How to reboot your life with the Japanese philosophy of Ikigai | Rob Bell
What gets you out of bed in the morning? If your only answer to that question is: ‘My alarm clock,’ then firstly, that’s detention, and secondly: where is your sense of purpose? Spiritual teacher Rob Bell explains how his discovery of Ikigai—a Japanese life philosophy—crystilized a problem he was seeing too often, in most people he met. In your late teens or early twenties, you typically land on a path that you follow for the rest of your life. You picked a degree and now you’re stuck. You made a decision and now it seems too late to choose again. That can lead us to a deeply unsatisfying place, where today is just a repeat of yesterday. Ikigai contains “this really interesting idea, that when you no longer have something that gets you out of bed in the morning, then you’re kind of dead, even if you’re still alive,” says Bell. Your reason for being should shift many times over the course of your life, and looking at your life as containing many seasons— rather than one long stretch—can be a better way to frame and find fulfillment. Ikigai asks four key questions, at the center of which you can find your purpose: 1) What do you love? 2) What are you good at? 3) What does the world need from you? 4) What can you get paid for?
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Rob Bell: I’ve met more people who, essentially, somewhere along the way picked up: ‘You go to school, you get trained in something, then you go get a job in that and then you do that job and that’s your career and then you die.’ But then they got into this thing and realized they don’t actually want to do this with their life. Or nobody wants this particular trade anymore. You make eight-track players; people aren’t buying eight-tracks anymore.
There’s this weird thing about the market where if you go in with, ‘Well, this is a thing that I do,’ there may be forces beyond you that like: ‘No one wants to pay for that anymore.’
And so over the years, I kept meeting people who had this very single track ‘this is what I’m supposed to do’ thing and then it disappointed them for reasons out of their control or simply, “I got trained to do this thing that I don’t like to do.”
Then I stumbled on this Japanese word “ikigai” and ikigai essentially is that which gets you out of bed in the morning. Sometimes it’s translated as ‘your reason for being’. And in Japanese culture they have this very well thought through idea of ikigai: that you never stop working out your ikigai—what it is that gets you out of bed in the morning. And so in this season of life, this is what you’re doing but that may change. It may shift. Somebody you love may get sick and so you need to care for them. You used to do this and now that industry is sort of dried up but now you need to go back to school because you need to now go do this.
And they had this really interesting idea that when you no longer have something that gets you out of bed in the morning, then you’re kind of dead, even if you’re still alive. And the reason why I find that fascinating is you can be successful, you can have a nice job, you can have a nice house, you can do all the stuff that everybody says, “Hey, you’ve made it,” and yet wake up in the morning with a profound sense of dread like, “Ugh, another day?” And despair is a spiritual disease. Despair is when you believe that tomorrow will simply be a repeat of today.
Despair is when you look ahead into the future and each day is just another version of this. What we really want, no matter how educated, sophisticated, accomplished we are, we want to wake up in the morning with this sense of anticipation.
Like, “Look what I get to do today!” The great Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “I didn’t ask for success, I asked for wonder.”