I was born in the “Region,” a name given to the corner of northwest Indiana, just a stone’s throw from Chicago, where all the steel mills along Lake Michigan are located. I had a mostly normal childhood, certainly fraught with the usual trials and tribulations. But as a kid, I used to get in trouble all the time. It wasn’t because I was a bully, or a bad kid, or anything like that. I never did drugs, got thrown in jail, or hung out with the wrong crowd. OK maybe I hung out with them a couple of times, but somehow my father was always quick to find out, and I’d get a whooping, or grounded, or both. It’s a good thing though, because most of them did end up in jail, and a bunch of them are no longer on this side of the front yard.
Starting at a very young age, I was absolutely curious about everything. I wondered how machines and electrical devices worked, so I took them apart and put them back together. Sometimes they worked better, sometimes not at all. Oops. One of the questions my father often asked me when something was amiss, especially if he wanted to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, was “Did you do that on purpose?” Maybe he was growing tired of handing out whoopings and wanted to give me an excuse to avoid one.
Although I’m not sure if that phrase helped me form any of my philosophies about life, it did make me stop each time and think about what I was doing on purpose. What was I going to do with my life? My father always told me to “Go to school and get your sheepskin! You don’t want to work as a steel mill electrician your whole life, do you?” No, I really didn’t.
In 1976 I joined the USAF, with acceptance into electronics and Early Warning Radar Systems. But when I got to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS and started technical training, I discovered I was bored with the classes I was taking. During a break on the second day, I asked if I could just take the tests, and with some hesitation, the program director agreed. So I tested out of a 42 week electronics and radar training program in 42 days, with a score of 97%, thus beginning my career teaching electronics. I was finally doing something on purpose! And while the Air Force and married life was great, after a few years and new baby boy, it was time to return home to the “Region.”
Have you ever spent much time thinking about your purpose; your “Ikigai,” your reason for being? Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning “a reason for being”. Everyone, according to the Japanese, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Prior to the military, I didn’t have one. During my teaching years, my ikigai was helping to prepare my students for better careers and success in life. As a father myself, my ikigai was protecting, providing for, and raising my wonderful kids to be smart, safe, kind, loving, and amazing human beings. My post-teaching ikigai is focusing on enjoying life, living longer, living healthier, helping others be successful and do the same..
It’s funny how things just kind of fall into our laps. My sweetheart Antoinette recently came across a great short clip by Dr. James Rouse, talking about ikigai and how it applies to living longer and stronger. Here’s what James had to say:
Oh my goodness, where do I find an ikigai? Or do I really want to? You absolutely do if you are interested in living longer and stronger.
You can quite possibly not just witness your own happy 100-year birthday, but you can celebrate this milestone as a truly happy and healthy centenarian!
We can learn about inspired, empowered and enlightened longevity from ikigai, which is the Okinawan word for “a reason to get up in the morning that is bigger than myself!”
Okinawa, Japan, boasts (without ego) the largest population of centenarians in the world. They have openly shared their secrets to not just making it to 100, but crushing it.
A few of their anti-aging vitamins include strong friendships and family ties, a love for exercise that much more resembles play, a daily dose of sweet potatoes and yes, ikigai, which can be wonderfully translated as “purpose showing up as service.” Let’s all work in this way!
Okinawans do not have a word in in their culture for retirement. It simply does not exist.
While many Americans (may) have dreams of dismounting from our desks, cubicles and/or other spaces of our craft by no later than 65 and landing in warmer climates decorated with palm trees and putting greens, the average Okinawan works well into his 80’s.
Why do they get up in the morning? To circulate love. While we are debating this fact and balancing our 401(k), we may be further inspired to raise our own “pay” by being on purpose and going for satisfaction over salary.
The people with the longest lives excel at simply knowing that we are alive to the degree that we serve.
It’s time to rise and shine boldly every day with your ikigai! [End of clip].
Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend connecting purpose and healthful living. When a person has little or no purpose in life, they tend to have little or no purpose for living healthy. In fact, I’m sure there’s a correlation between having a definite purpose, having ikigai, and living a long healthy life. What about you? If you’re retired, did your ikigai go away when you retired? So do you have an ikigai now? If not, why not go out for a beautiful healthy salad today, and jot down a few ideas to get you moving in the right direction?
To your health and mine,