Chieko: I failed to discover my Ikigai...
Ikigai is a concept that is very much integral to Japanese culture. The word 'Ikigai' can be roughly translated to your 'reason for being', or purpose and is not confined to the ‘Venn Diagram’. More on its authentic definition can be explored here.
While Ikigai is essential to one's well-being, the true beauty is that it does not have a fixed equation and can change over time.
At Mogami, we would like to highlight this nuance with our 'Ikigai Spotlight Series'.
This month's featured guest is Chieko Y. (59), both a Certified Perioperative Nurse and Registered Nurse at the North Memorial Health Hospital based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
Chieko-san speaking at the Robotic Surgery Coordinators Seminar
Tell us your story.
Upon graduating from Akita University School of Nursing, I began my career at Kitasato University Hospital in Kanagawa, Japan. In 1994, I decided to transfer to Maryville University School of Nursing in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, to pursue a bachelor's degree. Following my graduation, I joined the operating room staff at Barns Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Since 2001, I have been working in the operating room at North Memorial Health Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?
During my time as a nursing student, I delved into the concept of "Ikigai," which taught me the importance of viewing patient care through a holistic lens, considering not only their illnesses but also their overall well-being. While exploring this concept, I had yet to contemplate my own Ikigai. However, I recognized the significance of comprehending Ikigai, the value of life, joy, and satisfaction that patients experience, and how it directly impacts their nursing care.
What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?
As mentioned earlier, during my nursing student days, I was introduced to the concept of Ikigai. Although I didn't explore it extensively then, I occasionally contemplated my own Ikigai. After graduating from nursing school, I landed a job at a leading hospital at the forefront of implementing advanced nursing practices. My goal was to become a proficient nurse within that institution. As I grew more comfortable in my role as a ward leader and observed the situations around me, I started witnessing patients confronting mortality, which made me question whether I could ever face the end of my own life without regrets.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to study abroad at a university in the U.S. Despite the demanding assignments, I graduated and secured a job at a local hospital. While achieving my goals and completing my tasks brought me a sense of fulfilment, I'm not sure if I considered it my Ikigai at the time. I always felt driven by the pursuit of new goals and challenges, but in retrospect, I don't believe that was my true Ikigai.
It wasn't until I relocated to another state after getting married that I found the space and time to fully embrace and enjoy my new life. During this period, I began to understand what I believed to be my Ikigai.Even in the simplest moments of my existence—working alongside my team, immersing myself in the beauty of nature during hikes, gazing at the serene blue sky in my backyard, or reflecting on my day while journaling before bedtime—I started experiencing a profound sense of contentment. This feeling stems from the gratitude I feel for the people around me, the environment, and the countless blessings that have supported me. For me, recognizing that I am alive in the present moment and being nourished by it represents my true Ikigai.
On the right: Chieko-san and her colleague in the operating room.
How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?
In general, when I am not preoccupied with others' opinions, I can be true to myself. Whether at home or at my long-standing workplace, I can genuinely embrace my authentic self in most situations. Although I have a multitude of responsibilities to handle at work, they don't burden me to the point of feeling overwhelmed or stressed. This sense of balance allows me to uphold my authenticity, and I believe it plays a significant role in maintaining it.
Chieko-san at the National Park where she goes on her annual camping trip with her family.
Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?
While working as a nurse in Japan, I began to gain confidence in my abilities. However, I found myself increasingly frustrated and lacking a sense of fulfilment due to the repetitive nature of my busy days. Around the same time, a friend invited me to a terminal care lecture. One important lesson I took away from that lecture was that "when you understand how you want to die, you will discover how you want to live."
This realisation marked a significant turning point for me. I started shifting my perspective and contemplating the advice my future self would offer to my present self. The ability to view things objectively from this standpoint proved immensely helpful and convincing on a personal level.
What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?
When we attempt to understand "Ikigai" in a structured manner, it often seems to contradict its very essence and purpose. For instance, in the Venn diagram, one component of Ikigai is "being able to earn money," suggesting that Ikigai ceases to exist for those who retire and no longer have a job. We create opportunities to gain insights and perceive hidden aspects by maintaining an open and flexible mindset and being receptive to diverse viewpoints and ideas rather than rigidly adhering to a single perspective.
In my view, Ikigai is not something to be actively sought after or comprehended through forceful analysis. Instead, it is something to be recognized and felt within the depths of our inner selves. During my own desperate search for purpose, I failed to discover my Ikigai because my focus was solely on the act of searching. Rather than relentlessly seeking one's Ikigai, adopting a broader perspective and openness that allows for appreciating the Ikigai inherent in everyday life while nurturing a sense of inner tranquillity is essential. Engaging in hobbies and activities that bring joy and spending quality time with loved ones can contribute to cultivating this state of being.
Chieko-san with an Aurora seen near her home.
“When you understand how you want to die, you will discover how you want to live." What a powerful Ikigai story from Chieko-san - reading her journey reminded me of the importance of discerning the difference between “fulfilment” and “Ikigai purpose”. It is clear to me how important Chieko-san’s work is to society and yet, I found it a key point that while she finds much fulfilment in her work, it is not her “Ikigai”. Her reminder to us of the dangers of using the misguided Ikigai Venn Diagram and her hint of "adopting a broader perspective and openness that allows for appreciating the Ikigai inherent in everyday life" are something I hope we all lean into.
Do you want to learn more?
You can follow Chieko-san and her journey on her Instagram @chiekorn.
*san is an honorific suffix used in Japanese
The reflection and journey of the other pieces guide us to a life of Ikigai. Ikigai is a journey, not a destination. It is the outcome of being able to live as your authentic self in your everyday life.
What did this story bring up for you? Comment below.