A Life Worth Living: How to Find Meaning at Work

This month I’ve dedicated all my writing to content related to physician leaders and their importance in redesigning our healthcare systems. That being said, you are likely curious why I am writing about “ikigai” and how it relates to finding meaning at work.

What is Ikigai?

Ikigai is a Japanese term that is roughly translated into “the reason you wake up in the morning”.

In Japanese culture, having a sense of ikigai, or a ‘life worth living,’ is the most commonly used indicator of subjective well-being. This does not merely reflect an individual’s psychological factors, such as well-being, and hopes, but also their self-awareness of the motivation for living.

In the most authoritative dictionary in Japan, the sense of ikigai is described as “joy and a sense of well-being from being alive” and of “realizing the value of being alive”.

Sense of Life Worth Living (Ikigai) and Mortality in Japan: Ohsaki Study (PDF Download Available). Available here.

 

Why does this matter for Physician Leadership?

I’ve worked on countless Physician Leadership Development Programs, from a day workshop to a full year initiative , and I can’t stress enough the importance of cultivating a deep level of self-awareness. Gone are the days when we hope for organizational change without addressing and honoring the humans and humanness needed to energize change.  And no, this is not the soft stuff, this is the spark that ignites progress.

The rise of burnout, absenteeism, and the increasing levels of disengagement among physicians highlights the need to foster this energy.  My good colleague, Dr. Jack Cochran, often points out the incredible zeal and excitement that can be found among early careerists and medical students.  So, why then, has that energy all but vanished just five to seven years later?

With providers increasingly making pleas for their children never to go in to the medical practice, we must look at the causes of this dissatisfaction on a structural level.  We must shift this dynamic within health systems by fostering leaders who are curious about intrinsic motivation.

I’ve found the following activity to be quite revealing for myself and the leaders I’ve worked with over the past several years.  I invite you to give it a try and if you are feeling especially brave, invite a few colleagues to join you in re-examining how to bring meaning back to work.

What you LOVE:

  • What do you love?
  • What delights you and brings you a sense of purpose at work?
  • What work that energizes me the most is…?
  • What themes emerge for you?

What you are GOOD AT:

  • What specific tasks, duties, and responsibilities are you great at (and enjoy) and are needed now at your work?
    • Ask a few friends and colleagues the same question for an outside perspective
  • What skills, knowledge, and abilities do you want to improve in the next 6 months?

What the world NEEDS:

  • What unique talents, characteristics or attributes do you bring to your role/job that is needed by the organization, your patients, and/or the world?
    • Do your best to resist simply aligning what you love and what you are good at with what the organization or world needs, try to be as objective as you can
  • Where is there a significant need for your passions, purpose, and skills to be deployed?

What you can be PAID FOR:

  • This tends to be completely obvious or a very challenging question, think about where all the above three categories land from a business and financial perspective.

 

Putting It All Together

What do you learn from the spaces of “passion”, “profession”, “vocation” and “mission”?

What is the reason you wake up in the morning and how can this knowledge fuel the meaning and joy of your work?

In full disclosure, this activity can be overwhelming, but also liberating.  I’ve seen this process open individuals to new jobs, shifts in career trajectories as well as a sincere recommitment into one’s profession. My intent is to offer an activity to deepen your own self-awareness in an effort to support you in rediscovering your meaning, passion, and direction at work.

Please send me a note and share your experience, I’d love to hear from you!

To dive into this topic a little farther, I recommend picking up a copy of  The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha.