What is Your Ikigai?
von Karsten Drath
The US-American Dan Buettner is an extreme sportsman, adventurer and author of National Geographic. On his expeditions to various parts of the world he had become aware of a phenomenon that he first reported in 2005: the "Blues Zones". These are geographical regions which are characterized by a significantly higher life expectancy than in the rest of the world. One of these "Blue Zones" is the Okinawa archipelago, which belongs to Japan today. Japan's southernmost prefecture consists of 363 islands, on which a total of 1.3 million people are living. 900 of these inhabitants are 100 years and older, which is an unusually high life expectancy even for Japanese conditions. The average life expectancy for men there is 86 years while German or US-American men on average only become 78 years old.
Three Essential Factors lead to Longevity
Anthropologists have thoroughly studied the lives of the people of Okinawa, and have identified three essential factors for the extraordinary longevity of the inhabitants.
The diet is high in fiber, low in calories and fat, and almost completely vegetarian. In addition, the motto is "hara hachi bu", which means "stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full".
- No retirement
Before the annexation of Okinawa by Japan in 1879, this group of islands belonged to the kingdom of Ryūkyū. There is no word for "retirement" in this ancient language. Even today the old people on Okinawa do not stop working, but continue fishing or keeping their fields in order.
This word describes the feeling of having something for which it is worth getting up in the morning (and this is not just going to the toilet). In the Japanese culture the search for ones Ikigai has an important meaning. When a person has found an Ikigai, it gives a deep sense of joy and inner satisfaction.
What is the purpose of YOUR life?
The German word for meaning “Sinn” derives from the old term "sin", which means "looking for a track". Many managers with whom we work do not have a precise idea of the meaning that their lives have or might have. For more than a few asking the question alone is quite an unpleasant experience. And yet, to perceive a connection between one’s day-to-day life and a higher meaning is the ultimate source of inner strength and self-control. Experiencing a purpose in life make your actions become more meaningful. It increases your feeling of orientation as well as the sense of belonging and coherence. Rather than placing the individual and his sole well-being at the center of action, purpose focuses on something which is right and important in a larger context and which is greater than any individual self-interests. Every human being can make sense only by himself, even if the meaning might be amplified by our surroundings, by other people who are close to us, or by the work which may need us to get done. Since purpose is, in the widest sense, a conviction, it can be modified to the extent that a conviction can be changed.
What difference are YOU making?
So, what is your meaning in life? What kind of difference will you have made when you leave this earth? Will your career and the price you paid for it have paid off? What would you like to leave as your heritage? What shall people be thinking about when they remember you? Many executives with whom we work have no answer to these questions. And that, although life is finite for all of us. Managers are used to being in charge, having influence and keeping control. And yet all our lives end with a huge loss of control: our death. The human need for meaning is a gift of this perspective.
Over to you now. Which actions are you taking to make the world a better place as compared to a world without you? What kind of difference do you intend to make at different levels of your life?
For example, regarding …
Example: I'll be a better version of myself.
- Your family
Example: I am a great support for my partner or child.
- The people around you
Example: I inspire my colleagues and support my employees in their further
- The world?
Example: I help building up my company in order to achieve xyz.
Let us know what your ikigai is!
Karsten Drath works with top managers and their teams to improve their leadership effectiveness and resilience. He is a certified Executive Coach and Psychotherapist, a published author and keynote speaker, and is one of the Managing Partners of Leadership Choices, an international consultancy focusing on leadership development at Top Management level. Looking back on more than 15 years of own leadership experience in several international roles he knows the challenges that come with the executive lifestyle and also how to cope with them.
Check out his latest book
Resilient Leadership – Beyond Myths and Misunderstandings