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Ikigai – A Recipe for Meaning and Purpose

South of mainland Japan, where the East China Sea meets the Pacific Ocean, lies the magnificent island of Okinawa. Also known as the “Hawaii of Japan,” Okinawa is a paradise for marine life, and it serves as a backdrop for some of the best snorkeling and scuba-diving anywhere. But there is another reason the island is famous. Life expectancies per capita are longer in Okinawa than anywhere else on the planet. The island also boasts the largest population of people living to age one hundred or older. Native Okinawans don’t just live longer; they are generally happier, healthier, and more at peace than the rest of us.

There are numerous environmental factors that could help explain this phenomenon, including healthy dietary habits, strong social connectedness, and regular physical activity. Irrespective of these factors, historians and cultural anthropologists widely theorize that something even bigger is at play when it comes to their extended lifespans. It has to do with the prevalence of a deeply ingrained philosophy on the island known as ikigai (pronounced ick-ee-guy). Loosely translated, ikigai means “reason for living,” or more broadly, the “happiness derived from being busy at some activity that holds deep meaning.”

Realizing your ikigai is most often achieved at the intersection of four primary elements:

• What you love (your passion)

• What you are good at (your talent)

• What you can get paid to do (your career)

• What the world needs from you (your purpose)

There is nothing magical in considering these statements separately in isolation. But when we thoughtfully evaluate them together, as integral parts of a greater whole, the power of ikigai is truly ignited! It makes a ton of sense when you think about it. As a leader, wouldn’t you want every one of your team members to love what they do, and at the same time be excellent at it? This blend of employee passion and talent is always a winning formula. It’s a formula that smart organizations are more than willing to pay for to ensure retention of their top talent.

Imagine what might be possible, though, if your most valuable employees also clearly understood how their efforts aligned with a cause much bigger than themselves? As we’ve discussed previously, the possibilities resulting from this interpersonal and organizational shift are limitless! Pivoting from a perspective of making a living to making a difference will radically transform your culture.

In wrapping up our time together, it is my sincere hope that this book will serve as a blueprint for designing the type of workplace you have always wanted for yourself and your colleagues. Whether you are sitting squarely in the C-suite or just leading yourself, leverage the ideas outlined to help craft the next great chapter in the life of your organization.

As discussed throughout, there is no fast pass mechanism or eventual finish line on the pathway to purpose. The journey is long and arduous, but it is always worth it. When the relentless pressures of the daily grind threaten to hijack your bigger story, it’s perfectly natural to become distracted, disappointed, and even disillusioned. But stay the course. Burn the boats. And remain true to your noble purpose. Make sure the story you are writing today will be worth telling tomorrow. Craft a story that you, your team, and your customers will find… irresistible.

There is no passion to be found in living small—in settling for a life that is anything less than

what you are capable of living.

—Nelson Mandela


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