FF – Ikigai

My photo today, so a long extroduction follows my story. If you just want to read 100 words though, they are immediately below the image.

Photo and words are my copyright this week!


The perfect job sits at the centre of the Japanese venn diagram for happiness: Do something you’re good at, something you love, that pays money and contributes to the world.

That job seems a long way away – for nine years my time’s been spent providing for, teaching and generally raising two boys.

Sometimes I make mistakes, but if I can be judged by who they are becoming, I can’t be doing too badly. My role allows Jon to earn the family more. Our boys are our contribution to the world. And I love them.

They are my ikigai.


Last year, the kids were home for a LOT of school. One week they studied Venn diagrams. I love venn diagrams, and the boys like to be stretched so I pushed them to make something a little more complicated than the 2-part ones the teacher had set. Hence made this 3-part diagram with rings for “lego”, “red” and “living” things. And a pink truck which is outside all the rings.

Around the same time, a friend introduced me to the Japanese concept of Ikigai. The way she explained it is as set out in the first paragraph of my story. I have since read other explanations which suggest that this may be a westernised version of the original concept, but the venn diagram nature of her explanation appeals to me. I had something very close to the centre as a lawyer, many years ago, but have struggled to find the same balance in my post-law working life.

I once wanted to be a teacher. I watch my kids’ teachers though and I don’t know if I would be have been good at it. I love teaching, but I wouldn’t love the politics or the crowd control. ‘Home schooling’ the boys for so much of the last 2 years has been hard but there have been triumphs too. They loved little personalised extra challenges I set them, things that a teacher managing a class of 25 couldn’t possibly have time for.

When Rochelle posted my photo, I percolated it in the shower. Would I write a memoir about the history of this picture? A piece of silly fiction about the various items in the image? Ikigai came back to me and I considered writing about my quest for that balanced job. I read a little more about ikigai and came across a link about finding it outside of working life, or in a combination of work and life.

Sebastian turns 9 tomorrow. I’ve been a parent longer than I was a lawyer. I’m still searching for the perfect job, but perhaps I have already found my ikigai.


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56 responses to “FF – Ikigai

  1. A wonderful feeling of satisfaction, clearly portrayed

  2. This speaks to me so much today. I had 2 careers and failed to find my ikigai. One was too corporate. I headed over to teaching hoping to find what I was searching for – it gave me the sense of purpose but other things were missing. After 5 years as a stay-at-home Mum I am finally starting to accept that perhaps the job doesn’t define you, so much as the life you lead overall. But it’s a long lesson to learn.

  3. Lotxs of positivity today, well done, Elmo.

  4. I love this, Jen. I don’t usually read the extroduction or the explanation, feeling a story should be left alone for us to interpret. However, in this case, I just had to and I’m glad I did.
    I need to make my own ikigai now…. Assuming it’s never too late 🙂

    • I’m with you on the story standing alone. I love reading people’s interpretations and it’s why I always put my extra after the story – to allow people to read the story first or skip the intro altogether.
      I don’t think it’s ever too late – the articles I read today were about it changing over time too. Good luck!

      • On the note of things changing over time, I read an interesting book called Atomic Habits (trying to cure myself of my habit of procrastination) and he writes a bit about accepting that your identity, and thus your aims, will change over time, so instead of setting immovable goals in life it’s often better to build habits which can help you shape your identity as you want it to be now. It’s a really interesting perspective on things I think.

      • Yes. It is nice to have the explanations sometimes.
        And yes, I know it is never too late. People change directions in life at all ages 🙂

  5. So relatable. Story for many of us.
    All will be well. Hope we find what we like and want.
    I have a mantra- be happy and give the best to all the roles we get to do.

  6. Lockdown hopefully taught us that work and money aren’t the most important things in life, certainly not for everyone, and one’s life shouldn’t be judged by only those measures.

  7. michael1148humphris

    Ikigai is a new term and word to me, and I am now pleased to study it more

  8. This is beautiful. The story, the photo, the back-story, the back-back story behind the back-story. 🙂 Lovely!

  9. Well thats a lovely piece to write to a fantastic photo. I cant say if what you’re doing is right, but I think if it feels right, than maybe it is. Life seems to get harder and trickier, new hurdles appear to straddle, and still the daily daily continues. I liked your piece and will probably store the word Ikigai for when I have better time to think about it. Nice one.

