My life was a blur of stress and endless work, sweating over the smallest details. Embracing the Japanese philosophy of “ikigai” changed everything for me.

I used to live a high-pressure life in New York City. My workdays were filled with stress, my nights were sleepless, and my weekends were consumed by carryover tasks. It was as if I was stuck in a never-ending cycle of stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. My health started to decline, my relationships suffered and I found no joy in the city that never sleeps.

I first heard about “ikigai” during a business trip to Japan. It was described as a philosophy that integrates work, hobbies, love, and wellness into one’s daily life. The word translates to “reason for being,” and its application requires an understanding of what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for.

But one day, out of sheer desperation and curiosity, I decided to embrace it. It wasn’t an easy transition by any means – shifting from a fast-paced lifestyle to a more balanced one required patience and persistence. But the change was worth every bit of effort.

Now, as I sit on my porch in rural Vermont enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside, I’m struck by how different my life is compared to just two years ago. My once chaotic world has been replaced with tranquility and purpose. Here’s what it’s been like living by the philosophy of ikigai after leaving behind a frenzied life in New York City.

Finding balance through Ikigai

Switching from living a fast-paced life to one guided by the philosophy of ikigai wasn’t an overnight change. It was a journey that required a complete lifestyle overhaul. But the first step was to understand what ikigai truly meant.

I started by penning down four lists: what I love, what I’m good at, what the world needs, and what I could be paid for. Finding the intersection of these four lists was my ikigai, or my reason for being.

It wasn’t easy, and there were moments of self-doubt. But slowly, I started to see a shift in my life. I traded late-night work sessions for quality time with loved ones and hobbies that brought me joy. Instead of striving for perfection at work, I found satisfaction in doing my best and letting go of the rest.

Life became less about reacting to stressors and more about proactively creating happiness and balance. I felt healthier, not only physically but also mentally and emotionally.

But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is some magical solution that will fix everything overnight. It’s not. It’s a process, a journey that you embark on, one day at a time.

The illusion of work-life balance

Many people hold on to the belief that work and life are two separate entities that need to be balanced. We often hear about the elusive “work-life balance” as if these two aspects are at odds with each other, each vying for our time and attention.

In my pre-ikigai life, I too subscribed to this idea. I would clock out of work and then attempt to ‘switch off’ my work mindset, not realizing the stress and pressure were still simmering beneath the surface.

But ikigai challenges this notion. Instead of trying to balance work against life, ikigai intertwines them. It says that your work should be something you love, something you’re good at, and something the world needs. And yes, it should also pay the bills.

This shift in perspective was enlightening. I realized that it wasn’t about balancing two opposing forces but rather integrating all aspects of my life into a harmonious whole.

Shaping your reality

Adopting the philosophy of ikigai brought a significant change in my life. But it also made me realize some broader truths about how we shape our reality.

First, I learned to take responsibility for my life. Although it’s not always easy, taking charge of my situation, rather than blaming external circumstances, gave me a sense of personal empowerment.

Second, I started to question societal norms and expectations. I realized that much of what we consider ‘normal’ or ‘true’ is often dictated by external influences. Embracing ikigai was a conscious choice to prioritize my personal ambitions and desires.

Lastly, I became more aware of my dissatisfaction and struggles. Instead of ignoring them or masking them with blind positivity, I faced them head-on. This honesty with myself was crucial in reshaping my reality.

The key points that shaped this transformation were:

  • Taking responsibility for my life
  • Questioning societal norms and expectations
  • Facing dissatisfaction and struggles head-on

These steps were instrumental in aligning my life with my true nature.

Keep in mind that the journey of self-exploration is ongoing. It’s not about reaching a destination, but about continually reshaping your reality to align with your true self.

Eliza Hartley

Eliza Hartley, a London-based writer, is passionate about helping others discover the power of self-improvement. Her approach combines everyday wisdom with practical strategies, shaped by her own journey overcoming personal challenges. Eliza's articles resonate with those seeking to navigate life's complexities with grace and strength.

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