What’s your Ikigai?

Andrew Woodward

Andrew Woodward

Like many, I was belted with all sorts of fancy competency and personality measuring sticks over my decades in the corporate world — Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (I am ESTJ by the way), Gallup Strengths Finder and mind-numbing psychoanalysis by recruiters. They have their place. I believe however the best measure of anyone’s competency and personality type is the answer to one question — what’s your Ikigai? It should be one of the first questions any employer asks any potential employee. I don’t expect most of you will know what Ikigai is. Read on — you will get it; hopefully love it and, start working on one by the end of the this article.

I am not spiritual person but I do have what I would call a higher consciousness that I am aware of. That higher consciousness involves looking at myself and the world more broadly. It involves me looking out and the world looking in. I don’t delve too deeply into it. I don’t get carried away with it. I am just aware of it and have regular self check-ins with myself.

At the start of 2014 I commenced a transition from the corporate world to the sole-trader consulting life. In the four years that followed I have been on this interesting, challenging, fun, illuminating and rewarding experience. These days I ply my marketing, communications, corporate relations, sponsorship and general management skills in climate change, renewable energy, sustainable development and environmental advocacy. It is a far cry from the days in financial services, tourism, sport, management consulting, media and politics.

I have gone from being the international jet-setter living in San Francisco, working for a NYSE listed international brand and running global programs to being a sole trader consultant in a small-town with environmentalism and sustainability at its core. My home town of Bellingen also doesn’t have elevators, escalators or traffic lights and people sometimes wear their pyjamas to the supermarket. I like all of that. I don’t own a tie. I hate them. To me they’re a symbol of everything that is wrong with the corporate world of cubicle jockeys, lanyards, Windows PCs and Friday drinks with oxygen thieves.

Since I said ‘take your job and shove it’ to the corporate world at the end of the 2013, I have consulted, obtained my second Master’s degree (this time in Environmental Management), studied with a former US Vice President, run for parliament, become a more passionate conservationist, got involved in environmental advocacy, done the tree change and adopted a more sustainable lifestyle. All in all, life is good. That’s not to say, there has been been some ‘hairy’ experiences over the past four years but on the whole it has been pretty rewarding. It has all been a part of me finding, without me knowing it, my Ikigai.

I earn a quarter of what used to. I am four times happier than I used to be. Before the change, I was focussed on doubling my wealth. These days I am focussed on doubling my health. I find the less I have — the happier I am (my teenage children don’t agree on this point). And when you ‘don’t have it’ — you, quite simply, don’t worry about it. I have learned the reality of the old phrase — the best things in life are free — like living near a river that draws its fresh water from a World Heritage Listed National Park just up the road.

That said, I enjoy working; I am good at it; I need to work and, I have a bit to offer. The world has a bit to offer me too. My work motto is “I work on things I like, with people I like, where I like and when I like”. Some weeks I work two days, some weeks I work seven days. Some weeks, I work from a fold-up table and chair by the river; some weeks at a desk in a Sydney office or, some weeks in a coworking space, library or coffee shop.

Education and skill development is critical for a successful professional and personal life. I like to think of myself as having high levels of proficiency in all of the various “Q’s” that abound these days… IQ and EQ. A few years ago I read about FQ — fitness quotient — and that’s something on my agenda this year. I also spoke with a coworker before Christmas about the need for TQ — as in tech’ knowledge. I think I am there on this but like most need to up my knowledge and skills on blockchain and AI. It’s all about being a more rounded. Having the four “Q’s” in order is important and a good starting point. But it is sort like having a great car and not knowing how to drive or where to go. You need Ikigai.

So what is Ikigai? It is something I learned a year or so back. It is a Japanese concept. It rang a bell — lots of them — I went “YES!”. It makes sense to me. Being the start of the year, I just gave myself a refresher on it. It requires little to no explanation because it is so damn simple and can be explained in one simple graphic. I thought I would share it with people. You might get something out of it. The ‘trick’ is to find a way to land in middle. I am nearly there.

I love the simplicity or matter-of-fact nature of it.

Ikigai-EN-optimized-PNG By enUserNimbosa derived from works by Dennis Bodor (SVG) and Emmy van Deurzen (JPG) (httpst.coTiRhcMD7HP) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa4.0)], via Wikimedia

Ikigai-EN-optimized-PNG By enUserNimbosa derived from works by Dennis Bodor (SVG) and Emmy van Deurzen (JPG) (httpst.coTiRhcMD7HP) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa4.0)], via Wikimedia

The most popular book on the concept is Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and‎ Francesc Miralles

So what’s my Ikigai? A few years ago I wrote my Manifesto or statement of intent as an environmentalist (July 2014). It remains intact today. But I have probably narrowed it down in the years since first penning it in a Melbourne pub after being inspired by Al Gore. My Ikigai is very simple:

I help inform the world about the absolute necessity for sustainability and the critical importance of nature for the benefit of everyone, including my children.

Andrew Woodward

What’s your Ikigai?