Have you ever heard the term “Ikigai”? While you might be tempted to think it’s pronounced, “ICKy guy” its actually pronounced, “I-kuh-guy” and it’s a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” I hadn’t heard this term before today. A friend posted on FB an image similar to the one I’ve created for this blogpost as a way of sharing how happy she was that she’d found her “purpose”, or ikigai. And when I looked at the Venn Diagram representing this concept, I had to respond whole-heartedly that I’m lucky, just like her — we both work and live right in that middle section where everything overlaps together. We’ve each found our ikigai.
What I think is even more amazing about finding my ikigai, is how it came to be…
If you’ve read the About Page on my website, then you might have an inkling about how I got into this whole world of pregnancy, birth and parenting. But there are some key details missing from that version of the story…
My friend asked me to be at her first baby’s birth. This was over 23 years ago now, and doulas were literally just starting to be a thing. I worked for a Health Care company at the time as a temp-turned-regular-employee in the credentialing department. Basically, my job involved taking a whole bunch of folders on the left side of my desk, doing some mumbo-jumbo, hocus-pocus data entry based on whatever I found inside these folders, and then placing them on the right side of my desk for someone else to file away at the end of the day.
I’m hoping that my description makes it plain: I had definitely NOT found my ikigai in this job! I loved the team of people that I worked with, but the job itself? Nooooooooooope.
I mention this job because right around the same time my friend asked me to be at her birth, our employee newsletter had a front page story about doulas: what they were, what their role was in birth, why someone would want one, etc. The story piqued my interest, because I had no idea that people could actually do this work as a job!
The very next afternoon, I went home in the middle of the day to take our new puppy out of her crate for a walk and some playtime, and on the way home, NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” just so happened to be discussing doulas: what they were, what their role was in birth, why someone would want one, etc.
Now, I’m not an obviously woo-woo person — I like to keep my woo-woo under wraps — but to have two signs in two days, basically flashing the word DOULA! in neon lights directly in front of my eyes made me sit up and take notice.
I did a little research and found out that Penny Simkin, co-founder of DONA International (formerly, Doulas of North America) happened to be based in Seattle and that there was also a doula training at the Seattle Midwifery School (now a part of Bastyr University) happening before my friend’s birth. I decided to register. The training wasn’t cheap, it was 300 miles north on I-5, it was 4 days long, and everyone, especially my friend, thought it was totally overkill… But I didn’t. For reasons I couldn’t explain, going to this doula training seemed like the exact right next thing to do. So, I went.
At the end of the first day’s training, all of us would-be doulas were watching a movie of strong, powerful women giving birth as Tracey Chapman’s song, The Promise, played softly in the background. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe how incredibly cool it was. There was no “ick” factor, no need to look away. In fact, I found myself thinking, “I can’t wait to DO that!” I called my husband later that evening and announced:
“I know what I’m supposed to do with my life!”
Being the “doula” at my friend’s birth only solidified this feeling for me. (I’m using quotes around the word, as I can’t really claim to have been a very good doula at that first birth… I was pretty green.) I feel like it happened only yesterday. The rose, pink and orange sunrise that marked Baby Olivia’s entrance into the world is imprinted upon my memory, and I said aloud, “What a beautiful day to be born!” on the drive home.
Confession: I’ve never actually finished the paperwork to become a certified doula. I hadn’t started my own family yet, and while every doula I know is someone who’s been able to figure out how to balance their doula work with their parenting duties, I just didn’t see how that could be possible for me! The work hours are definitely not predictable and, if we let babies make the call, they often like to come in the middle of the night (around 4 am according to this recent study.) So my doula career has remained relatively small over the years. I love going to births, but my work schedule and four kiddos of my own rarely let me take a birth on. Imagine how happy I was back in the day, when I discovered that I could continue to prepare pregnant folks and their partners for birth but all the while working scheduled evening and weekend hours as a Childbirth Educator!
I returned to Seattle and took part in an eight-day Childbirth Educator training over several months. Absolutely loving all that I was learning about the process of birth and in awe of how incredible it was with each new discovery.
(Get ready for this next part… It’s totally woo-woo!)
My husband used to work in a program to help chronically unemployed people find jobs. He called me at work one day and said, “Legacy is hiring a Health Educator to teach Childbirth Education.” I was ecstatic, but then he said, “You don’t have the necessary requirements! It says you need to be an RN, you need to have two years experience, and you need to be certified.”
He was correct. I did not have any of those requirements. But I applied anyway.
How did my application make it past H.R.? I still have no idea… That’s wrapped up in all the woo-woo! But, believe me, when I found out I had an interview, I was determined that I’d get the job. After all, it’s what I was supposed to be doing with my life, right? I just needed to convince my would-be supervisor and manager that this was true. And I must have been successful, because I got the job!
That was over twenty years ago! And while my job has morphed a little bit over time in response to changes within the field, or expanding my skills to include mentoring new educators and doing presentations, or adding my certification as a Becoming Us Facilitator, my passion has never dwindled… at all.
As a matter of fact, I think it’s grown even stronger as I realize that what I said to Roberto 20+ years ago still rings true:
“I still know what I’m supposed to do with my life!”
What I’m good at — giving presentations and teaching adult learners — has somehow lined up with what I absolutely love to do — working with expectant and new parents. But it’s even more than that, because my mission in life — to help expectant and new parents feel prepared by having realistic expectations about one of life’s biggest transitions — is something that I feel this world really needs, maybe now more than ever before.
And then, to believe that I can actually get paid to do this work that I love and that I’m good at, is just the icing on the cake! I realize that I’m a very, very lucky person to be able to say that even though I’ve just heard the Japanese term ikigai this morning, I’ve been living it for over twenty years!
Here are a few things to consider when looking for your own ikigai:
Try to remain curious about the world around you… Look for moments that fill you with wonder or light you up and then pay attention and try to discover why you feel passionate about a certain idea or process.
Continue to have a learner’s mindset and don’t be too quick to claim the title “expert”.
Remain flexible and able to change with the times. Adapt to the next iteration or expression of your passion. Because if this is to be your ikigai, it should grow and change right along with you.
Ikigai is not a fixed moment or experience in time — rather it’s a fluid relationship with discovery. I don’t take my ikigai for granted! I only wish there was some way to share this concept with everyone. Just think: if the world was populated with people who had all discovered their personal ikigai, what an amazing place this would have the potential to be!
Last thought: Be open to the woo-woo my friends… You never know where it might lead you! (But I suspect it might bring you at least a little bit closer to discovering your own ikigai.)