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What a great post. Can't wait for part 2. And maybe a part 3 where you interview the spicy reddit user who said "The people who made this chart just twisted the idea for "reason for being" to mean "working to live," then slapped a Japanese word on it to make it seem more legitimate by borrowing the cultural capital and "exoticness" of Japan." - loved it

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Lol thanks Hooman! Let this be a lesson to you to import some ancient Persian wisdom, repackage it to feed in to the American dream, and you’ve got yourself a best seller 😉

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I read your argument to be that Ikigai is a bad framework for fulfillment because it’s too difficult to find work that fits all four categories, often because fulfilling work either goes unappreciated or underpaid in our culture.

I don’t see that as a refutation of Ikigai though. I kind of see that as the point—not that Ikigai is easy to achieve, but that if we can overcome the obstacles attendant to each of the four pillars, that we will be fulfilled.

Curious to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

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Thank you for taking the time to read and pose such a thoughtful question! I need to think about how to concisely reply 😆my quick answer for now is that it helps to at least break these four pillars apart (same argument we make to not expect a romantic partner to satisfy alllll your needs).

It also helps to question the underlying assumptions in each pillar (eg, that we already have a steady state of interests) AND change our perspective (eg when considering what the “world” needs, we could consider those closest to us and/or nature). Does that make sense? Please tell me if not :)

This is already getting long haha but I plan on diving in to this more in part 2!

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You’re welcome! And I agree with both your reply points. To the first, I would personally settle for a vocation that pays well, and then find joy from my family and skill from my hobbies. But I’d prefer Ikigai, right? To the second, I wholeheartedly agree that not only do our interests, skills and passions change, but so do the world’s needs—however you define them—as well as how the world pays, as you illustrated through teaching, social work, journalism, and career consulting. Which makes me see Ikigai as a moving target, but I wouldn’t expect it to be stationary, since neither people nor cultures (or economies, for that matter) are unchanging. So maybe we agree after all! But I think I still like Ikigai as a model for a fulfilling career.

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I hear ya! I think, at the very least, if we’re going to follow a model with these four pillars (and try to find them all in a job, the dream!), we should be honest about the fact that it’s not actually how the Japanese view ikigai, and just find a new name for it 😂

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Oct 17, 2023·edited Oct 17, 2023

Japan has serious problems that disprove Ikigai. If you looked behind the veil of the surface culture, and dug into the data you would find Japan:

- Has some of the highest suicide rates in the world (they used to be #1 if they aren't anymore)

- They have some of the highest rates of absentee parenting (usually the father).

- They have a high rate of infidelity

- Their birth rates are incredibly low and their population is rapidly aging and majority over 55.

- Couple that with their societal tradition of overly respecting elders (calling seniors "Senpai" as a grown adult?) and their society gets too overly concerned with the happiness of elders at the expense of the younger generations.

- They hold on too much to tradition and valuing family over self, often pressuring family members into choices.

- It's still a very male centric society.

- They have a high rate of men under 35 who abstain from relationships entirely (America and the UK are also suffering from this problem btw)

- Many of the millennial and Gen Z youth have or are looking to leave Japan for western countries

- Their homeownership rate is around 56% (for comparison in the U.S it's around 67-68%) meaning almost half their country will never even own a home.

- Also, their lack of caring about money is partially because their economy has been in deflation for 25+ years and the avg white-collar worker makes about $36K USD. You can't get wealthy on $36K.

None of this points to anyone finding their Ikigai in the land it originates from. Also, it's worth pointing out that the book even spends most of its time providing examples from rural folk who are codependent on each other as small communities, and whose main responsibilities are based around farming. So, it's more like in a very controlled specific setting, Ikigai is probably possible.

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This was such an interesting look at Ikigai! I’ve always felt that it was misapplied and a very privileged perspective.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on a couple ideas though:

(1) I’ve never been to Japan, but I’ve worked with Japanese teams/clients and have heard about the intense work culture. You say here that you saw the Japanese wouldn’t trade brute force for mastery, which is opposite of what I’ve heard/experienced. Would love for you to weigh in on this!

(2) I fully agree that Ikigai seeps privilege. Agreeing on that, do you still consider it an ineffective tool, or just one that most people won’t have access to?

Generally, my thoughts on ikigai are that you don’t have to love your job. In fact, I think this obsession with loving your job is a little dangerous, and we should be much more concerned with building healthy and supportive communities outside of work, and have time to nurture hobbies. Unless you feel particularly called to something — which is great. Ikigai just seems like capitalism’s golden child.

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excellent piece jen!!

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excellent piece jen!!

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aww thank you Andrew!

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I'm Japanese American. My sister-in-law is Japanese from Japan. I'd never heard of Ikigai until that book came out. My sister-in-law needed to be reminded of what it was, as she'd only heard it like twice her whole life. So totally agree with you on the cultural relevance.

Honestly, I think the adoption of Ikigai in the western world is a bad habit of Americanization/Cultural Appropriation without thinking through if it'll actually work. Just like Silicone Valleys fondness for using {Office} Ninja as part of their company culture (Ninjas were spies and assassins, why would anyone want those in your company culture?), what value does that really bring?

I think you're on the right path with Ikigai though. It doesn't work in western systems. Probably not even in eastern ones either. Curious and looking forward to hearing your thoughts on a new framework though.

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Andrew!! Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and thorough response!!! In the interest of keeping the essay from getting any longer, I didn't include much of the research I (eventually did), so I was aware of *some* of the info you shared here (suicide rates, lack of partnership, declining birth rates etc), but some I *didn't* come across (like the home ownership dynamic, or being overly concerned with the happiness of elders at the expense of the younger generations--fascinating, and I can totally see that now that you've pointed it out).

LOL so true about our use of ninjas. SMH. Basically, the more I learned, the more I realized what a bubble I was in! Stay tuned on part 2!! Trying to carve out the time to edit it down so it's not a novel lol

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Oct 24, 2023·edited Oct 26, 2023

Can't wait to read! Honestly, I'd read the unedited version. But I get why it's best to edit it down.

I should probably say there are definitely a lot of good things about Japan too. Since most of the stuff I wrote were problems with the country. It just feels like people like to cherry pick things about the culture and country so it fits a narrative, rather than seeing the objective ups and downs. They definitely have some very big and serious problems facing them moving forward, just like every other country.

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This is a great post Jen, well done! - I'll be looking forward to reading pt. 2 :)

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Appreciate that Asbjorn! I’m wondering if this concept was popularized in Denmark?

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Oct 11, 2023·edited Oct 11, 2023

This post! This post! It's brilliant! And it hits on so many of my feelings on work and purpose...I have so much to say, but it's too much type. I'll call you! Lol

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Ha you’re the best 🙏🙏🙏

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