The purpose of life — referred to in French as “raison d’etre” and in Japanese as “ikigai” — is undoubtedly the most imposing of subjects. People the world over, of every generation, are often searching to discover their life’s purpose, and it’s not an easy task.Discovering your life purpose should be, by its nature, an empowering, uplifting and positive pursuit of learning the truth about one’s own self. Three sources of wisdom will help: From Japan, the concept of ikigai; some lessons from late American entrepreneur Steve Jobs, who co-founded Apple Inc.; and insights from Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care.
One of the most valuable methods to discover purpose, specifically career purpose, is the concept of ikigai, as originally detailed by Japanese psychiatrist author Kobayashi Tsukasa in his 1990 article “Ikigai”, and more recently by Spanish authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles in their book “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.” Ikigai is an introspective process, looking for a deep search of self so as to discover purpose.
A widely-shared Venn diagram depicts ikigai as a valuable tool for discovering purpose, but mainly for one’s career. The four circles in this diagram are “What you can be paid for,” “What you are good at,” “What you love” and “What the world needs,” which, when overlapping, can help to generate profession, passion, vocation and mission, and which holistically lead to ikigai.
Jobs died from pancreatic cancer on Oct. 5, 2011, but before his death he had made Apple a global business giant and changed the lifestyles of billions of people. Six years prior to his death, Jobs gave the commencement address at Stanford University, where he related three stories: Connecting the dots; about love and loss; and about death. It was not the stories he told which had the most impact, but the life lessons he imparted, which have universal appeal and for which his own words suffice.
The life lesson Jobs imparted about connecting the dots was as follows: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Finding your raison d’etre requires you to first reflect on the end of your life, what and whom you will leave behind and how you will be remembered — you must envisage your legacy and then spend a lifetime living it.
Then he spoke about love and loss: “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
Finally, Jobs spoke about death: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because everything just falls away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”
Australian nurse Ware spent several years caring for dying patients and she wrote a book about her observations titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” These included the first, and most common regret of all: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Second was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard,” followed by “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings,” “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” and finally “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”
Therefore, discovering one’s life purpose requires you to first reflect on the end of your life. When you go, what will you leave behind? Whom will you leave behind? How will you be remembered? This is design thinking, whereby you envisage your legacy and then spend a lifetime living it.
It is fitting to end, once again, with the words of a person who is no longer in this earthly realm, Jobs, whose legacy lives on: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. And, most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”
• Talal Malik is chairman and CEO of Alpha1Corp International, a trusted adviser to some of the world’s top government and business leaders, and a dedicated humanitarian.