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On the Ikigai philosophy

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

The Freelancing Quill is now almost two months old, and I want to share with you all how it came to be. This post captures my ongoing Ikigai journey, in which I share the things I have learned. And perhaps inspire you to find your Ikigai.

The Ikigai philosophy is a Japanese path to understanding oneself and regaining balance in how one lives and works. Ikigai - pronounced "icky guy", as Tim Tamashiro would suggest - is a path on which to find a purpose and live in harmony with yourself by finding out what you love and doing it.

First came the questions

In the two weeks after submitting my Masters thesis, I had resumed reading for pleasure, I had finished Netflix, and I had stopped crying myself to sleep over whether I would actually finish this project. I felt relieved that I could get on with the next great phase of my life in which I would do...what exactly?

What exactly was I planning on working as? What did I want to be doing for forty hours a week? Did I actually want to work forty hours a week?

What were my post-academic aspirations? Did I want to actually report on current affairs, or did I want to edit someone else's news story? Did I want to work for a small business or a corporation?

Did I want to switch specialities and work as a cryptocurrency writer instead? Did I want to write or create content? Did I want to work at all? Why did I want to work?

As someone who is possessive of her time, did I want to let someone else dictate how much time I would spend at a desk?

What did I consider meaningful work? Did I even want to work in a nine-to-five kind of way?

These questions swirled around my mind in the same way the great Pacific Garbage Patch does. 'Round and 'round they went, amassing all my anxieties, gathering all those silently loud thoughts, polluting my waters so to speak with all of these questions. Each clamouring for their own, perfect answers.

Ultimately, the question it all boiled down to was: did I know what I wanted?

Honestly, I didn't know.

This prompted serious, emotionally charged discussions to find an honest answer that didn't involve a Universal Basic Income, Universal Healthcare, and a four day work week.

Or permanent unemployment because of such "lofty" ideals*.

Anyway, in these nearly two-week-long series of discussions between my loved ones and friends, a more refined question was unearthed: what do I want my legacy** to be?

Answers that led to more questions

This, of course, prompted further reflection. It was during this time that my internet wanderings led me to the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai.

Ultimately, the question it all boiled down to was: did I know what I wanted?

Tim Tamashiro played the virtual Virgil, guiding me through this process of asking myself so many questions that I almost forgot what answers I was looking for. His introduction to Ikigai was as entertaining as it was pure in intention. Tamashiro wasn't selling a magical, regimented cure-all as the answer to my existential questions. He was suggesting I offer myself a chance to know myself better, and by doing so, help others around me more intentionally through work that I love. He was guiding me on a path to a process of constant, cyclic self-understanding that didn't come with a threat of complete failure or the promise of ultimate perfection.

Finding your ikigai relies on four central questions:

  1. What do you love?

  2. What are you good at?

  3. What can you get paid for?

  4. What does the world need?

This video by Mossery guided me with my answers:

In just a few minutes my entire perspective had shifted towards something that could grow, and allow me to keep exploring all the things I loved.

But it required a certain level of honesty. Honesty with myself.

I wasn't completely ready, and I don't think I ever will be, but I was at least prepared to brace myself for the waves these four questions would make. Now, I had to truthfully answer these questions and be willing to act on my answers.

My process and what it led to

I took two weeks off from all freelance work commitments and began to answer these questions. Once I had answers to all four questions, I sat down and made a list of 10 things I have always loved doing. This list included editing, writing, painting, gentle hiking, simplifying complexity, and setting things right. I wrote down activities and the feelings I wanted to feel when doing these things without the intention of it being "productive", "worth money", or to "post" on the internet. After meditating on the impact I wanted to make in the world and answering the four Ikigai questions, this is what I came up with:

At the time, I was convinced I wanted something new, and although this was not a bad thing to desire, becoming a UX writer with practically no industry experience was not going to happen. Yet. However, I know I could do it. My skills, my desire to simplify complexity and make processes more inclusive and efficient certainly align with this career path. But I needed to find a way to get there without spending more time unemployed. So I set about steadily working on learning more about UX writing while also finding ways to support my learning by plucking up the courage to ask for work. Work that would interest me every single day. Work that I could get paid for. Work that the world needs.

This meant starting my own agency. Something I control and lead. Work I am inspired to do every day. And here I am. It has been a slow beginning, and I am happy to share that I truly love what I am doing.

So, while it is safe to say that the ikigai philosophy and its four questions gave me the fresh perspective I needed, I must acknowledge that I had to trust my instincts, be open to collaboration with more experienced people, and have the humility and courage to ask for help. None of these things come easily to me, but I am all the better for having tried despite the odds.


*AOC would completely disagree with this statement.

**I'll be answering this question in the next blog post. Do stay tuned!

This blog post has been in the making for nearly three weeks because of the steady flow of work into the agency. To all TFQ's loyal clients, thank you for trusting me with your vision!

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