My Search for my Ikigai

Photo by Danica Tanjutco on Unsplash

When I was 28 years old, I was working in a fairly straightforward 9-5 job in Mississauga (close to Toronto), Canada, leading a pretty boring life, where days and nights blended into each other. 

I had moved from New York and missed it terribly. New York was a place that inspired me, while Toronto was nice, but it was not my city.

A year and a half later, I was watching a movie, based in New York. I felt a pang of something – I wasn’t sure what. This feeling of being completely in love with a city or a setting – something that fuelled my imagination and brought me great joy.I suddenly sat up and asked myself, “what the hell am I doing with my life?”

I didn’t hate my job, nor did I love it. I didn’t love the place I lived. Would this be all there was? I had always dreamed of a job that allowed me some creativity. More than that, I had wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember. When would I do it? What was I waiting for?

So I decided to quit my job after a few months and make some fleeting changes in my life. Let me tell you, there is no time or less stress in any job than that of when you know you are leaving. Consequences cease to matter and in fact you end up over performing. 

But life threw me a plot twist: I got promoted. 

So, I started to irritatingly care about my job again, and the combination of a difficult manager and low self-confidence found me frustrated again after a mere few months. Then I finally decided – in November 2009, to quit.

It was all very romantic. Wherever I looked I saw narratives of people giving up cushy corporate life for pursuing their passions in things like writing or yoga. For a little while things worked. An internship at a free local weekly led to an internship at The Walrus seemed Canada’s best magazine.

But towards the second half of that year, things started to slide. I met and got involved with a complicated man at The Walrus.

My single-minded focus towards my future started to fray at the edges. One reason was the level of drama in my relationship – much higher than that of previous ones – including one very angry ex-girlfriend flying across the country, parking herself in my boyfriend at the time’s house, and trying with all her might to get him back.

This was completely new to me.

I always thought in order to write, I needed some passion and heartbreak in my life, and truly – once it started it didn’t stop. That is till many years later.

Getting a job was another headache. I was advised to put in another six months into working for free. People asked me for free writing wherever I went (“But I thought you love to write!”). 

In addition, dating someone in the same field gave rise to a slight competitiveness that soured things between us at times. 

It was when I was in the final round for an interview, which paid half my last salary at my corporate job, and I was rejected for someone with much more experience, that I realised the fantasy was over. 

Pursuing my passion wasn’t enough. I was turning 30, and didn’t want to live in a basement apartment, and think twice before every purchase I made. I realised, much to my dismay, that I was much more material than I would have liked to imagine. I wasn’t willing to give up what to would have to give up, to make this work.

There were several misguided things about what I had spent my time doing. Firstly – the writing scene in Canada is small and can be somewhat cliquey – and I most definitely did not fit in. 

Secondly – my love has always been fiction, not journalism. That was my passion as a reader, and this was where my interest should have focused as a writer. I was never going to be a hard-hitting journalist who wrote about meaningful issues, but I could create change by weaving stories. 

Storytelling – the made-up kind – was my passion. 

Third – my life in Canada was devoid of stimulation. I had nothing to say. My writing shifted perceptibly after coming back to India, where something as simple as getting a pipe fixed was often accompanied by unanticipated adventure.  

Lastly – my love of writing was a manifestation of my love of human psychology and motivation. Why do people do the things 

It was only recently when I learned about the concept Ikigai, that the remaining pieces of the puzzle fit. Ikigai – that sweet spot between what you love, what the world needs, what you’re good at, and what you can get paid for – is something I wish I had realised in 2008. 

Image courtesy of https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrismyers/2018/02/23/how-to-find-your-ikigai-and-transform-your-outlook-on-life-and-business/#5e34176e2ed4

Writing by itself was difficult to sustain myself – particularly in Canada which had a small and competitive writing scene. I ended up writing about a lot of things I didn’t like in order to make progress. 

My Ikigai as well as all those little bubbles around it all required stimulation. There are people who are all about writing, or all about yoga, or all about healing or some other vocation or interest. I wasn’t one of them. 

I was always going to be someone with simultaneous projects in different areas of life. 

