Find Your Bliss, Your Passion, Your Ikigai

“Follow your bliss,” said Joseph Campbell
“Follow your passion,” said everybody else on the planet

I’ve heard these phrases mentioned since I was born, or at least it feels like it’s been that long. So I find it interesting that millennials are, to a large degree, pushing back on this approach to life, and they have a point.

The point being, “how do I know what my bliss/passion is? and if I don’t know, how the hell can I follow it?”. Well said, and I know what they mean.

While most of my friends jumped from high school to college, then dove into their career the moment they graduated, I had no idea what I wanted to do after high school, which may explain why I found myself building helicopter landing pads in Augusta, Georgia at the age of 18, and why I’ve bounced from one discipline to another, from VP of Ops, to CIO, CMO and CEO in the decades that followed.

It’s only by looking back at this point in my life that I’ve come to see how I was, in fact, following my passion. But as it turns out, that passion was for learning, not for a specific career.

The reason I took on so many different roles was that I was fascinated by the process of acquiring new skills, of challenging my mind to discover procedures and processes as a way to understand how things worked.

And I see that same trait in a lot of millennials. They’re hungry for learning, and will jump from one job to the next, decide to become an entrepreneur, or adopt the life of a freelancer, rather than pursuing a “career”, as is often expected of them. New gets them excited.

But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the idea of bliss, or passion. It just means we should look at our life a bit differently, which is what I found myself doing as last year was coming to a close.

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions, but as each new year comes around I do take some time to reflect on the last twelve months gone by, and the next twelve months on the horizon.

It was in the waning moments of 2017 that I discovered an article on Medium by Remo Giuffré. Remo is something of a savant when it comes to people, and in this post he talked about finding one’s purpose.

He brought forth a new term (well, new to me) to describe the intersection of many factors that lead to discovering our purpose – Ikigai. According to Wikipedia, Ikigai is a Japanese concept which means “a reason for being”, and according to Japanese culture, everyone has an Ikigai, though we often have to search for it.

Ikigai Toronto Star Graphic

I invite you, as I did, to take some time and examine this visual concept. I admit it’s a bit complicated, especially the empty sections surrounding your Ikigai, but I think you’ll come to realize that Ikigai is far more than passion – it’s service, it’s fulfillment, it’s the gift that only you can share with the world.

For me, it represents the work that I’m doing now, which is storytelling, by way of storylistening. Passion + Mission + Profession + Vocation. And it took decades to discover. So to those who buck the trend of being defined by their career, who have this unbridled thirst for knowledge, and experience, and service, you’re doing just fine. While some will find their Ikigai early on, don’t worry if it takes a lifetime to discover. Enjoy the ride, and remember that each day you’re writing your life story.