10,000 Hours of IKIGAI: Why I Became the World’s First Chief Ikigai Officer
In November 2018, my entrepreneurial leap was in a freefall. No traction. No direction. No clue. In roughly two years, I had transitioned from a Director role at a leading global asset management firm to some random guy trying to “inspire the power of purpose.” Savings depleted. Debt accumulating. Head spinning. Despite these headwinds, the calling to embrace both my Japanese heritage deeply rooted in ikigai and my professional expertise in change management overwhelmed conventional thinking: In December 2018, my bruised ego was about to get its ass kicked in the best way imaginable, as I pivoted to launch Ikigai Lab.
In corporate, I delivered keynote presentations to audiences of 200+ people at events organized by teams of professionals. The first Ikigai Workshop at a co-working space was planned, promoted, and organized by me (poorly) with a total of 11 people in attendance. By many accounts, the event was a failure, but something magical happened in that room: Participants gave themselves permission to reflect on important relationships, experiences, and priorities, then courageously shared their insights to forge meaningful human connection. This foundation unlocked the ability to articulate core values, while revealing an important step toward embracing ikigai. The commitment of these 11 participants galvanized my commitment to the pivot: And for the first time in two years, the fog started to lift.
My Great-Grandmother, Taka, inspired the launch of Ikigai Lab: Her journey of sacrifice, legacy, and triumph brought the essence of ikigai to life for me. As I struggled to find direction in these unchartered waters, her ikigai story provided a north star. Sparked by the realization that narrative can help us find our way, I launched the Ikigai Stories Podcast. Fueled by a successful Kickstarter Campaign, the podcast showcases people who embody the concept of ikigai, including the messy process that often accompanies the fulfilling road less traveled. The podcast shaped my appreciation of ikigai in a way that honored both the journey and the moment, while establishing relationships with purpose-driven humans around the world.
My ikigai flag had been planted.
Friends and former colleagues reached out, wondering if I was okay. The ikigai pivot appeared to be an abrupt shift that was contrarian bordering on catastrophe. But in those conversations, something magical happened: Holding myself out as the @Ikigai Guy, “a former corporate warrior turned social entrepreneur,” implicitly granted permission to share in a deep, meaningful, and authentic way. I found myself listening to externally successful professionals discuss their internal struggle seeking greater purpose beyond money, objects, and the fancy title. Intimate elements of their spiritual journey surfaced as they entrusted this space as a moment to shed the armor and reveal self. These conversations were affirming, sacred, and a testament to the power of meaningful connection.
As Ikigai Lab gained momentum, I found myself working with bankers, lawyers, tech executives, startup founders, financial advisors, academics, students and various professionals across all walks of life. People were hungry for more meaning and simultaneously intrigued by this Japanese wisdom tradition that is scientifically linked to longevity, creativity, and happiness. Occasionally distracted by copycats and Zen-washed con artists, I began to think about the impact potential of ikigai reaching the masses.
Ikigai is a 1,000-year-old concept that can be interpreted as “your reason for being.” It’s not the domain of any person, association, or movement beyond Japanese culture. That said, there is a distinctly unique methodology created at Ikigai Lab that continues to evolve through partnership and collaboration with a cross-cultural cohort of academics, professionals, and purpose-driven humans. To be clear, these aren’t repackaged quotes or questionable attempts at a Venn diagram. As my loose framework of whiteboard ideas became proven concepts sourced from workshops, coaching, retreats, presentations, collaborations, and meaningful experiences, the path to expand Ikigai Lab’s reach in a substantial manner was beginning to take form.
Then, COVID happened.
Suddenly, the definition of purpose required recalibration. The norms that supported everyday life evaporated and collectively, the world held its breath to determine the scale and scope of a global pandemic. But in that chaos, something magical happened: People became reacquainted with their true self and priorities blossomed in vivid colors. Observing and seeking the distinct need for connection, I explored how ikigai could shape our interpretation of this incomprehensible world that seemingly appeared overnight. Throughout COVID, I launched purpose-driven digital experiences, including a Virtual Friends Trip, a Purpose Speakeasy for Midlife Professionals, and weekly Well-Being Wednesdays. Each experience brought ikigai to life for various communities seeking different entry points, while accelerating Ikigai Lab’s unique methodology and design.
Organizations began to request Ikigai Lab engagements to help their employees develop a better sense of purpose, connection, and well-being. As traditional boundaries of work and life dissolved, leaders started to view their employees as a whole person and the link between personal fulfillment and professional success appeared stronger than ever. Well-being partnerships emerged with experts representing a wide range of modalities, including, nutrition, mind/body, leadership development, stress reduction, parenting, KonMari, integral health, strengths-based psychology, somatic yoga, ergonomics, fitness, and more. What started as a workshop with 11 participants had now become a fully functional movement.
The blurred work/life boundary was transforming organizational culture in real time, while simultaneously increasing the demand for purpose and belonging in the employee experience. However, assembling the puzzle of four years of ikigai concepts, experiences, and engagements into a formal, cohesive offering proved more challenging than expected. On a sleepless night, I rolled out of bed and started to journal in an attempt to fall back asleep. As random, disparate thoughts poured onto the page, something magical happened: I realized that the greatest impact occurred when people had the opportunity to CONNECT with self, CONNECT with peers, and CONNECT with experts.
Connect3x was born.
Connect3x is a tech-enabled people platform that integrates total well-being with workplace performance to support a culture of engaged, thriving employees. My role as Chief Ikigai Officer combines the knowledge capital of 10,000 hours of ikigai engagements and nearly 20 years of corporate experience to lead Connect3x Public Benefit Corporation with Chief Operating Officer Krista Steinbach and Chief Information Officer Rich Sasaki. Our mission is to capitalize the Human experience by helping organizations evolve beyond the stale, tired notion of “human capital.”
In partnership with the Purpose Partners by Connect3x, a curated group of well-being experts, coaches, and solutions providers, we embed well-being into the cadence of business with science-based nudges that increase Return on Energy (R.O.E). By design, we meet people where they’re at, providing manageable, microactions toward sustainable, positive change at the individual, team, and organizational level.
The Connect3x thesis is simple: Organizational success is directly linked to employee fulfillment. Something magical will happen when total well-being is integrated with workplace performance: thriving employees, a resilient organizational culture, and a more compassionate, productive society. Our ikigai, our reason for being, provides the roadmap to reveal our greatest potential at work, home, and life. As the world’s first Chief Ikigai Officer, I’m dedicated to leading the workplace evolution of discovering purpose AT work, not simply in the work, while improving well-being for all.