Fulfillment is Underrated

Simon Sinek’s mision is to inspire others to do what inspires them. His talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, is the third most popular TED Talk. He is the author of New York Times best seller books, including Start With Why, Leaders Eat Last, and Together is Better.

In his 2016 interview on Impact Theory, Simon spoke about the challenges that the millennial generation faces. A major topic he addresses in that talk applies to all people, regardless of generation, and that topic is purpose and fulfillment:

“Apparently, millennials as a generation, which is a group of people born from approximately 1994 and after, are tough to manage. They are accused of being entitled and narcissistic, self interested, unfocused, lazy — but entitled is the big one.

And because they confound leadership so much, what’s happening is leaders are asking the millennials, “What do you want?” And millennials are saying, “We want to work in a place with purpose.” Love that. “We want to make an impact”, you know, whatever that means. “We want free food and bean bags.” And so somebody articulates a purpose, there’s lots of free food, and there’s bean bags. And yet, for some reason, they’re still not happy. And that’s because there’s a missing piece.

Everybody sounds tough, and everybody sounds like they have it all figured out, and the reality is there’s very little toughness and most people don’t have it all figured out. And so when the more senior people say “Well, what should we do?” they sound like “This is what you gotta do!” — and they have no clue.

And so I keep meeting these wonderful, idealistic, hardworking smart kids. They’ve just graduated school, they’re in their entry-level jobs, and I sit down with them and I go, “How’s it going?” and they go “I think I’m going to quit.” And I’m like “Why?!” They’re like, “I’m not making an impact.” I’m like, “You’ve been here eight months…

It’s as if their standing at the foot of a mountain and they have this abstract concept called impact that they want to have on the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, but there’s still a mountain. And so what this young generation needs to learn is patience. That some things that really, really matter, like love, or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self confidence, a skillset, any of these things, all of these things take time.”

Some call it purpose. Some call it passion. Some call it “what makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning.” Regardless of what it’s called, people of all ages and situations struggle with it. They struggle with it to the point where they settle. They decide it’s too hard of a problem to solve, and so they continue on with life, never being fully fulfilled or getting closer.

Does this problem really matter? Or are we just over-dramatizing and romanticising the idea of fulfilment? In his workshop, How to Find and Pursue your Passion, Jay Shetty highlights the importance of fulfillment, saying “Scientific research proves that the more we live our passion, the more joy, energy, enthusiasm that we’re bringing into our lives on a daily basis. That has a trickle effect into relationships, your work, how we feel.” Dan Buettner, in his TED Talk, How to Live to be 100+, argues that fulfillment is a major reason why the people of a certain part of Okinawa, Japan, have the longest and disability-free life in the world. Fulfillment is not a trivial matter.

People often work hard at something they are not passionate about so that they can spend a small proportion of their time doing something that brings them temporary satisfaction. Imagine how big of a difference it would be to live a life where, every day, you are always excited about what you’re doing.

Ikigai is a Japanese model for finding and living your passion and purpose. The word “Ikigai” translates roughly to “reason for being.” In essence, the model states that people attain fulfillment when they do something that fulfills four criteria:

1. You love it

2. You are good at it

3. You can be paid for it

4. The world needs it

When these four criteria are fulfilled, you are living your Ikigai.

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The four criteria are interconnected and build upon each other in sequence.

What you love

A lot of people struggle with this. They say, “Well, there are things I enjoy. But I can’t say there’s anything I LOVE so much that I would get out of bed excited to do that every day.” That’s fine. But if this is the case, you should explore and try new things. Dedicate 10% of your week, or whatever you can, to just trying new things that you think you might enjoy but kept giving yourself excuses to not do. Don’t think living a life of fulfillment has to be spending 100% of your time doing the thing(s) you love. To go from trying to figure out what you love to spending 100% of your time doing that is an unrealistic jump. A lot of us spend too much time watching shows and playing games. We can start by using some of our downtime during evenings and weekends to explore our interests (or what we might be interested in). After we find something that brings intrinsic motivation, find ways to spend more time doing it.

Jay Shetty points out an alternative path that is equally meritorious to the first path, and that is to just start helping people. Start helping people and see what you like to do that helps others.

What you’re good at

This is a great question to ask your close friends and family. You may have some ideas, but validation from others will strengthen your conviction.

What if what you are good at is not what you love? Then do not pursue it. Why? Because your opportunity cost is finding your Ikigai, and that is one of the highest prices you can pay in life.

If what you love is not what you are good at, you simply need patience. Because you love it, you will get better at it over time. Patience combined with your intrinsic motivation will eventually bring you mastery.

If what you are good at is what you love, then you are one step closer to Ikigai.

What you can be paid for

In order to do what you love, you must be able to live. You must be able to afford the necessities of life. If you love what you do, you will get better at it, and when you get really good at someone, people will pay you for it. After all, no one would pay you to do something you are bad at.

You can make a living by doing something you are good at but do not love. Many people do this. But again, the opportunity cost should make you spring up as if you sat on a giant needle. By doing something that you love and are good at, you will excel, and the money you get paid for will be reflected in your mastery.

What the world needs

At the end of the day, what you love and do needs to make a meaningful contribution to people or the world for you to feel a true sense of fulfillment. Otherwise, what you “love” is actually just enjoyment. You would only be willing to go through intense hardship for something if it’s for a purpose that is bigger than yourself. Besides, if what you do only impacts yourself, no one would pay you for it.

Ikigai is an invaluable model for us to apply. But it is worthless if we don’t implement it in our lives. What is the biggest challenge to implementation? Patience. As Simon Sinek said at the beginning of this post, finding lasting joy and fulfillment requires patience. After all, fulfillment is not a point in time, but rather a life long path.

As Denis Waitley said, “It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.”