In many moments of our lives, we are called to make decisions that require our consideration of success. Success, together with one’s own beliefs and point of view, changes from one person to another and it may vary depending on where you were born, where you live, what your background is and how the society is that you’ve been living in.
Different dictionaries may have many definitions like achieving desired results, desired outcome, wealth, favour, becoming rich or famous or getting a high social position. And if some people measure success based on money, fame or power, others have different criteria, such as developing something good for others or making an impact, even if it is unpaid.
However, focusing on success itself or on the lack of success may be counterproductive since the concept is pretty abstract. But interestingly, in the Japanese city of Okinawa, a theory called ikigai began almost one thousand years ago and entered people’s lifestyles, changing the common view of success.
Ikigai is related to both happiness and personal success in a very authentic and subjective way. Even if there is no exact translation of ikigai into English, it can be explained by the intersection of four areas: something that you love, something that you are good at, what the world’s needs are, and what you can be rewarded for (and yes, also in terms of money). It all starts around the idea of having a purpose in life.
Let me give an example. Many people around the world have a job but their true interest is around something else that has nothing in common with that job. They can also be talented at their profession, do something meaningful for others and be paid for it, but if they don’t enjoy it, this would reveal a lack of balance, which means this is not an ikigai.
On the other hand, ikigai is made by a true interest or passion that should make you experience a so-called “flaw” and get you in the zone where everything else disappears, it brings you challenges, as well as a sense of efficacy and self-confidence.
Japanese people say that ikigai is based exactly on that area of interest and passion that makes you get up out of bed and start a new day.
Unlike success, ikigai is not abstract, but it requires time and consistency in order to identify and work hard for it. All the possible distractions we are victims of every day without even realising (notifications from our phone, for example) have a negative effect on our thinking and may push our ikigai away.
If researchers say that only one-third of people have an active awareness of personal strengths, positive psychology has built a tool to discover our core strengths and, basically, what drives us.
The core strengths are at the base of what you love and what you’re good at, and are the roots that nurture our persona because we receive happiness through them. They help us to be resilient, improve our relationships with others and, more generally, they enhance our wellbeing. Using signature strengths can turn a job into a calling and here we see the ikigai’s two or three circles.
Now, ask yourself, “What do I want? Why do I do what I do?”.
Once you’ve figured it out, you have to communicate it to the world and, at this stage, the ‘why’ becomes crucial. In fact, there is another theory called The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek, which focuses on how some people succeed and others do not, even if they love what they do. His theory suggests that the secret is communication.
We are generally used to the structure ‘what-how-why’ when explaining ideas probably because it is simpler; Sinek invites us to think out of the box and start from the ‘why’. ‘Why’ is at the heart of the Golden Circle; it is the purpose which attracts people to believe in what you believe. How people communicate can make a difference. But if you don’t know your core strengths, your purpose in life and why you do what you do, you would be the first to be unconvinced. As such, people will not perceive your motivation and the value of your idea and would not believe in it. ‘Why’ is the key to inspiring others.
We have to also overcome the fear of failure and of making mistakes in this process; we learn from those mistakes, so they are important for our growth. The fear of failure will stop you from trying and from achieving what you want.
Chasing our ikigai will not only build a better and more successful version of ourselves, it will turn the world into a happier place.