough to spend most of your time doing things you love (for me it's writing and teaching) then those can add up to be your ikigai. Or maybe those things we love stem from something deeper... I'll have to keep thinking about this!

nanmarino said...

Me too, Anna. I'm working on some sort of combination, but it feels like it's turning into a mission statement. Not exactly sure if that's in keeping with the concept of ikigai. Thanks for your comments. If you come up with anything, please let me know.

Medeia Sharif said...

What a post-it to find on one's computer, whether it was done on purpose or by accident. It's such a loaded message, but a positive one.

nanmarino said...

Medeia, isn't it strange? I wonder what it real purpose was.

Christy Raedeke said...

I love the concept of ikigai! I wish people would put interesting notes like that on my screen. Though I have not yet found my ikigai, I have found the source of the perfect sea salt caramel: Fran's out of Seattle, franschocolates.com. The dark chocolate caramel with smoked sea salt is DIVINE.

Can caramel tasting be an ikigai?

nanmarino said...

Yes! It can be an ikigai. Please, let it be so.
Or at the very least, tasting that wonderful salt, caramel, & chocolate combination can be a pleasant diversion while we search for meaning and purpose.
I've already put a call into Fran's chocolates. Thanks, Christy.

Rena said...

Interesting. I've never heard of an ikigai before. Curious what mine would be ...

nanmarino said...

Rena, I'd never heard of it before either.

Stephanie J. Blake said...

you are coming up with some very interesting posts....very thought-provoking. ikigai...will have to think on this some more...

nanmarino said...

Thanks, Stephanie. I'm still trying to find someone who knows what theirs is. A friend told me that she knew someone whose ikigai was to collect salt. So I'm rethinking the traveling- the-world-in-search-of-caramel ikigai.

Barbara Pellerito said...

I have been in search of my ikigai for the better part of my adult life. Is it possible that searching for one's ikigai could be one's ikigai?

Bridgid Gallagher said...

I love that last thought from Barbara, that perhaps one's Ikigai is searching for one's Ikigai. That is beautiful!

Writing is my calling, but I am not yet sure what my purpose is. Sometimes I think that it is bringing joy and laughter into the lives of people who take life (rock climbing, writing...) too seriously.

This is a wonderful post, Nan. Thank you for sharing. It's like a drive-by...a walk-by post-it note! ;)

nanmarino said...

Bridgid, a drive-by..walk-by post-it note? I love that thought (hope we get more). I really like how you defined the writing-being-a-calling-but-is-it-your-life's-purpose question.
Barbara, I agree with Bridgid that searching for one's ikigai as an ikigai is a beautiful thought. But is the search for one's life's purpose enough to be a life's purpose? ..maybe..(also agree with Anna that this can cause brain hurt)

Anne Mazer said...

Really wonderful post, Nan... Isn't a life's purpose something that's felt on a deep, almost cellular level? I have always had that sense - even though I wasn't always aware of it as such. There's also a feeling of sacredness about it. How amazing to have a post-it note left on your computer about this subject! Almost like the beginning of a book...

Blythe said...

Reading is my Ikigai. I define reading as all I do to witness and make sense of the world. It is also, of course, reading language--reading books. This is why I became BlytheTheIndexer--reading is my identity.

Dana said...

I live in Brittany in France, home of "caramel au beuree salé" (caramel made with salted butter) so you could come here in search of caramel and salt. Ice cream, crêpes, tartes.... yum :)

nova ren suma said...

How do I know if writing isn't my ikigai? It feels like it is--it's all I want to do or strive for most days. My immediate thought was that it has to be writing. But is that the obvious answer and I should be searching deeper?

So interesting. What a great post, Nan!

nanmarino said...

Anne, I love what you said about an ikigai having a sacredness and that's it's something we know on a cellular level. But then I wonder if I'm so out of touch with my inner self that I don't know what mine is. (and yes..it would be a great beginning for a book)
Blythe, that is a beautiful ikigai. You're in the minority of people who have one (of people I've talked to, at least).
Dana, I didn't know there was a home of "caramel au beuree salé". How wonderful. Sounds like the perfect place to begin the trek.
Nova, Thanks. I went to writing right away too. But then I wondered why I write. To be read? To tell stories? To create with words? All of the above? But perhaps it doesn't have to be deeper or difficult -- and saying writing is enough.

Nikki said...

Nan - Love this post! I spend probably far too much time thinking about this - I just never knew the exact word for it. What a gift. Thanks.
My ikigai? It surprises me still. I believe I am called to spread the light (God? Joy? Name it what you will) to children, through my work and words. (Everybody sing! This little light of mine... :)

nanmarino said...

...I'm gonna let it shine. Oops. Now, I will be singing that song all day :) That's a great ikigai. Did you know, as Anne mentioned, on a cellular level? If I do find mine, I wonder if my soul will scream out. Or perhaps all I need to do is brush away my neurosis and insecurities and I'll find it, waiting for me.
Thanks for sharing your ikigai and for your comments, Nikki.

Nikki said...

Nan - on a cellular level? Not exactly. More like a magnetic force. Every time I planned my life to go in a direction other than one in agreement with my ikigai, somehow the universe shepherded me back to working with kids and creativity. I've been a primary school music teacher, a gifted/talented teacher, a director of family ministries, many more things. When I quit my job a while ago to write romance novels (LOL) I ended up with four finished MG novels in the space of a year.
Maybe you're just not recognizing your ikigai for what it is? Maybe your ikigai is to share the wisdom/joy/life-changing nature of books with kids? That would encompass both your writer and librarian jobs!
Whatever you're doing, from reading your book and blogs, I think you must be doing something very right. I would love to meet you someday!

nanmarino said...

Nikki, four books in a year! Okay, I know that was off subject, but wow. I'm impressed. Interesting about how you kept going back to what you are destined to do. Er...re: my ikigai..I'm an adult services librarian so that casts a wider net, doesn't it? I'll figure this out, soon, I hope.
I hope we meet someday, too:)

MG Higgins said...

What an interesting post! And I love reading everyone's comments. I think my ikigai has something to do with becoming an integrated being--"finding" all of my disconnected parts and weaving them into a centered, contented being.

When I first saw the photo of that sticky note, I thought it meant, "Icky Guy."

nanmarino said...

Yes MG! I feel like things would be centered too. Like a theme in a story, perhaps? It ties everything together.
"Icky Guy" Ha!

twin-mom said...

I think the Ikigai is a lot like the characters' savvy in Ingrid Law's book. Only theirs appears at puberty, so they don't really need to search it out--they just have to recognize it for what it is.

nanmarino said...

Hey Twin-Mom, I know it's been a really long time since you made this comment but this is the first time I saw it. It would be really nice if our ikigai's appeared the way Savvy's did in Ingrid Law's book. I love that book. :)Thanks for your comment.