What’s your Ikigai?

Author Dan Buettner has spent years traveling the world researching what he calls Blue Zones, geographical pockets around the world where people live “measurably better.”  His work has identified a number of habits that are similar in each of these areas, and his writing is intended to help people living outside of Blue Zones (most of the world and nearly all of the US) put these practices to work in their own lives.  The Blue Zones website makes a bold claim, “We can show you how to live longer, how to be happy and how to be healthy by optimizing your lifestyle and surroundings.”

I find Buettner’s research and his storytelling around Blue Zones fascinating, and I commend the work to you.  But for the CliffsNotes version, check out the Power 9. The list is inspiring, yet each item seems simple and familiar.  The practices of the men and women in the Blue Zones seem to align with exactly how human beings are wired to live, to thrive—or to use a favorite term—to flourish.

At Serving Leaders, we aren’t focused on helping people to “move naturally” (#1) but we are all about helping people to Awaken their Great Purpose.  In Okinawa, Japan (a Blue Zone community) people orient their lives around Ikigai (ee-key-guy) which basically translates into “why I wake up in the morning.”  People who know what they are for are more likely to flourish.

Buettner says knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life—we think purpose puts extra life in each year, in each day!  We also believe that Great Purpose isn’t just for individuals, but for teams, companies, organizations and cities—all of which flourish when aligned to purpose, on purpose. Does your work align with your purpose? On purpose?

Earlier this week, I had a conversation with a young business leader who spoke of how money can be de-motivating to him at times.  “I wonder if I could serve my clients better if they weren’t paying me.  I would never want them to think that I am suggesting a product for the profit to me; I just really want to serve.  The money feels like it’s getting in the way.”

The common idea that money is the sole reason for business can be distasteful to leaders who want to serve a great purpose.  And countless stories of unhappy millionaires will report that money makes for a hollow Ikigai.  But does that mean we shouldn’t do work that makes money?

Jeffery Van Duzer, professor of Business Law at Seattle Pacific University offers a helpful metaphor to this conversation in a recent article in SPU’s magazine, Response. (Thanks for sharing this, Chris Robertson.)

Consider the analogy of blood in the body. Unless blood is circulating in my body, we don’t need to talk a lot about my purpose. I’m dead. And, unless profit is circulating inside a business, we don’t need to talk about the purpose of that business. It is bankrupt. But which of us gets up in the morning intending to live for the purpose of circulating blood? Blood and profit are absolutely necessary. They just aren’t the purpose.

I shared this analogy with my young friend.  I’m not sure I convinced him, but it convinces me.  We don’t need to feel bad about making money when we remember that the profit serves the purpose!

So what’s your Ikigai?  Does it direct your daily life at work and at home?  We can’t tell you what your purpose is, neither can we tell you to pump blood. Your heart is already working; your purpose already established.  What we can do—Serving Leaders’ Ikigai—is to help you Awaken the Great Purpose that is already embedded in your life or your organization and then, once it is awakened, help to orient your leadership and organizational culture around that purpose.

We do this because we exist to serve leaders as well as companies and organizations.  We exist for something bigger than the individual, though. We know that flourishing leaders, flourishing teams and flourishing organizations lead to a flourishing city.

It’s why we wake up in the morning.

Katie Tarara is the Director of Development, Communications & Marketing at Serving Leaders.  She is grateful for a big Ikigai, even if she’d usually prefer to wake up for it a bit later than her alarm allows.

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One response to “What’s your Ikigai?

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