Discovering Your “Ikigai” Could Be The End Of Your Fake Confidence

The stronger your self-doubt, the further you are from your reason for being.

Azim Rushdi
Dec 22, 2020 · 6 min read
Photo by DSD from Pexels

I heard the emcee calling my name on the graduation platform. My heart beat as though I had completed a half an hour jog, but I kept my chin high. Chewing gum to reduce my nervousness, I received my graduation scroll with a confident smile. “Congratulations on your achievement,” said the Chancellor.

As I continued walking down the stage, I felt strange. I’ve just completed my four-year degree, but I didn’t feel much happier. Life didn’t seem too different. Apart from the fact that a path full of uncertainties lies ahead.

I once had a conversation with my Final Year Project colleague about life and career. He said something I’ll never forget — “Your career excels when your confidence excels.”

Growing up, I’ve always had to “fake ”my confidence. Being an introvert studying in a foreign country filled with foreign people, my self-doubt sometimes is deafening. I often end up choosing my shell over making connections with people.

Susan Jeffers said in her book, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway, that the root of every fear is the fear that you can’t handle whatever life may bring you. She said all you have to do to diminish your fear is to develop more trust in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

My brother introduced me to a Japanese concept that seems strange at first but has always felt natural — ikigai, or the reason for being. I read books and articles that talk about ikigai and I believe that pursuing it is the key to genuine confidence.

Self-doubt comes from worrying about what others will think if you try and fail. Social psychologists call this natural tendency a “spotlight effect” — the tendency to overestimate how much other people notice about us. In other words, we tend to think there is a spotlight on us at all times, highlighting all of our mistakes or flaws, for all the world to see.

We are naturally absorbed with what we’re doing and how we’re feeling and believe that others feel the same toward us. But the reality is that’s rarely the case. Just like us, people are more consumed with their own lives.

Ikigai in One Picture

The Venn diagram of Ikigai, CC BY 4.0,

Ikigai is the search for meaning in life. It’s the drive to push away the cosy blanket in the morning. The thing that makes you smile, even though your life is falling apart. Amardeep Parmar nicely summarises the concept of ikigai. He said,

Your ikigai doesn’t need to make you rich.
Your career does not need to be your ikigai. Addiction to monetizing everything can get in the way of our ikigai.

Your ikigai doesn’t need to be found.
The knowledge of your purpose in life is not floating in the air waiting to be caught. Your reason to live comes from inside and you decide what it is.

Your ikigai can be multidimensional.
You can have more than one area of your life be the reason for you to get up. This gives you stability so your peace is not fragile.

Your ikigai can change.
Your authentic self is a rationalization your brain creates from a series of events. You shouldn’t limit yourself out of loyalty to a person you no longer are.

Your ikigai can be simple.
Your ikigai isn’t about impressing other people. It’s what is important to you. It’s not who other people would like you to be.

Pursuing Your Ikigai Puts You In Flow

Your ikigai can make you lose your sense of time. Ikigai connects you to the flow. Flow is the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. You can find flow through concentration on a single task.

Distractions will stop you from reaching the flow. It has been scientifically shown that if you continually ask your brains to switch back and forth between tasks, you waste time, make more mistakes, and remember less of what you’ve done.

To achieve flow, you need to have a clear objective. As a Joi Ito writes in his book Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future, “[…] a detailed map may lead you deep into the woods at an unnecessarily high cost. A good compass, though, will always take you where you need to go.”

Your ikigai will shift your focus from the result to the process. When you emphasize the process, your self-doubt disappears. You will learn to take pleasure in the work.

The happiest people are not the ones who achieve the most. They are the ones who spend more time than others in a state of flow.

Your Ikigai Allows You To Cultivate Good, Atomic Habits

Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, authors of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, conducted 100 interviews with the eldest generation of Ogimi, a small town in Japan. They asked about their ikigai and secrets of longevity. They said,

“To live a long time you need to do three things: exercise to stay healthy, eat well, and spend time with people.”

“I get up at four every day. I set my alarm for that time, have a cup of coffee, and do a little exercise, lifting my arms. That gives me energy for the rest of the day.”

“The key to staying sharp in old age is in your fingers. From your fingers to your brain, and back again. If you keep your fingers busy, you’ll live to see one hundred.”

When you find your ikigai, you are living with purpose. When you have a clear purpose, you will not waste your valuable time with self-destructive habits.

Self-doubt originates from poor habits. Be it your thinking or physical habit. One study found that the life satisfaction and self-esteem of children are strongly associated with their toothbrushing frequency. Individuals who brushed their teeth regularly usually paid more attention to their hygiene.

If a simple habit of brushing teeth can have an impact on our overall life satisfaction, what about other positive habits such as waking up early and spreading positive vibes to people?

Your Ikigai Eliminates The Voices Surrounding Your Passion

One thing that everyone with a clearly defined ikigai has in common is that they pursue their passion no matter what. They are resilient against all odds.

Resilience isn’t just the ability to persevere. It is an outlook you cultivate to stay focused on the important things in life rather than what is most urgent. It keeps negative emotions from carrying you away.

Your ikigai gives you a sense of identity. We often get anxiety in the quest of searching for our identity. We are always “too late” to start something. The world seems to move too fast, too brutally, leaving us and our mediocrity behind.

A clearly described ikigai allows you to stay focused on what matters without giving in to discouragement. You will be flexible to adapt to change and reversals of fortune. In other words, you concentrate on the things you can control and are not worried about the ones you can’t.

Finding Your Ikigai

I’m too inexperienced to claim that I have found my ikigai. But Ulara Nakagawa suggested asking three questions to tap into your ikigai.

  • If you can wake up tomorrow with one superpower, what would it be?
  • What will you regret most on your deathbed?
  • What puts you in flow?

My superpower of choice would have to be the ability to understand the future. My heart gains peace from uncovering the wisdom behind every occurrence. My biggest regret on my deathbed would be to become successful on my own, leaving my friends behind. What puts me in flow is the freedom to express my creativity. How will you answer these questions?

Summing It All Up!

Having self-doubt can be deafening. From school days to university, I’ve always had to fake my confidence. It’s hard to have faith in our ability when our callings in life are unclear. The Japanese concept of ikigai, or reason for being, presents an opportunity to beat this problem. When we discover our ikigai, we will be able to achieve three things that will eliminate our self-doubt:

  1. We enjoy the process of pursuing our passion.
  2. We cultivate good daily habits that shape our future.
  3. We eliminate the voices surrounding our passion.

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