Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Ikigai, the Japanese reason for being

9 February 2018


Most of my working life, I have had satisfactory jobs. Sometimes I asked myself: Is this it? Usually, these questions were short-lived, in view of long and short-term (financial) commitments. The more my job contributed to a bigger picture, the more satisfaction I gained from it.

David Graeber, “anthropologist and anarchist activist”, has a different view in his 2013 essay and his forthcoming 2018 book: “Bullshit Jobs: A Theory” (eg, AmazonEconomistGuardianNRC). The phenomenon in the first paragraph and Graeber’s essay and book are at the core of the Japanese concept of ikigai, “a reason for being”. 

Several days ago, I noticed a graphic in a FB post from Uplift Connect (eg, 2016 FB post2016 UC article) or Big Think. This graphic featured in a 2016 Toronto Star article.

I studied this graphic for some time to fully understand all of its “boxes”. 

The 4 circles represent: Added Value, Passion, Remuneration, and Skills. The 4 overlapping circles create 4 “types” of jobs: mission, passion, profession and vocation. 

The 4 overlapping circles also present an ideal situation: you love your job, which you’re also good at, which brings added value to the world, and for which you get paid for. That is ikigai.

David Graeber argues that most people are far away from ikigai. To some extent, I agree. Often people lack love and/or passion for their job. Their job pays the bills and there’s nothing wrong with that. We cannot all be CEO’s, CFO’s, and COO’s. Some decades ago, an AP clerk asked me why I even wanted my Finance Director job at that company. She had a valid point.

With hindsight, I have always been (very) close to ikigai (ie, leftright and under). Nowadays, I am “above” ikigai: “Delight and fullness, but no wealth”. Sometimes this situation is annoying me as it has consequences, which I am not used to. I do, however, recognise this 2016 Psychology Today article: “Minimalism, when living with less means more mental health”.

“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.” A quote by Viktor Frankl from his 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning.

Reasons (1974) by Earth, Wind & Fire – artistslyricsvideoWiki-1Wiki-2


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