I have recently started learning coaching and suspect I will find some of my Ikigai there. However, it has been a life-long search – for that sweet spot that combines creativity, my love of human psychology, and being able to do something I feel proud of. 

Have you found your purpose yet? I’d love to hear stories from other people on this elusive concept!

10 thoughts on “My Search for my Ikigai

      1. We only experience something when we take the journey. However well perceived things may be, we can only go through something on a path when we take it.

        Somethings are smooth. Those are what people land on and continue. Inside of us there is a little voice, that may not be saying the same thing. The question then remains is to listen to it and quench for more or just go on as is.

        We may never know something!

        Life is an experiment or sometimes the culmination of who we are from the things that has happened to us in the past.

        Every new change asks us to be something different and that terrain may be confusing at first and yes there needs to be some anchor of some kind.

        Eventually everything means something. Either an experience or something.

        Cheers to you for putting your thoughts into words and sharing across. It’s never that easy.

      2. Hi Bhanu, thank you for reading and your detailed comments!

        Yes, you’re right – life is a journey and experimentation – and is full of newness and surprises that challenges us in different ways. As someone who has often taken the “scenic” route through life, I can attest to the fact that every experience adds a layer, whether a positive or negative one.

        Thanks again for reading :)!

  1. What a lovely read, Mira! Your posts always come with such positive vibes even when you’re sharing the most intense thoughts..

    As fory Ikigai (a concept I read about 2 years back) I’m still looking for it..I often find myself asking this question.

    1. Thank you! I try and keep things in perspective 🙂 I just started hearing about it recently – but. I think the concept itself was eye-opening for me. I always heard advice to follow my passion, but my passions pay poorly and involve me giving up other passions so I was stuck for a long time there 🙂 This felt like an “aha” moment for me!

  2. I agree… following your passion and the reason you wake up everyday doesn’t always pay the bills. But do it anyway… in you spare time of course. I have always been one to go headstrong and give whatever I’m doing 100%. I have found my ‘Ikigai’, with wildlife and travel photography (recently blogging) and I am thoroughly focused in every spare moment I can give it to make it into what I dream. That means taking baby steps to get to where I want to be (7 yrs effort so far), while still working full time to pay the pills, and running a household. But it is starting to form nicely. This is my third opportunity to reach my dreams. The second one was a 25 year career, and I am working on downsizing that slowly, but have to make the new dream profitable first. And just as I did with the first 20 yr career (just a regular 9 to 5 that paid poorly), when the second one made enough to survive on, I dropped the first one and gave the 2nd my full energy until it was profitable. It wasn’t easy as all of these careers overlapped each other for many years, and basically meant I worked two full time jobs at one time for the majority of my life. When your driven and have purpose…. it doesn’t always seem like work, even though it is often grueling and exhausting. In general, I’m a workaholic and a go-getter, so I plan on repeating that system and making this one extremely profitable as well.

    Dreams don’t go away until they become a realization for me. So make a plan, stick to it, and never give up! Success and failure go hand in hand! What’s that saying, “No one said it would be easy, they said it would be worth it”… and it is!

    1. What a beautiful journey you have had – and what amazing persistence you have shown! I think although more difficult, what you’ve chosen to do is more practical and long lasting – that type of grit takes a lot more out of you because you have to keep going longer and with slower progress. But I am happy for you that you have found it! It makes the doing two full time things that much more worthwhile. I work as a facilitator with Leadership Management International and their definition of success is when you start pursuing the goal, not just when you reach it. All that intent, that purpose-driven action, all of that is included in success – because at the end of the day, you’re doing something worthwhile for you. And that’s amazing!! 🙂

  3. A personal piece that takes one into a life led from one post to the next, with learnings that hold you in good stead as you glance back. It’s interesting how you tie it in with your desire to percolate your life with meaning. Keep writing Mira! Godspeed

    1. Thank you Kay! It’s good to hear from you 😊 yes the Ikigai book also speaks about Logotherapy – which is a discipline of psychology that believes that everyone needs a purpose in life, and I do tend to believe that. When we aren’t seeking anything, what is there to live for? A tad dramatic I suppose but also kind of true 🙂

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