I’m No Longer Chasing a Career. I’m Following My Ikigai.

“The day you stop moving is the day you start dying.” — Nonna Assunta

Bella Martin
5 min readJan 14, 2022


Photo by Galen Crout on Unsplash

“The day you stop moving is the day you start dying.” — Nonna Assunta

My boyfriend’s grandmother expressed that sentiment all the time. Even as an eighty-five-year-old woman, she went out into the fields to pick her vegetables, cooked every meal from scratch, hung her laundry to dry, washed her dishes by hand, lit her fireplace, then sat down beside it with a sewing kit to make old clothes new again.

She took meticulous care of her husband until the day he died, and less than a year later, she departed too. By modern standards, her life wasn’t anything spectacular. She wasn’t a bestselling author, famous influencer, motivational speaker, or six-figure business owner.

She was a mother and a farmer’s wife, a simple woman who lived a simple life, and yet she found the meaning so many of us search for in dollar signs and status symbols. She never took a vacation, never set foot on a plane, or even made it thirty minutes down the road for a rejuvenating day at the beach, but her life was full.

It was full of sacrifice, hard work, early mornings, late nights, always giving, and rarely taking. But most of all, it was full of love.

In her final days, love was all around. She had dedicated her whole life to taking care of others, so much so that no one complained when the roles were reversed. Although I’m sure she had never heard of the concept, she lived in unison with her ikigai, dedicating her life to caring for her house, land, and family, not only because she had to, but because it gave her life meaning.

I learned from her that it doesn’t matter what you do with your life. It matters how you do it. And she did it better than anyone. She did it with love.

Photo by the author taken in Polla, Italy.

Is Ikigai just a Japanese word for a dream job?

According to the book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, ikigai is your reason for being. It can also be roughly translated as “the happiness of always being busy (2).”

In the western world, we have adopted the concept as a formula to help us find the perfect job, one that combines four core elements:

  • What you love
  • What you are good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can be paid for

While finding a way to profit by practicing what you love appeals to anyone, traditional Japanese philosophy focuses on finding your bliss rather than your profession.

This is a necessary distinction because your Ikigai may make you rich, or it may not. We should regard it as more similar to a hobby — an activity done for pleasure — than a hustle — a frantic and often unsustainable push for profit.

It’s not that you can’t make money from your ikigai. You can. However, financial gain is not your reason to get up in the morning, and thus it can’t be the primary motivation for your life.

Money helps you live, but it’s not your reason to live.

That’s why I don’t dream of labor.

The “I don’t dream of labor” trend exemplifies a generation exhausted with the idea of devoting their lives to building a career without investing the same time and energy into building their lives.

In a nutshell, I believe in working to live, not living to work, at least not in the traditional sense. You may be confused because I spent the first half of this article explaining why hard work is the key ingredient to a long and happy life.

It is, but devoting yourself to a profession is not the same as dedicating yourself to a purpose. As Nonna Assunta so perfectly exemplified, honoring your ikigai isn’t about what you do but about how you do it.

When you’re working from a place of love, you’ll never want to retire, and when you keep moving, you continue living. That is the simplified secret to a long and happy life.

But how can you find your ikigai?

Everyone wants to live in line with their purpose, but what is mine?

That’s the question I’ve battled since high school when I was first asked, “No really, what do you want to do with your life?”

It can feel impossible for some of us to find something that we love, are skilled at, serves the world, and (as the cherry on top) gets us paid. You can’t follow your ikigai until you find it, so the only question that stands is:

How do you find it?

Garcia and Miralles’ book on ikigai offers several guiding questions to help you discover what you are meant to do. Start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What do I enjoy doing? (Some of my answers are reading, studying, writing, singing, theorizing, practicing yoga, traveling.)
  2. When am I happiest? (When I share something I’ve learned and it resonates with another person.)
  3. What is one activity that makes all of my other worries temporarily fade away? (Today, my answer is writing, but I have reached “flow” in other activities in the past.)

Look for your flow, the activities that make time pass so effortlessly it makes you wonder where it went. Einstein said it best:

“Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour and it seems like a minute. That is relativity.”

To find your ikigai, search for the activities that turn your hours into minutes. For a moment, forget about your strengths and think only about what brings you joy. You can always improve your skill, but you can’t force passion.

For anyone who doesn’t feel inspired to wake up and chase promotions and pay raises, look for your ikigai, the only occupation that will make an early retirement sound like a punishment instead of a privilege.

Your ikigai will always follow you, but will you follow it?

The choice is yours.

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

(2017). Ikigai: the Japanese secret to a long and happy life. New York: Penguin Books. García, Héctor, 1981-, Francesc Miralles and Heather, Cleary.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I hope you leave this article feeling inspired to find or follow your ikigai. If you already know what yours may be, please share it with me in the comments!

If you find the concept of ikigai fascinating, I highly recommend reading this book. (Not an affiliate link. It’s simply worth reading.)

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Bella Martin

messages of healing & hope from my heart to yours. | social: @bellamwrites