Good Work Nº 45: Finding ikigai

A hand-curated newsletter devoted to exploring how we choose to spend the 90,000 hours that will make up our careers.
Rei Wang
▪︎ 5 minutes read time

🎶 Work by Charlotte Day

This week’s Good Work is by guest writer Rei Wang, co-founder of The Grand, a community for navigating life’s big questions. As a first gen immigrant, she knows how hard it can be to penetrate private professional and personal networks, which is why she’s passionate about building The Grand, and making wisdom more accessible. Previously, Rei was CEO at Dorm Room Fund.

You have brains in your head, You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, Any direction you choose.Dr. Seuss*

I grew up in communist China and was raised with pragmatism and frugality as key values. Good work meant achieving high performance in a skill that served the collective community. Harbin, the city I was born in, is known for snow, ice, and industrial plants. You gained respect as a good worker by bearing through the tough conditions to always get your job done. There was never any mention of passion or mission, good work was simply measured by the tangible output you produced for your community.

That definition of good work never resonated with me. In college, I found myself struggling to define a career track. Having moved over a dozen times as a kid, I wanted to be someone who could help people find community and belonging. That didn’t fit the scope of any traditional careers, so I set aside my dreams, and focused on developing practical skills I could be paid for. I started at a marketing agency with a wide range of clients. I loved working with the U.N. to drive awareness around climate change, but hated helping Coca-Cola sell more soda. I yearned to work on a mission that I was passionate about, but I didn’t know if that was realistic. As a new grad in ’09, at the height of the recession, I told myself I should be happy with just having a job.

Then I stumbled across an article on ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being.” It is the source of value in your life that makes your life worthwhile, and it’s the intersection of what you’re good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Knowing that the ikigai framework existed and that people across the world had been seeking the same thing for centuries made me realize that fulfillment is worthy of pursuing, and must be achievable—maybe not right away, but it’s something I could work to create throughout my career.

Since then, I’ve mapped every career choice against the ikigai framework. I’d print out the image above and color in the corresponding spheres. I left the marketing agency for a job that fulfilled vocation, profession, and mission. Then passion came when I started out in venture capital. But I still hadn’t captured the final sphere: What I love. I still wanted to help people find community and belonging. Seeing what was missing, I left venture capital and started The Grand. It didn’t mean the transition was easy, but coloring the final ikigai sphere confirmed that it was absolutely the right decision. And the work has proven that.

Readings Rei Loves

That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.

Rei and the Holloway team

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