“Our job will be in danger, now”, a colleague quipped jokingly, as I shared about my joining a training program that sought to impart skills in a function which is not my core role, but will come in handy for strategic oversight. After a day of training and work-in-office, I pondered – I have no burning desire to pursue that function as my core, day to day role. But why? Why do we pursue some fields of work and not others? That is, given a choice. In the mid-1990s, I walked out of a lab-based professional track to pursue something that took me outdoors, and involved engaging with people and Nature. Had I not decided to change track, I would have worked hard to become the most patient, meticulous, and inquiry-driven researcher; but closed-door laboratories do not excite me.
Next morning, as my cook fried kakrol (spiny gourd) balls, I explored within and settled at the understanding that – I know how to cook, I love it when I cook, but it is not something I would like to spend my time on, given a choice (and besides, Rama cooks so well and so very happily, she is a blessing to have). What about floor-mopping? I do ok, but certain health conditions make it a No-Go as a daily and regular engagement. And again, like cooking, I would rather spend my time reading, writing, and drawing – all engagements which bring utmost joy and satisfaction. Any day that I am able to do any two of these is, for me, a day well-lived.
H. Cleary’s English translation of Ikigai (Garcia and Miralles, 2016) is about the ‘Japanese secret of a long and happy life’. The signature illustration of this international bestseller is on, no surprises, ikigai or our raison d’ etre on this Earth. Ikigai roughly translates as “the happiness of always being busy“. The authors say that our ikigai is hidden deep inside us, and finding it requires a patient search.
The ‘sweet spot’ (please see diagram below, from the book cited above) may not be easy to find for a majority, going through the daily grind of life as we are, with climate calamities, disease and infection threat, social unrest, distress migration, and several other unknowns thrown in, in different measures in our lives. Much of the work to be done for searching our ikigai is going to be internal, of growing self awareness, and reaching-in before reaching-out. The concept of ikigai is powerful and the ‘the end goal’ addictive, and yet I felt we may need more clarity to chart our path (even though the book does present the rules to follow to find one’s ikigai). To aid the path of self discovery en-route ikigai, we need to know ‘where we are‘ as much as ‘where we want to go‘.
I am not a human-resource-development professional, but based on my life experience and interactions, I arrived at what I have named the Double Locust Framework. It has two axes, based on an understanding that the choice of what we spend most of our lifetime doing can be influenced by two parameters – the extent of intrinsic joy we feel while engaging in it, and the level of proficiency (innate, cultivated or cultured) we bring to our engagement. The matrix looks like this:
Locating where we are
The most troublesome place to be in, is the lower LHS quadrant, where one is occupied in low interest and low proficiency engagements. At its worst, the situation is like being in a Rut; I call it so, not to demean the dignity of work in anyway, but simply because being there should make anyone angry and restless for change. The bad in this worst quadrant is when one is on a Toil, occupied in something for which s/he has low-interest and low-proficiency.
The lower RHS quadrant is all about joy but, low to very low proficiency in what one does. A Make-do situation is different from and better than being in a Rut as one is at least getting some joy from the very low-proficiency engagement. An occupation seems like and demands effort and Work when we derive some joy from engaging in it, though we are less proficient in doing what we are doing. When we are passionate about something we do not have proficiency in, we pursue it more as an Indulgence. However, if we have very low or nearly no proficiency, we usually Fantasize about being in that engagement.
The upper LHS quadrant is the one I found the most interesting. That is where many of us modern-day ‘professionals’ may find themselves. The freshers’ paradise is usually the low-interest-some proficiency engagement, that becomes a Back-up till s/he either upgrades in skills and competencies to be occupied in what can be called a Job or changes track. We Dread to be in a situation where we are engaged in an occupation we have limited proficiency in, but do it with supremely dislike. And then there is the situation where we are occupied in an engagement we are highly proficient in, even though deep-down, we hate doing it or at least have no love or liking for it, only if we cared to introspect beyond our Machine-like existence.
The upper RHS quadrant is the one to aspire for, as at least we are doing something that brings us intrinsic joy – whether more or less. With some joy and some proficiency, we may be happily doing a Job from where proficiency up-gradation can help us build a Career. But when we marry our passion with proficiency, magic happens. We may be nurturing a Hobby driven by pure joy, but once we develop greater proficiency to be able to respond to our true calling, we have found our Vocation. That, I think is the sweet spot, our Ikigai.
Reaching where we want to be
Increasing proficiency at doing something has higher chances of happening than starting to derive greater inner joy from the same occupation. Hence, shifting from any LHS quadrant to the RHS is tough, I feel. It will require nothing short of a transformative change of track to do so. Start doing something different, is what it means. The more on the LHS you are, the stronger the bolt of lightening required. If one is in the Toil box, s/he can skill up, practice, and re-purpose where possible to add joy to what they do. If one is already doing what one derives joy from, the possibilities are multiple. Develop proficiency and move up and side-ways to feed and fulfill your gift. If in the Fantasy box, help someone else with similar passion but better proficiency to fulfill their dreams.
The Double Locust Framework is a layperson’s proposition, open for application, correction, modification, and also rejection. If it helps someone along in her/his journey of self-discovery to find Ikigai or even stimulates that journey, my purpose is solved. For those of us working in the development sector, the framework can spur us to engage with adolescent girls and youth in our communities in a deeper and more purposeful way, aiding, goading and guiding them to escape the rut and glide to the RHS of the frame.
And why the framework is named so, has something to do with the locust attack that, along with the ongoing Corona pandemic, has come to define 2020 for us in India… but only ‘something’.
Enjoy the mystery, as is life!