Discovering My Ikigai and My Plan for PhD


Lately, I have put my thoughts in how I felt contented and happy in all areas of my life. Relatively a common thing to do during the beginning of the year (happy new year, dearest you all!). When a friend of mine asked my so-called-resolution of this year, I said “Applying for PhD.” Yet, I am not sure if that plan is the thing I really want to do. Then the questions evolve to what major I would like to apply, which concentration, which school, and some other technical issues. Honestly, by (trying to) answering those questions, there might be something missing: my ikigai, as my friend also suggested.

What is Ikigai?

Ikigai is the Japanese concept of “a reason to live” or the idea of having a purpose in life. Based on the book Ikigai by Hector Gracia Puigcerver and Francesc Mirrales, if you are interested in living a long, healthy and fulfilling life, you may find the secret to doing so on the island of Okinawa in southern Japan, which is the home to the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. The secret may go into just one word: ikigai. It can be described by the intersection of four different things: what you are passionate about, what you are good at, how you can earn for a living and what the world needs. The discovery of our ikigai, as the Japanese see, requires a deep and long search within yourself that can bring about satisfaction and meaning to life.


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Simply said, ikigai can be the what motivates you to get up out of bed in the morning. In reality, people are motivated by many things in life, and mostly among them is meaning. One example of meaningful work is that you spend your 18 hours a day working on something with a lot of stress, yet you still stick to it because it means something to you. The same thing happens when you are in school or pursue several years of PhD. But, meaningful thing can be miserable. Dan Ariely in his book Payoff argued that meaning is essential and it is not the same thing as happiness. You can do something happy in repeat, but then it will become a meaningless activity. For most people, meaning comes from contributing to something bigger. He also concluded that we will attain a sense of meaning from activities that require us to put in a lot of effort, take ownership over a project and reach for significant goals.


How to Find My Ikigai

However, some people may find their ikigai really quickly, and some must seek it out over time. If you fall into the latter category, like I do, I feel like it is important to keep looking for it. The question “how do I know what my passion is?” is the one I have been asking myself many times. Based on this article in Forbes, there are some tips that will help. The first one would be finding a purpose you strongly believe in. This seems really a vague concept, but it is always worthy to know what your life calling. I often keep asking myself “how do I contribute for a better world?” Another way to find the ikigai is by stop thinking and start doing it. I have been doing the experiment myself by trying a lot of things in life. “Every small step counts and will lead you closer to discovering your passion”, as the article quoted. The third tip that will also help is by talking to the people with similar passion. By exchanging ideas and get to know their experiences (even mistakes from their journey), you can surprisingly learn more about yourself.



Perks of Pursuing a PhD

Knowing that graduate school (PhD) is a long-time and emotional journey, I keep questioning myself whether I need one, whether I will enjoy the process and whether it is something I really want in my life. Why do I care about my ikigai? PhD is not just a degree title. It is one of the big decisions in life that will take your energy for most of the years. With around two years of coursework (and preliminary exams that you have to pass), you will then focus on your own researches. It is somewhat true that finding a strong purpose or something you deeply care about will keep you on the path to staying true to yourself and focused on persisting through difficult times. In my case, PhD is not just a big dream, it would also be my contribution to society and to the knowledge itself.


After the discovery of finding your purpose or ikigai, the question “Do you need a PhD to achieve your purpose?” can follow your deep-inner reflection later on. There are some professions that do not need a PhD degree. As people struggle to finish their PhD, we should remember that PhD is a long journey of searching knowledge. It is not the final destination; it is the best tool for supporting what you will do in life. The big curiosity will then guide you to the long journey of education. In this era of technology, there are a lot of online courses from top university that you can attend. It is one of my ways to know if I enjoy the learning experience and curious about certain topic. As Adam Grant said in a commencement speech back in 2017, “Be true to yourself, but not so much that your true self never evolves.” May we find what we are looking for in life, as it can be one of the greatest journeys you will embark on.




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