I've been listening to Marie Kondo' The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and it has already made a palpable dent in my life. I'm fascinated by her clear and reasoned approaches to all sorts of organizational strategies, and her cutting rebuttals of all the popular approaches touted by armchair organizational gurus the world over.
But what perhaps is most fascinating about her book is the author herself, whose lifelong obsession over this small aspect of our lives has granted her experience, wisdom, and expertise to guide the rest of humanity on the path to clean and tidy living. Throughout the book, she weaves in philosophy and anecdotal evidence – some from her childhood – to support the theories that make up her method, fire-tested over decades of personal refinement and experimentation.
I love this drive that she has. It reminds me of Taylor Swift, who knew from a young age that she wanted to be a storyteller through music, and worked incredibly hard all her life to fulfill that dream. It reminds me of a new friend Matthew Gong I met a few weeks ago that has dedicated the greater part of his life to origami, and is stretching the boundaries this art form by exploring less rigid and more organic, mathematics-inspired folding. His works, now on tour at various museums around the world, are more expressive, more realistic, and more technologically applicable than any origami I had ever seen before.
Where does this obsession come from? I certainly have never been so obsessed with anything in life, so much to pursue it as my solo hobby, or as my aspired profession. I have dabbled in art forms, and changed majors, and switched career tracks, and more or less felt both lost and drawn to things, but never obsessed. I'm talented but paralyzed by my indecision to commit.
I've always had the somewhat embarrassing ambition to move the world forward in some way. It seems both naive and prideful, as I hear so often that those who've found a following for their work (i.e. the nonagenarian fashion icon Iris Zapfel) have said they didn't expect it to happen. That they were just doing what they love to do, and in came the appreciators.
I realize now that I'm not really interested in being famous, just that I'm producing a work that the world wants, that the world needs, and not just on a superficial, commercial level, but on a visceral, human, intuitive level. I want it to be different, to be truly innovative, and to inspire qualities and ambitions in others, to move them and to shake them.
I know very well that one of the primary keys to significant success is a lot of hard work. For many of those who've had the privilege of knowing their craft when young, they have often accrued many more of the mythologized ten thousand hours of work early on. All this before financial independence, and the marriage comes, the bills pile up, and the children take over. Now that I'm a husband, a father, and I have in-laws as well as my own extended family, ten thousand hours seem a lot harder to scrape together. Which makes me realize that the only way to approach this quandary is to get those ten thousand hours in my everyday profession. No other choice will do.
But what profession and craft will I pour my ten thousand hours into? My sister sent me this diagram today, and I love it. Ikigai is a Japanese approach to life:
"Ikigai is thought of as a 'reason to get up in the morning,...' 'a reason for being.' Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of one's ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life." - Wikipedia
I had heard of the "good at," "love," and "paid for" circles, but I had never considered adding "what the world needs" to the same Venn diagram. I had thought the alternative three-circle approach (as illustrated here by design luminaries Tom and David Kelley) was missing something vital. Ikigai elucidates exactly what I've been thinking so vaguely for so long. It further solidifies the results of the recent hunt for my craft.
For a few years, I thought my craft was entrepreneurship. A change in family circumstances made me relinquish the thought, when our first company never took off. Ever since I closed down Antho last spring, I've been on the search for a new craft. After a few months, I landed on the field of product design, where I can continue to envision new apps or new features of current apps that can change the lives of millions, if not billions, of people. It's a new trade, one championed by Apple, and popularized by IDEO, and it seems to only be growing from here. In fact, I know that companies are starving so much for this kind of talent that they don't discriminate based on classical training or education. I've met product designers who never went to college. That certainly fulfills the ikigai principle of what I would be paid for.
It also seems to fulfill the ikigai principle of what I'm good at, as it takes into account a lot of my history, with my design thinking work at Apple, and my eclectic interests and broad skill set.
I feel strongly that this choice fulfills the ikigai principle of what the world needs. I've long recognized the power of technology to raise the standards of living of the underprivileged, but also renew the lives of the proletariat. I have thought of numerous app ideas that I believe without a doubt that the world needs.
As for the fourth principle, what I love, I've sensed a great appreciation for the work materialize in many of my design sessions. But I also recognize that I will love something more deeply after I become tremendously skilled and talented in it (a notion I've learned – and wish I had known long ago – from Cal Newport's book, So Good They Can't Ignore You).
The Japanese are so mindful, so self-aware. I'll leave you with this last Japanese inspiration, Aki Inomata, who designs 3-D printed, architectural shells for hermit crabs.