PUBLISHED July 31, 2022
‘Ikigai’ is defined as ‘something to live on; purpose; the joy and purpose of living.’ According to this definition, Ikigai is strongly reminiscent of a useful and joyful life. I find the concept of Ikigai deeply satisfying because of its similarities to other philosophies such as Stoicism, Taoism, and Sufism. According to the Japanese, everyone has an Ikigai, but finding it requires a deep and often time-consuming search inside; so it’s really an inner journey.
As shown here, it is at the interface of passion, profession, vocation and life mission that you tend to achieve your Ikigai. several years of ‘Iki-gaing’, that is, searching and searching within, to my heart or my essence, gave an answer. My Ikigai tells me that I am a teacher. The journey to my Ikigai has influenced my thinking and practice as an educator, especially in a low to middle income country like Pakistan. Whether my students are undergraduates, postgraduates, or health professionals, or from the humanities/social sciences or another discipline, through my teaching, my goal is to help people discover their purpose, their passion and the value of what they do. Thus, hacking through hackathons, human-centered design thinking through sprints, re-imagining the world and its future, creativity and entrepreneurship are all methods to better understand and discover new meanings to create a life worth living, for both teacher and learner.
I am an emergency physician, academic and researcher. As such, I strive to strengthen the pedagogy of my main discipline, emergency medicine. Simulation has become a powerful tool for training healthcare students in the 21st century. Recognizing the value of this, I have pushed for excellent learning experiences for our students and residents (interns) through simulation-based educational paradigms. With the pandemic, I was able to make a strong case for virtual/online digital learning, which proved to be a challenge, but given the situation on the ground, there was no other way. This too was very aligned with my deepest core, my Ikigai, in other words.
I consider myself a creator – someone who champions creativity. This is reflected in my articles/essays aimed at a wide readership, which I distribute via my blog or newspapers. I am also a innovator, intrapreneur and entrepreneur. The experience and expertise gained through running a co-innovation and incubation center – and in tandem, being an interdisciplinary/multidisciplinary learner and teacher in the 21st century – I gravitated towards the 21st century tools of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, innovation, entrepreneurship and change leadership. A critical aspect of teaching/learning in this chaotic pandemic environment has been to rethink education and learning spaces, sustainable education and education sustainability. And regarding the latter, linking everything in my teaching philosophy to environmental sustainability has become my purpose. Again, this alignment with my Ikigai is remarkable and deeply rewarding.
More Recently, my foray into Zumba and Salsa as a workout, wellness and fitness routine has allowed me to become an instructor for both. I call it #Zalsa (fusion of Zumba and Salsa). Zumba is performed to a variety of music including Bhangra, Rock, Pop, and Hip Hop. The passion for such a training routine was felt a few years ago (at the height of the 1st wave of the pandemic) and I used to eagerly go solo. Over time, I realized that I was good at it, so I offered my services to people in my workplace. I received rave reviews from students and it inspired me to follow up on a second course (which is in the planning stage). Thanks to my Ikigai, I realize that whatever the “activity” (Zalsa, emergency medicine, innovation, etc.), the teaching/learning aspect remains sacrosanct.
Modern theories of adult learning (e.g. experiential learning) have shaped my teaching approaches (i.e. learner-centered, conversational, collaborative, versus didactic/centered on the teacher/pedants). The pursuit of innovative and creative teaching practices has been extremely satisfying. Since the most enthusiastic responses I have received regarding my teaching come from multidisciplinary and cross-sector learners (students and professionals), I envision myself growing further in this field. Luckily, that’s exactly what turns me on too, and my Ikigai approves.
By keeping Ikigai as the centerpiece of my passionate/motivated life, I was able to maintain my enthusiasm for teaching, and this is just one example. What humbles me is to see this reciprocal excitement on the part of the learner/student. This two-way dynamic between teacher and learner is sacred; it is brilliant and beautiful to watch and cherish endlessly. However, when it comes to real learning, it is no longer important who is the teacher versus the learner; both are there to learn. This is another thing my Ikigai pointed out to me.
And yet another fascinating thing about the Ikigai: it doesn’t have to be rigid with a clear direction under all circumstances. You can explore new things and new paths by being directionless. Knowing that you don’t know everything keeps you grounded, kind, and inclusive. The reverse, when people very rigidly decide what they want, closes them off from other possibilities, relationships and alternative interpretations. My Ikigai will certainly not align with such inflexibility.
So, do you know your goal? If you already do, then hats off. However, like most humans, if you don’t know your life’s purpose but are curious to find out, then Ikigai may be the travel destination (or destination trip?) for you. I hope that if or when you dive within, you realize, recognize and embrace your wonderful Ikigai, whatever it is. And don’t forget to share the details of your inner journey with your fellow travelers, so they too can benefit from your Ikigai.
Asad Mian is a freelance emergency physician-researcher-innovator at the Aga Khan University. He writes on topics ranging from health and education to humor and popular culture. He is the author of “An Itinerant Observer” (2014) and “MEDJACK: the extraordinary journey of an ordinary hack” (2021). All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the author.