  10. Nice warm piece. It made me feel good. I enjoyed the Extroduction even more. Well done, Jen.

  11. Absolutely loved both, your piece and the extroduction.

  12. Beautiful story! I definitely agree that the time spent raising our children well is our significant contribution to the world. That time flies by and we older ones wonder where the time went. There’s plenty of time after to pursue other goals, at least that is the way for me. 🙂

    • I never dreamed of being a mother, let alone a homemaker, but honestly, it feels like where I should be right now. I’m working on other sides too, like writing, but I’ve decided it’s OK that those take a back seat at times.

  13. If I’m to be judged by how my grown-up children became, then I’m contented. They’re doing far more and far better things than I’ve ever done. A thought-provoking piece indeed.

  14. Dear Jen,

    I don’t know of any perfect parents. Although there are so many things I wish I could go back and do over, knowing what I know now. At any rate, all three of my sons have become men I’m proud of. I think maybe in spite of me. 😉 Loved your piece and the footnote. I still remember posting Sebastian’s birth announcement in FF. Glad you’re still part of it.



    • I’m glad I’m still a part of it too. Sebastian’s birthday is today, and I’ve done a bit of remembering myself today!
      I know many kids become wonderful in spite of their parents, so I’m not sure how much credit I can take for my two, but being a proud parent is a pretty great feeling, isn’t it?!

  15. I enjoyed this take on the prompt and learning about ikigai.

  16. Bear

    I did venn diagrams in my Social Service classes many a decade ago. I only remember the shape, not what each circle stood for… though, I do remember that the revelations from it were pretty profound. Anyhow, I kinda like the concept of finding what you love to do, then find a way to get paid for it. So much easier said then done, though. I’ve watched so many parents struggling to teach and simply to be parents during the pandemic shutdown. Suddenly they realized that parenting was a job… a full time job with no vacations. And the kids who are so used to parents not being around are suddenly faced with parenting full time. it’s a two headed coin… a catch 22. I applaud any parent who took it on and did the best that they could. I’ve also seen many who decided to keep with homeschooling because they saw that their children are learning better at home. It is the reality of the “new norm” that we all face. If I hadn’t lost so many little ones to covid, my home would have been fillled with little ones and homeschooling. Sigh… I do envy you, in that. I miss them terribly. As soon as I’m healed, I’m going to go back out and try to get a daycare position somewhere. I sooo love working with little ones. !Shalom, Bear

    • I hope you can get back to what you love soon, Bear. I know my boys learned a lot at home, but I would also be the first to acknowledge that they needed school… and I needed it too! I’m not convinced parenting has ever been supposed to be as full-time hands-on as it has been during covid, with no breaks or support.

  17. That’s a lovely story. I was wondering about the venn diagram (didn’t know the word for it, my dictionary told me ‘set theory’… but I couldn’t figure the elements out. I agree with other commenters: it’s the life you lead overall that makes it whole and happy. Work alone never can. Apart from the crowd control, have you considered adult education? They may be easier to control?

  18. I didn’t understand either – not sure I do now, TBH – but your comments about raising children rang true. I raised four, and it hasn’t always been plain sailing, but my grandchildren are glorious, rounded beings, so I must have got something right!

  19. true indeed. to paraphrase carlyle, “blessed is she who has found her work; let her ask no other blessedness.”

  20. I enjoyed both the story and the “extroduction.” I can identify. I’ve been blessed with three careers: childrearing, teaching, and psychotherapy. I’m hoping that my fourth will be writing something of value. I’ve enjoyed every step of the way (maybe not every minute of every day), and I wouldn’t change a thing :).

  21. I always enjoy reading your stories, Jen. They are fluent, elegant and well-constructed, and they are interesting. This week’s story is lovely, with its fusion of the ideas of Venn diagrams and ikigai.

  22. I love this! You have every reason to be proud. What a fabulous concept

  23. That does sound the most worthwhile of “jobs” 🙂

  24. I think in the end it is, but there’s no training and nothing can prepare you for it!

  25. Pingback: FF – Ikigai – Jackanori, (MPD)

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