I attended Kainon School, a New Church Primary School in Westville, Durban, South Africa between 1996 and 2002. The values that were formed during those years have been foundational throughout my life. One of the things that has recently taken on more meaning for me is Kainon School’s motto: “Happiness in a Useful Life” or “In Usibus Felicitas.”
A few months ago, I wrote an article about my personal growth journey and taking steps to fulfil my purpose. Over the past few months, I have experienced so much joy, challenge and fulfilment in my work. One of the most rewarding parts of my work is having the privilege to help others find their purpose. This part of my work involves guiding teens and adults on a journey of self-awareness and personal development to help them to figure out the unique value they can offer the world. I love nothing more than seeing a person’s face light up when they suddenly “click” and the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place.
When I am working with people in this way, I feel like I am fulfilling my own purpose. Having the opportunity to hear a beautiful, unique personal story and helping someone to understand their “essence” is what motivates me. My passion lies in helping a person to identify their strengths, understand their gifts and harness their talents in order to empower them to live a useful and fulfilling life.
“From them they also knew what charity was, namely the affection for serving others without any thought of reward…” – Emanuel Swedenborg (Arcana Coelestia 3419(3))
Over the last few months, I have been quite surprised by the need for adult career guidance services. I have been amazed by how many adults who have well-established careers are seeking out guidance and looking for meaning in their work. I have noticed a clear demand for career transition coaching in adults in their late twenties to late thirties. What it ultimately comes down to is a need to feel useful.
I recently came across the concept of “ikigai” (pronounced ee-kee-guy) which is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being” or more colloquially, a reason to jump out of bed each morning. It also refers to the mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. When I came across the idea it immediately resonated deeply with me and I have since built this concept into the toolkit I use with my clients.
The Japanese island of Okinawa, where ikigai has its origins, is said to be home to the largest population of centenarians in the world. The research shows that the concept of ikigai clearly contributes to longevity. Your ikigai is at the intersection of what you are good at, what you love doing, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. What you love and what you are good at is your “passion,” what you love and what the world needs is your “mission,” what the world needs and what you can be paid for is a “vocation,” and what you are good at and what you can be paid for is your “profession.”
Dan Buettner, author of Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest suggests making three lists: your values, things you like to do, and things you are good at. The cross section of the three lists is your ikigai. Then it’s a case of identifying what the world needs, identifying a gap in the market or coming up with a unique idea. In our modern times, finding a way to be paid for how you spend your time is an essential part of life – if we are able to fulfil our physical needs, we can then take care of our spiritual needs and strive towards self-actualization. The concept is quite simple, but of course it’s not always that easy to find. Being able to tick three out of the four is good, but the missing gap will ultimately leave a person with feelings of uselessness, emptiness, uncertainty or a lack of wealth.
“Angelic life consists of worthwhile, thoughtful actions, actions that are useful to others.” – Emanuel Swedenborg (Heaven and Hell 403).
In their book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles break down the ten rules that can help anyone find their own ikigai based on their research on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Many of the ideas are in line with what we all know to be important, such as staying active, adopting a slower pace of life, eating a healthy diet, being surround by good friends and community, connecting with nature, giving thanks, and living in the present. However, the golden thread that is consistency highlighted by the inhabitants is having a “reason for being,” and following your ikigai. This can mean completely different things for everyone. By immersing themselves in the culture of the island, the researchers uncovered many different forms of “ikigai” – it can be the smallest, simplest task, as long as it makes a person feel useful.
“Our intuition and curiosity are very powerful internal compasses to help us connect with our ikigai,” Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles write.
When working with my clients in the context of career guidance, my outlook is in line with this quote by Philosopher and civil rights leader Howard W. Thurman – “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I believe that everyone is able to find or create a job they love and that gives them a reason for living.
Perhaps many of us have been “pursuing happiness”, while instead we should be “pursuing usefulness,” which will ultimately lead us to experience true contentment.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson