Tuesday, August 03, 2010


A few weeks ago I was listening to a TED talk by Dan Buettner about longevity. (Watch the talk it is great!) He references a study of populations with extraordinarily long life expectancies and ends up with a number of characteristics that are reproducible. One piece really caught my attention. The people in each of the populations had a clear sense of purpose. The study looked at one group in Okinawa who have a concept - ikigai - that he roughly translated as "the reason I get up in the morning." He went on to say that you could ask anyone on the street, "what is your ikigai?" and they would be able to answer you without a moments hesitation.

I've been chewing on that thought ever since. What is my ikigai? What constitutes a worthy ikigai? And what about people who don't have one? In my culture many people assume that the dominant ikigai is to make money and accumulate stuff. I don't think that is true. I think as a people we know that is not a good enough reason to get up in the morning. I think the problem is that we don't have clarity as a culture and even less so as individuals.

Clergy are supposed to have a bit more clarity. We talk of a "call" to ministry. We expect a similar level of self understanding and call among physicians and maybe lawyers too. Certainly I know pastors, rabbis, doctors, and lawyers who have a clear sense of ikigai tied to their profession and who find joy, purpose, meaning, and a reason to get out of bed each morning in what they do. Sadly, many do not. There have been many studies about burnout among clergy which is usually blamed on overwork. I think more likely the cause is lack of a clear sense of call... a lack of clarity around one's ikigai.

Today I saw a talk by Gary Vaynerchuk where he basically says, if you don't love what you're doing, stop doing it. I think he is getting at the question of ikigai...

What is your ikigai? Is it a worthy one?

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