Ikagai

One of the pleasures of having children smarter than I am is they are always in the process of educating me. Recently, our son sent me a meme about the Japanese concept of “ikagai.” It’s hard to translate, but it loosely means serenity, contentment, or more accurately, the reason you get up in the morning. 

Let me explain. Draw four circles. Label one of them “What I Love,” label the second “What I am Good At,” the third “What the World Needs,” and the fourth “What I Can Get Paid For.” The idea is to find a career where all four circles intersect.  

I'm almost 67 years old, so it's a little late to be trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up, but I thought I'd give it a whirl. 

It didn’t go well. I had more than a little trouble getting my circles to intersect.   

I did okay with the first three, but the circle titled “What I Can Get Paid For” tended to wobble off the page. Turns out that traveling to places I’ve never been and hanging out with my grandchildren are not particularly lucrative gigs. 

After thinking about it probably more than I should have, I came up with a couple of conclusions. 

First, I wonder how many people in the world really hit that sweet spot and if it’s possible to be there all the time. I’ve had some pretty good jobs in my life, and not even the best of them filled me with serenity all the time. Maybe everyone in Japan is oozing through life on a well-paid cloud of contentment and validation, but I doubt it. 

A friend of mine had a daughter approaching adulthood. She was kicking around various career ideas, so my friend sat down with her and made two lists – jobs that made a difference in the world and jobs that paid a lot of money. Those two circles looked like the rear end of an F350 – there was plenty of distance between them. And that didn’t include the “What I Love” and “What I am Good At” circles. “What about doctors?” you might ask. Well, sure, those are jobs well worth doing and the top ten slots for highest paid jobs are all physicians of some sort. Except, my wife has been working her way through “Gray’s Anatomy,” and the parts I’ve seen don’t make doctoring look like very much fun. Doctors have a suicide rate roughly twice as high as the rest of us, so contentment might be too high an ask. I know every time I take my clothes off in front of a doctor, I feel sorry for them. 

I think I have a more workable plan. It’s something I’ve been telling young people for years and trying to follow myself. Here goes: 

You need a job that feeds your body and your soul, but it might not be the same job. 

That’s it. Sell insurance during the day and coach basketball at night. Teach second grade but have a side hustle that pays for your travel addiction. When you open yourself to the possibility of two or more ways to tap into your four circles, the world becomes a little more manageable. 

As a philosophy, it doesn’t have a fancy Japanese name, but it works for me. 

Copyright 2021 Brent Olson