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A thread on the meaning of life...
In 2002 I was pursuing my PhD in Physics. It was ever thing I had ever wanted to do. And I was doing well in it. Acing the exams. Loving my research. My professors loved me. My students were jealous of me. My guide told me I could be the fastest to complete my thesis. But...
I wasn't happy. I was good at what I was doing, but I wasn't happy. And it was for the first time that it struck me. Being good at something and being happy doing it, are two different things. I'd been taught if you are good at something you automatically become happy doing it.
That was my first brush with "loosing one's purpose in life". I dropped out of my PhD, came back to India and at the age of 24 had to start life all over again.
Post MBA, I joined a management consulting firm. And it was awesome. I was working with super smart people, on real-world complex problem, getting paid a lot of money. And I was good at it. It genuinely made me happy. I loved the flights, the hotels, the work. But...
After 3 years I realized, no one got up one fine morning and said to themselves, "I wish I had more consultants in my life." It wasn't what the world needed. Not as per my definition of a need. I had a strange feeling of satisfaction, but uselessness.
It was in 2009, when I quit consulting, that I came across a concept IKIGAI A Japanese term that roughly translates to "a reason for being" And suddenly everything made sense.
Okinawa, an island block in Japan, is home to the largest density of centennials (people aged 100+yrs). Several people have studied Okinawians to figure out the reason. Prima facie, there is nothing spectacular or extraordinary about Okinawa. Until, you hear them say Ikigai...
Its an elegant concept. YOUR reason of being is the intersection of 1. What you are good at 2. What you love 3. What the world needs 4. What you can be paid for The operating word here, that's largely missed, is "YOUR" reason of being.
The personal definition is critical, especially when it comes to "What the world needs" and "What you can be paid for" I felt that the world doesn't need consulting. That is MY view. Not the world's view. Everything that exists in the world exists because someone needs it.
What you can be paid for is YOUR definition of money (and thus the quantum of it). I may feel happy getting paid much lower than my peers and that suffices for me Or I may think that I need to be paid atleast this much else it work for me.
The concept is so powerful The endless number of people in jobs that they are good at and are paid for - are simply living a profession. Not their Ikigai.
Volunteers, who help out on something the world needs and something they love doing, but are not paid enough or maybe aren't even good at what they do - are living their mission. Not their Ikigai.
People pursue their hobbies, something that they love and are good at, but it never ends up making any money and it probably isnt what the world cares about - that's living out their passion. Not their Ikigai.
People work odd jobs just to pay their bills. They don't love it. Nor are they necessarily good at it. They are living out a vocation. Not their Ikigai.
However, most people, when digging into the concept of Ikigai, stop at this image and understanding. I realized, it wasn't so much the intersection of all 4 circles that was interesting, it was the intersection of 3 or lesser circles that explained what I had felt in life so far
This, imo, is the true power of Ikigai. Explaining a situation that is close to Ikigai that we may be tricked to believing we are living it, when the truth is we aren't. It explained to me why I felt uselessness while in consulting, why I felt empty while at Groupon.
It is this critical nuance that most people miss when navigating through the concept of Ikigai. The meaning of your life, is the intersection of ALL 4 things, not 3 or 2. And understanding what the intersection of 3/2 circles means, brings us closer to the meaning of Ikigai.
Once understood, the next logical question is: How to arrive at your Ikigai. Several books and prescriptions exist out there. Most of them delve into what I consider "on the surface" prescriptions. Here is what worked for me...
1. Make a laundry list of things that you are good at 2. Make a laundry list of things that you love doing 3. Find the intersection 3a. If none, go back to your childhood / early days and recollect things that made people wonder "how did you do that?". Dig deep and far back.
4. Of the intersection, ask yourself, "Which of these does the world need, or can need if I change the current scale/scope/form of it?" For instance, you love singing and are good at it. The world doesn't need your singing. But it needs singers.
5. While living your current life (whatever it is), work on this intersection and slowly mold it to what the world needs. This is going to be hard, long drawn, and will require discipline. You are converting your passion into "Delight and fullness, but no wealth"
Find your intersection of "what you love" and "what you are good at" And devote 3-5 years towards it. With NO pressure of making money off it. Just for the joy of it For the love of it. At some point, you will unlock value. It is inevitable, if you have devoted yourself to it.
In summary
The most purposeful people I know and I have observed, do not think of purpose as an end goal or an objective. They think of their journey as the purpose itself. Fin.
This is a good book to start. But it is just that. The start. I encourage you to go beyond the book.

My Notes:

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