I have a love/hate relationship with the digital age. The dualistic nature of the never-ending stream of content in newsfeeds, blog posts, articles, videos, and images can be challenging for even the most thirsty learner. On one hand, anyone with an internet connection has instant access to a more content that he or she can consume. Sharing thoughts, insights, and new information with someone on the other side of the planet can happen with a few clicks of the mouse.
With the evolution of technology, our knowledge base has exploded. Based upon the “Knowledge Doubling Curve” created by theorist and futurist Buckminster Fuller, until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every 100 years. Now, human knowledge doubles every 13 months. According the IBM, the Internet of Things will eventually increase the growth rate to every 12 hours. We’re getting smarter faster!
How can we keep up with that? This avalanche of content is a bit of a double-edged sword as it’s created a quest for consumption that often prevents us from taking the time to really process and digest new ideas, determine how they may shape our ideologies and perhaps our behaviors. I’m curious about others’ perspectives and discoveries, and I read – A LOT. Read, comment, like, share, rinse and repeat. So much to learn, so little time! But, every once in a while, I stumble across something sticky…something that bounces around my brain long after I’ve turned off the computer. Something that makes me stop… and think.
A few weeks ago, I discovered one of those sticky posts authored by Janice Kobelsky. Entitled Do It For You, Janet masterfully explores the notion of “not just repeating the days but, rather, making each one a new opportunity, as best we can.” The nugget that really resonated with me was this idea of “living on purpose.”
It gnawed at me.
We live in a society that works long and hard. On average, we spend 30% of our lives at work, and most of us pedal hard and fast. With 24/7 access to the office, that figure will climb. The quest to find a productive work/life balance is widespread. In fact, a Google search on the phrase will produce over 72 million hits and over 500,000 books.
Unless you’re a trust fund baby, we all have to work. Those who are lucky have fulfilling jobs that are engaging, challenging, personally rewarding and aligned with their talents and skills. However, according to a 2015 Gallup Poll, the lucky ones are a very small slice of the workforce pie. More than 70% of Americans are “unhappy, uninspired and disengaged” at work.
While most will admit that work is a significant part of life, it’s easy to overlook how much work impacts one’s life. Descriptors like “unhappy, uninspired and disengaged” are the very antithesis of “living on purpose.” How does one balance 40-60 hours of that each week with the life that is left over in a meaningful way? We spend more time at work than we do with our families and friends, and if you think your professional life doesn’t impact your personal life, think again.
We tend to define ourselves and our successes by job titles and salaries. For many people, work becomes the driver for 20 or 30 or 40 years. Without getting introspective of what drives you and how that impacts your life and the world, a meaningful, productive work/life balance is impossible. Work becomes the purpose of life when it should be a fulfilling part of life. Purpose becomes the proverbial carrot on a stick.
We all know people who live to work and others who work to live. But how many people do you know that live on purpose? That simple phrase, live on purpose, may just be the quintessential goal. I submit that if ever there was a time on our planet where a true sense of purpose was needed, now would be that time.
“True happiness… is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” -Helen Keller
Forget About Finding Work/Life Balance and Find Your IKIGAI
According to the Japanese, we all have one. Pronounced [ikiɡai], it is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being.” The term ikigai combines two Japanese words, iki (生き) meaning life or being alive and kai (甲斐) meaning an effect, result, or worth. In Japanese culture, ikigai is loosely translated as a reason to get up in the morning. One’s purpose lies at the convergence of passion, mission, vocation, and profession. The space in the center of these four elements is where our true reason for being lies.
Considering this explanation, the challenge to attain work/life balance seems shallow and incomplete at best. Just as Janice Kobelsky challenged me to think about what it means to live on purpose, I’m passing that challenge on to you. Take a few minutes to find your own ikigai. Grab a clean sheet of paper and your favorite pen. Turn off all of the outside noise and quiet your mind. Draw four overlapping circles on a piece of paper. Examine what you love, what you’re great at, what you’re paid to do each day, and what the world needs. Reflect upon those four elements until you find the intersection in the center. That little space is the place where you can live on purpose.
And then ask yourself, “What can I do today to be in that meaningful space?”
You cannot decide your future. You can only decide what to do today. What you do today will decide your future.
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Dr. Melissa Hughes is the President and Founder of The Andrick Group. Melissa specializes in growing our capacity to learn as well as employee engagement, effective communication strategies, and the unique dynamics of the multi-generational workforce. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies that impact how organizations think, learn, communicate and collaborate.