This is the weekly Careers newsletter.
Radhika Panjwani is a former journalist from Toronto and a blogger.
Some years ago, Jennifer Shinkai, a Tokyo-based sales and marketing professional, was laid up in bed for months after developing a hernia.
At the time, Ms. Shinkai had been so miserable at work she would flee to the washroom between meetings for a crying jag. But once stuck in bed, she realized her health woes were an omen. They compelled her to re-evaluate her career. She launched her own training business and soon after that learned about ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy), the Japanese philosophy of “finding your purpose” or the “why” of your work.
Ms. Shinkai said embracing ikigai was transformative.
Much of the Western world knows ikigai as the Venn diagram of four overlapping circles, each symbolizing one of the four statements: do what you love, do what you’re good at, do what the world needs, and do what you can be rewarded for. A single intersecting point at the centre represents an individual’s ikigai, Ms. Shinkai said in an interview over Zoom.
Her interpretation of ikigai is more nuanced, Ms. Shinkai said. “Ikigai doesn’t have to be a single source [purpose],” she said. “A person can have multiple sources of ikigai. The Japanese refer to ikigai as the reason to wake up in the morning. Your ikigai is what makes you feel alive and in the moment. It could happen while you’re sipping a cup of tea, during your morning run or at work.”
She now hosts a popular podcast, Ikigai with Jennifer Shinkai and coaches individuals and corporate groups on how they can integrate ikigai into their lives.
The monk who wrote a book on ikigai
At 20, Calgary native Tim Tamashiro knew his life’s purpose was something involving music, storytelling and entertaining. He pursued those interests, and went on to work for a record company and become a national radio host while enjoying his career as a jazz musician. One afternoon, more than a decade ago while surfing the channels on his TV, Mr. Tamashiro came across a furniture design competition where a contestant had embroidered the ikigai Venn diagram. Mr. Tamashiro said it was a light-bulb moment.
Soon after, he immersed himself into understanding ikigai and wrote a book, How to Ikigai. Coincidentally, Mr. Tamashiro’s grandparents hailed from Okinawa, a tiny island in Japan where ikigai is said to have originated. Last year, he became an ordained Buddhist monk.
“As humans, we can get two kinds of rewards: intrinsic and extrinsic,” Mr. Tamashiro said. “Intrinsic rewards are the internal rewards that bring us greater meaning, greater purpose and well-being, whereas extrinsic rewards are things like pay, status and boost in ego. Ikigai is mostly an intrinsic reward but we can use ikigai to bolster our way to get extrinsic rewards as well.”
Even though Mr. Tamashiro worked in corporate settings with rigid hierarchies and work processes, he said he never felt trapped in his job.
“It’s really important, we ask ourselves what brings me joy? And how can I use that in not just my LinkedIn life, but my everyday life?” Mr. Tamashiro said. “I have had 9-to-5 corporate jobs, but I never stuck to what was on the job description. I always brought more me to my job. I used my time [at work] to foster connections and work on interesting ideas.”
Antidote to quiet quitting?
Ikigai 9 is a psychometric tool to measure ikigai. When researchers in Britain translated the original Japanese research and explored ikigai in Western populations, they found it promoted greater well-being and lower scores of depression. As part of the test, participants are told to answer nine questions and evaluate the answers on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 as “does not apply to me” to 5 being “applies to me a lot.”
Ms. Shinkai uses Ikigai 9 with her clients. She said people who score high on the test are most likely to seek connections at work and have “room in their mind” to learn. These employees believe what they do matters. This is the opposite of feeling disengaged, she said.
“Ikigai can help you [at work] by making you aware of how and when you feel alive and prompt you to engineer more of those moments in your day,” she said. “Knowing your ikigai will help you develop those interpersonal relationships at work and you will feel motivated to learn things to help you grow in your career.”
Job versus work
Mr. Tamashiro said learning to distinguish between a job and work is important. A job is merely a paycheque, whereas your work is purposeful.
“If you woke up tomorrow morning and you know what your ikigai is, then that’s the only thing you have to do all day,” he said.
In his book Awakening your Ikigai, Tokyo-based neuroscientist and author Ken Mogi identifies the five pillars of ikigai as:
- Start small: Dr. Mogi said people can accomplish their goals by taking small steps.
- Release yourself: “Accepting yourself is one of the most important and difficult tasks we face in our lives,” Dr. Mogi writes. “Indeed, accepting oneself is one of the easiest, simplest, and most rewarding things you can do for yourself.”
- Harmony and sustainability: Consider the impact of your actions on others and society.
- The joy of little things: Insert small moments of joy into your daily routine.
- Being in the here and now: Tap into your inner child by being present in the moment instead of clinging to the past or worrying about the future.
A World Economic Forum article notes ikigai will just as likely be successful at product and organizational level as it is on an individual level.
“Crucially, ikigai gives organizations the opportunity to take a step back, reflect and reassess their true purpose, rather than pursuing progress at any price,” notes the article.
What I’m reading around the web
- As this VentureBeat story notes, a skill used to last 15 years, but now the shelf-life is three.
- This Fortune article says a recession is coming to the United States and it will happen in the second half of the 2023, with layoffs in tech and finance sectors spreading to others industries.
- This Verge story on chatbots compares Bing, Bard and ChatGPT by testing them in different ecosystems – gaming, cake recipes, poetry and more.
Editor’s note: In an earlier version, it was stated Ms. Shinkai worked for other companies between quitting her toxic job and starting her own business. In fact, she quit her toxic job to start her own business.
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