Warrior Words: Ikigai

On Jan. 1, 2017, I got home from a friend’s party after watching the ball drop. I went to my room and reflected on the year I had left behind. Grabbing the bright pink sticky notes next to my bed, I scrawled down my resolution for the year in green Sharpie and stuck it in my wallet. Every day, that fuchsia paper sticking out from behind my license urged me to spend less time on my phone, since I had felt myself staring aimlessly at my screen any time I was walking down a street or waiting in line rather than taking in my surroundings. Though this was not the most profound goal, the reminder helped me to turn off my device for large chunks of the summer and focus on being more observant.

This school year, I have developed an awful new habit. Each day, when my homework gets increasingly boring and my eyes start to glaze over, I look up from my work at the white wall opposite my bed, the only part of my entire room not covered to the square inch with memorabilia or knick knacks. The slanted vortex of white sucks me in and I just sit there, sometimes for 10 minutes, often 20, doing absolutely nothing. The daunting school work and college applications melt away and I just stare. When I snap out of my daze, I lament the time I have wasted and take to the Internet, searching for methods for productivity techniques and spiraling into an entirely different form of procrastination.  

My problem has become that I do not replace the work with what makes me happy or relieves my tension; I just sit. I am too stressed to open my Netflix tab and give up on my to-do list entirely, but I am too overworked and exhausted to continue reading my textbooks, so I just zone out and contemplate all the things I have to do. I let go of my drive temporarily, ultimately making me more anxious and tired when I come to the realization that I am wasting precious minutes of sleep.

A few days ago I texted my issue to my friend Brian, who, fresh off of a summer semester abroad in Tokyo, responded with a single word: ikigai. This response puzzled me; had he spelled something incorrectly? Was this a cool acronym I had missed? He did not follow up with an explanation, so I opened up Safari and went straight to Google.

In Japanese, ikigai combines the words ikiru, or to live, and kai, or the realization of what one hopes for. I learned that, in the eyes of author Hector Garcia, ikigai "is at the intersection of what you are good at and what you love doing.” To incorporate ikigai into everyday life, a person must think about why they are doing something and be conscious of their actions. Every moment should have purpose. When approaching something like my homework, I should no longer toss it aside; instead, I should proactively realize that the work I do pays off down the line as I attempt to understand a subject. By making every moment worthwhile, a person’s life feels purposeful. For me, ikigai means looking away from that white wall and starting to manage my life.

This New Year’s, I will be 18, otherwise known as another young adult hoping to take on the world. So here’s to starting the year running with a determined mind, a passionate heart, and a sticky note in my wallet marked with a certain Japanese word in dark green Sharpie.

Lydia Hoffman is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.