When Ikigai meant more than just turning hobbies into a career

I was at a crossroads in my career as an educational therapist when I was introduced to the Design Your Life workshop. In a conversation with Yoek Ling, I told her how I felt resigned to taking the “easy way out”, because the alternative just seemed so impossible. She then invited me to this workshop. I didn’t yet know what I was getting myself into, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

The process

At the start of the workshop, we assessed six key elements in our lives, and ranked them according to their importance to our well-being and our lives at that point in time. The activity made it clear to me that my emotional life, career, and hobbies were top priorities for me, which was something I had only known subconsciously before.

We also explored the idea of polarities, which was a particular eye-opener for me. I had always made my decisions by reflecting on the pros and cons of an option, but polarity thinking made me realize that there was more to consider. I learnt that every choice involves a pair of interdependent concepts, like passion and practicality. which allowed me to make wiser, more comprehensive choices. The polarity I worked on was between risk-taking and stability, and when I jotted down the positives and negatives for each concept on paper, many things were illuminated for me. I found it amazing that something so simple can be so transformative.

I also partook in group and pair discussions with the other participants, and it was immensely helpful to hear people’s stories and perspectives. A third person’s point of view can sometimes be very illuminating, and I got to see facets of myself that I had never noticed.

The discussions were especially useful during the prototyping stage, when we had to form a question to guide us as we tested our prototype. My fellow participants wrote down their thoughts on Post-its and gave me some insights into my blind spots, which opened up new questions and angles to consider my problem.

Working on my prototype helped me crystallize thoughts on education that had been vague before, which led me to produce a personal manifesto on education (check it out on my blog: bit.ly/RachelsPrototype). I realized I wanted to set up a school for dyslexic kids centered around Project-Based Learning, as I wanted to inspire children who’d otherwise be bored out of their minds in a traditional school setting.

Reason(s) for being

One of the last few takeaways I had from the DYL workshop involved questioning what a fulfilling life involved. We learnt about ikigai, which is a Japanese term that translates roughly to “a reason for being”, one that encompasses joy, meaning, a sense of purpose, and a feeling of well-being. We also watched a 9-minute video featuring Elizabeth Gilbert analyzing the differences between one’s hobby, job, career and vocation (https://youtu.be/0g7ARarFNnw). In her opinion, a job simply pays the bills, and does not necessarily need to be a vocation that you love. I realized that I had confused my previous job for a vocation, and might not have quit it so readily if I had seen this video earlier.

It was fascinating to be among intelligent, like-minded people who were also at a crossroads in their career, contemplating what it means to lead a fulfilling life. Our group discussed the concept of ikigai and Gilbert’s rhetoric, and came up with two models that reflected these approaches:

Behind coherence, or ikigai, is the idea that you derive happiness from a deep, singular sense of purpose which drives everything you do. In contrast, integration suggests that you could create a life filled with activities that are fulfilling in different ways. For example, you might receive financial stability from your job, and a sense of meaning by volunteering at a women’s shelter.

I realized that through working on my prototype, I had unknowingly found my ikigai. Setting up such a school meant that what I’m good at (teaching kids with creative methods and managing people) and love (seeing kids learn and be engaged in that process) would pay a decent wage, and intersect with what the world needs — a 21st century creative, hands-on education that would unleash a child’s potential.

This was interesting as I had always imagined ikigai meant turning one of my hobbies into a career. But this was exactly the reverse: taking my career and turning it into something fun, meaningful and rewarding, both financially and emotionally.

I have been telling my friends about my workshop experience, especially those who are now in the middle of their careers and jaded with work. It has been a fruitful and enlightening experience that I wished I could have been a part of earlier in my working life. But it’s never too late, and after attending the course, I find myself having a clearer picture of what lies ahead for me.

Written by Rachel
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Like Rachel, we have all been caught in crossroads at various junctures in our life. And even when we are lost, we take heart in knowing that there are always choices through perspectives. Do you need a life navigation? Join us at our MAD at Work programme now and experience what Rachel has gained in life design- https://boldatwork.sg/mad-at-work/