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The Secret to a Long Life May Be Ikigai

What is your reason for being?

Rosy Thachil, MD

Disclosures

August 05, 2021

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What kind of doctor do you want to be?

These are common conversation starters that we probably have all heard at some point in our lives.

But perhaps these are not the most thought-provoking or insightful questions to ask or be asked.

Instead, "What is your passion?" or "What inspires/motivates you?" or "What makes you want to get out of bed in the morning?" or "What creates flow for you?" may be more thoughtful questions that encourage greater self-reflection.

There is a Japanese concept called ikigai that loosely translates to "a reason for being." This framework suggests that one should attempt to find the intersection of four things:

  • One's interests

  • One's abilities/talents

  • What the world needs

  • What one can be paid for

When any two of these intersect, you will have the following:

A passion: something that interests you and you excel at

A profession: something that you excel at and are paid for

A vocation: something that the world needs and that you're paid for

A mission: something that interests you and that the world needs

Finding that "sweet spot" that intersects all four is the ideal prescribed by ikigai.

Ultimately, ikigai challenges us to find purpose, and finding this alignment of purpose can subsequently help us plan our professional and personal lives.

Of note, several of the world's communities that are known for longevity/higher proportion of centenarians are linked by the common concept of ikigai. While there isn't strong evidence that this phenomenon is correlated with or predictive of longevity, I believe we can all agree that finding purpose can lead to increased satisfaction, happiness, and perhaps less stress.

Achieving this sweet spot that satisfies all conditions above is undoubtedly easier said than done when placed in the context of real life, as there are often competing interests. Your purpose may align with a job that doesn't pay the bills, or the job that provides financial stability may be uninteresting work to you. The path there may be winding, but eventually, with enough trial and error, I think we can all carve out a version of ikigai for ourselves.

I've had conversations with more senior physicians who have made a great impact in their fields and could certainly retire yesterday if they desired. When asked why they keep showing up, it is usually some version of "this is what I'm meant to do" or "this is my purpose" or "this is my joy." In some ways, if you find true joy in what you do, it becomes part of your identity (in a positive way).

Though our healthcare system and culture are certainly far from perfect, many of us went to medical school because this was/is our "calling" — vocational, if you will. For me personally, it was a unique intersection of being able to serve others, use my abilities in math/science, and make a living.

In some ways, being a physician or healthcare worker puts us in a unique position to serve and provide services that the world needs. But with burnout rampant within the physician community, it is even more important to understand ourselves, work out our own version of ikigai, and make sure that we are living it daily.

What brings you purpose and fulfillment as a physician? Comment below!

Disclaimer: The above article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not professional medical advice. If you believe you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or 911.

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About Dr Rosy Thachil
Rosy Thachil, MD, is a noninvasive cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She is a graduate of Jefferson Medical College and completed cardiology training at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology.

Dr Thachil's clinical interests including acute cardiovascular care, cardiac critical care, and health disparities. Her nonclinical interests include personal development, blogging, and writing (at thachilmd.com).

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