I’ve found my purpose in my people

Ikigai is a beautiful Japanese word that stands for “what makes you get out of bed every morning.”

I first heard this word from Neil Parischa on the podcast, The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish. Apparently, the Japanese language does not really have a word for retirement, in the sense of stopping work. Parischa said that most Japanese people don’t really retire, but they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows. I was running when I heard this podcast, and I almost started clapping when I heard this.

The podcast led to me to the book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, where Héctor García and Francesc Miralles discuss the rural town of Ogimi, on the north end of the island of Okinawa in Japan. Ogimi has the highest life expectancy in the world and the most centenarians in the world, and the people of Ogimi live a long and purposeful life, filled with “the happiness of always being busy.”

Helping others might be an ikigai strong enough to keep them alive.

The idea of not retiring struck a chord within me. I love work, and I just don’t see how I could ever stop working. I lose track of time when I work, I find my flow in my work, and I find meaning in my work.

I take ikigai to mean purpose.
Purpose beats passion.
Passion is ephemeral, but purpose lasts.
Purpose can keep you going when passion sputters.
Passion is how I feel, but purpose, purpose is who I am.

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

So, what gets me out of bed every morning? What’s my purpose?

  • Loving my son, and making sure he knows how much he is loved.
  • Believing in my people (my students and my staff), helping them discover their purpose, and seeing them grow into everything they can become.
  • Believing in my clients, helping them to look great in their organizations, and helping them to succeed in their careers.
  • Being someone who makes people feel safe and loved when they need to feel safe and loved.

When I was younger, I was driven by my personal ambition for my own career. Now, as a parent, as a professor, as a CEO, that no longer consumes me. That is no longer where I find fulfillment and joy.

The only metrics that will truly matter to my life are the individuals whom I have been able to help, one by one, to become better people. (Clayton Christensen)

I find purpose (read: joy) as a professor and a CEO because, every minute that I am interacting with my students, staff, or clients, I have the opportunity for deep, meaningful, personal conversations where I am learning and growing as much as they are, if not more. I linger in the classroom after every lecture, just to have that opportunity. I work in open spaces and leave the door open when I work, just to have that opportunity. At each interaction, I have the opportunity (and responsibility) to say or do something that makes a difference, that touches someone’s career, that changes someone’s perspective, that helps them see themselves differently, that helps them articulate, face, and overcome a fear or roadblock.

The unbelievable trust that my students, staff, and clients place in me to do the right thing by them, to care about them at a deeply personal level, is the purpose that I carry within me, that keeps me going, and that sets my soul on fire.

My purpose is in my people.

19 years after coming to Carnegie Mellon and 11 years after starting YinzCam, this purpose still gets me out of bed every morning.

I’ve found my ikigai.