Ikigai

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This little beauty is called an Ikigai, a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being (Wikipedia).” Japanese culture has produced some of my favorite things (sushi, anime, ninjas, samurai, robots) and now the Ikigai is added to the list. The diagram is intended to serve as a reminder of the “reason to get up in the morning” and I think the simplicity and intricacy is fantastic. When you think about it, what else is there? Finding Ikigai is a lifelong search as one develops and matures through various experiences.

In most stories the main character searches for their Ikigai and the writer leads them to it. The search, the path, the conflict, resolution, and growth are laid out by the (mostly) all-knowing author. Perhaps our lives are the same, perhaps not—one has to delve into the topics of faith, destiny, God, and nobody is exiting that existential gauntlet with a clear answer. Storytellers get to create Ikigai and in doing so may stumble into their own.

I know I’ve never felt more in the center of said diagram than when writing. Not all the time to be sure, but enough to instantly jump to that conclusion when I first saw the depiction. When I’m not writing, occupied by time consuming activities like my job or the technicalities of adult life, I do feel out of place—shifted out of the center. When these activities monopolize my time I tend to get the sense of, “ughh what’s the point?” even though they’re pivotal to keeping me fed, clothed, and sheltered. The grunt work of existing isn’t always the most fulfilling.

This sentiment is not to downplay the severity faced by millions of people for whom existing is a daily struggle. I know I have a good life filled with great people and a seemingly infinite set of options. Refugees fleeing war zones might not have the personal security to ruminate on Ikigai. Homeless individuals pushed to the periphery of society certainly have less options for daily living. So to be in a situation such as I am is truly fortunate and to be aware of my Ikigai is something I don’t want to take for granted.

After making the decision to write a novel I became aware of how much meaning writing brought into my life and now there’s no going back. My writing might never achieve huge financial success (would be sweet if it did though) but I don’t think that’s the point. I’ll continue to write, to share stories and create. What is your Ikigai?

Dreams into Goals

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What is your greatest dream?

We’ve all heard the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?  A teacherA firemanA dinosaur wrangler!  A writer!

I’ve written a novel.  Please hold your applause, people write novels all the time.  Withhold judgement until you’ve actually read the story, scanned a review, or  at least looked at the cover art.  But I will gladly accept a Like or a repost on social media (what an age we live in!).

I think the heart of this question is driving at something more fundamental than a set of career options (this isn’t the Game of Life where a flimsy plastic spinner directs a trip down a rainbow road).  I think the real question is, what do you want?  Not a chocolate bar when you’re a little hangry, not a booze fueled escapade at the Playboy mansion or 1000 likes on your newest selfie, but something more.  What is your dream?

Dreams might be the most under appreciated and overlooked aspect of humanity.  We all have them and yet rarely are they understood, instead we allow our dreams to evaporate in the bustle of daily life, or sink into the murky depths of the subconscious.  And yet dreams return nightly, persistent apparitions that they are, arising when we cannot look away.  Most dreams (mine anyway) are a series of incoherent images and events, but some are different, some linger, their power of influence stronger than the rest.  I think we encounter these types of dreams when we strike upon something that we truly want but have yet to fully acknowledge—the border between awake and sleep becomes blurred, allowing the tangible and the impossible to brush shoulders.

This encounter, however brief or reoccurring, elicits a combination of excitement and fear.  These emotions slug it out like WWE wrestlers, leaving you to play the role of referee—involved but useless until a final verdict is needed.  Excitement is fan favorite, arriving with fireworks and music but then Fear runs out with a steel chair and uses it when Excitement isn’t looking.  Wham!

Do you, as the referee, give the 3-count for the victory, reschedule the fight or give Excitement a chance to get back up?  Because we all know who the crowd wants to win.  You may think there is no cheering section in your corner but there is; the world is a big place.  Not everyone is born with supporters, and even if you are so lucky, sometimes a little wandering is required to find one’s own personal cheering section.

Now, back to the inner struggle: Fear doesn’t really care about victory, all it wants to do is keep knocking down its opposite over and over again.  If it wins then the game is over.  Much better to let Excitement wriggle free only to hammer it down once more with, “Not good enough/Your idea is stupid/Nobody cares/etc.”  On its own, Excitement lacks the oomph to finish the fight but it does have a trick up its sleeve.

When powered by a dream, Excitement pushes back forcefully, fueled by passion, and this is when things really get going.  Passion is focused, it provides direction, is unwavering and unstoppable.  Passion knows what it wants and will fight to get it. This is a major turning point: the dream has become a goal.

A dream is powerful but abstract.  A plan can be made to reach a goal.  There are distinct steps, thresholds, levels, and points of reference to indicate progress.  This is what I discovered when I stopped wishing for my dream to magically appear in front of me, when I actively chose to use my time and energy to transform the dream into a goal.

To be a professional writer has been my dream for a long time and from the moment I began Daughter of Shadow it transitioned into my goal.  The dangling carrot on the end of the stick that I’ve been chasing.  Well, now I’ve caught that damn carrot and I’m ready to take a chomp.

Publication is not the ultimate goal but it is a definite accomplishment.  One more step in the direction I want to travel, closing the separating distance to my dream/goal so I can see its form a little more clearly.

If you’ve found your dream I encourage you to persevere until you attain it.  If you are waffling in the grey I encourage you to listen to your intuition, to not simply disregard a dream as a mirage.  If you are wandering then I encourage you to continue to explore.

I’m going to close with a poem that encapsulates my journey with this novel.  Poems are a lot like personal dreams—they are loaded with intrinsic value and might resonate with others.  Enjoy!

I use the blank page to translate rumblings of spirit

I use the blank page to wipe up leaking brain chemicals

I use the blank page to unite past, present, and future

I use the blank page to embark into the unknown and mark down what I find

I use the blank page to breathe in who I was and exhale who I might be

because with the blank page, I am