Imagine you are sitting at a table at your favorite restaurant or coffee shop and the waiter comes by and slips you a note with your meal or beverage. What occurs to you at that moment? Do you look around wondering if the waiter is slipping you a message from someone in the establishment that you know? Do you think it is just the paper that the waiter used to take your order? Maybe you consider that the waiter is an undercover spy sharing information with you to save your life. Initially, I think I’d feel a mix of anxiety and curiosity while I hurriedly unfolded the paper revealing the message.
The message is simple. It says, in no uncertain terms, “You have 24 hours left to live! GO!”
Wait – what? How would the waiter know this information? You demand to know more, you need to know who this came from. You look around for your waiter. You are frantic naturally because of the nature of the note. In your search, you cannot find the waiter and when you ask around, nobody knows who you are talking about. Nobody seems to even acknowledge that the waiter you describe works here at all. Now you are really suspicious and your mind races. What do you do?
Choose your own adventure
This may sound like the beginning of one of those adventure books that you read as a child, but it is something I feel so drawn to write about and I want you to think about. I’ve actually had this thought many times throughout my life and have found that the anxious curiosity that comes with this message really puts emphasis to my day and brings the day to life in a very different way. At first you might panic and cry. You might feel regret and guilt for things that you have not yet accomplished, amends you have not made, and places you have not visited. Everything on that “bucket list” haunts you and you feel remorse and anger that time has escaped you, leaving you with – what? What has time left you with?
I wrote about ikigai last week which you may recall is a Japanese term that can be defined as your reason for being or the reason you get out of bed each day. If we think of this concept in relation to the timeline of 24 more hours to live, we may realize the treasure of life and what we have been seeking on this journey, in that “bucket list” has been with us all along.
That note telling you that you have 24 hours to live should be a call to attention. How satisfied do you feel with your life? Everyone has different criteria that they consider when answering this question, but I believe most of our lists are more alike than different. This is why we love Hollywood drama so much. The writers of tv shows and movies know what resonates with our hearts. There is a short poem I repeat to myself when I’m seeking to understand someone better and it goes like this –
Fish live in streams,
birds nest in trees,
human beings dwell in warm hearts
Your heart goes thumpity thump
That thump, thump that sees no rest is responsible for keeping you alive. The metaphorical heart that encapsulates your spirit, your soul, and your divine connection to this universe, is what unites us. We long for and seek experiences and relationships that will fulfill this very human need to live with purpose. The intersection of what you love doing, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs, is where your ikigai resides. This is where that light inside of you shines the brightest. If you feel a strong connection to one of these elements or even a few, but not with the others, you may experience: Satisfaction – but a feeling of uselessness, Delight and fullness – but no wealth, Comfort – but feelings of emptiness, or Excitement and Complacency – but a sense of uncertainty. If you can relate to one of these statements, you are not alone. Life is tough. We navigate so much and follow one path at the cost of another. There is no roadmap and no certainties that guide our footsteps. We try, we fail, fall, stumble, cry, and get back up again and look around. There may be boulders in the path, or maybe pebbles – you’ve likely experienced both at one time or another. How is it that we can really arrive at ikigai?
Take action now
Get a piece of paper or open a blank document on your computer. Draw up three columns with these titles at the top – values, things I like to do, and things I’m good at. Okay, now take some time right now to write as many things as you can think of in each column. After you’ve done this, can you draw some lines between each column that are connected? Is there anything in your value column that shows up in the things you like to do and also in the things you are good at? Pay attention to these and how you are expressing these each day. If your values aren’t aligned with what you are good at or what you like to do – you could be feeling some discomfort and vice versa. Refer back to this list from time to time or adjust it as you evolve. If I had drawn up this list at the age of 20, it would likely be different than it is now.
The possibility of contentment
You have 24 hours to live. The truth is, you aren’t even guaranteed that. It may be cliché, but it is true, life is too short. Too short to live on someone else’s terms or standards. You ultimately have to report to yourself. You are the only one that feels what it feels to be you and that gift is only here once in a lifetime. Find your ikigai and devote yourself to one simple thing you can do or be today that is an expression of that.