When I first read ‘Ikigai’ by Héctor García and Frances Miralles, we had just entered the first period of lock-down after the pandemic reached Belgium. I had also just finished writing the last story of the Mesmer series, and frankly, I was still very much in the ‘what now’ stage of ending that particular part of my life.
Working from home with kids became a thing, and with it the feeling that no matter what time of the day it was, you were always failing someone.
Which is, of course, not a particularly healthy state of mind.
I couldn’t pen down my thoughts about ‘Ikigai’ back then, because some very basic aspects of the book, like making time for the people you love, were … complicated. Digitalised. And even though I’m well-versed in keeping in touch with people across the world… it is not the same. Not by far.
Ikigai translates as your reason to jump out of bed each morning, a passion worth living for. While the book indicates that these passions can be multiple, and that they can change overtime, most people already familiar with Ikigai as a concept will know the diagram below.
Looks like a business model, no? You know what my problem is? That pink-green dot in the the middle that says ‘Ikigai’? In my head, it says ‘writing’. I love it, and I dare say I’m good at it. But the grand majority of my writing isn’t paid and to say the world needs it… might be a bit of a stretch.
As an artist, getting your art at the center of the diagram, can be a real struggle. And if we fail to collect all the petals around it, can we call our art our Ikigai? Or do we need to start searching for another one?
The book doesn’t say you have to. In fact, it mainly offers ideas on what may help increase your longevity and your happiness. And as such, it is an inspiring and comforting read, indeed.
Despite that, my mind still gets stuck on the diagram. Last fall, I joined a group of writers on Discord. Many of us have our mind stuck on the diagram. Writing because you love it, when everyone around you feels like you’re wasting your time, is not Ikigai. When writing doesn’t get the bills paid and you have to fulfill a day job you hate (not me boss, not me) then that is not Ikigai. Writing each night just doesn’t suffice to compensate for that.
I have met wonderful people through stories I wrote, and I will never forget that spring of 2017, when the idea for the Mesmer series sparked up in my head. The absolute joy of an entire world shaping inside your brain, a fictional world which you love more than any story you have ever read… to me that is as close to magic as life gets.
When you post online, you get an idea of how your writing is received, and I don’t know a single writer who isn’t overjoyed by messages like this one.
Now, when I enjoy my writing, and I am good enough to make some others enjoy it too, is that enough? Or should I pursue this being a fully paid deal? What sacrifices do I have to make for that? Less time for friends, less time for family? Writing genres that interest me less but that reach bigger audiences? How far do you go to collect that last petal, ‘What you can be paid for’ ?
And how do you do that without losing the others?
This is something we aren’t taught. And perhaps we should be. Because the questions above are valuable. I’m not questioning how to write a bestseller here. I’m questioning how to stay happy.
While I struggled to formulate this post, I stumbled upon a video made by Two Set Violin.
Brett Yang and Eddy Cheng are an Australian duo that went viral making funny and relatable videos about their life as classical musicians. While the video below is more serious, I want to encourage anyone who has ever struggled with their mental health in relation to their art, to have a view.
Brett and Eddy formulate many of the doubts I have when looking at art in relation to long and happy life. I fully believe your art can be your Ikigai. Or at the very least, one of them. But it’s a difficult path for most of us, and we can stand to protect each other more along the way.