On ikigai and bizarre “guilt” of fortune

Actually, guilt may not be the correct word for it. Guilt implies that there is wrongdoing to be admitted, but for this particular occasion, I don’t think that there is. I just haven’t found the exact term, and guilt feels to be the closest to what I’m currently feeling despite missing a certain justification.

There is this specific pattern that being in isolation had brought me to, which I’ve noticed more over the years. It began when I was still living in Edmonton, where oftentimes, especially during winter where everyone couldn’t be bothered to go outside and be in a -20°C weather, I would spend so much time alone that it forced me to only interact with and process my train of thoughts. As much as the loneliness felt miserable, funnily enough, there was also a good outcome that is being able to understand myself and my surroundings better despite the unpleasant process.

During the pandemic, even though I’m not quite literally alone since I’ve been back to my parents’ house to live with my family, being distanced from my partner, friends, or colleagues which were the people I’ve drawn closer to in my adult years, has somehow also brought the pattern back. I was never the kind of person who needs to regularly talk to or text other people as most of the time I can enjoy my time alone, and with the added fact that we’re not obliged to interact every day, the habit of overanalyzing things finds its way back to me. As a result, I have also added a category in this blog called the Pandemic Pondering to document my contemplations.

And while it seems that I’ve been experiencing explosions of ideas to write about recently, it seems to be more of a collection of sighs and whines instead of some fruitful revelations – although I would also argue that some of it do contain quite a bit of enlightenment in my self-discovery journey. I’ve been treating this blog as my primary source of therapy, and I do appreciate that some people sometimes swing by to remind me that I’m not alone. Nevertheless, I would still joke to myself that I should probably edit the tagline of this blog from “words, whimsies, wanderlogue, and whatnot” to also adding “whines” in front of it. (Well, shall I?)

If you’ve read this piece and the other, for example, you’ll know I haven’t been feeling okay for quite some time. Although I’ve tried to convince myself to accept this situation for what it is, getting back on track is not as simple as pressing the reset button in my mind and hoping that I will immediately be blessed with the inspiration and urge to fix whatever is currently wrong with me. And I’m starting to think that maybe, the underlying issue is something a lot more fundamental than languishing. Maybe, instead, it’s a wake-up call, a sign for me to look for answers not in: “How do I fix this issue?” but rather, “Why do I even have this issue?” or “Will I still have this issue even if the pandemic is not here?”

Because, maybe, the pandemic is just accelerating what is bound to happen eventually either way. That I’m in a dire need of something meaningful, and I’ve dismissed the thoughts way too many times simply because I wanted to believe that my life already falls into a good place.

Because why on Earth is it not? I have an ideal, well-paid job that is not too demanding; my family and closest ones are (physically, at least) healthy; I have a very understanding significant other despite however much I’ve put his patience to test, and the list goes on. I have way too many reasons to be thankful that it might sound confusing at first for my therapist on why would I reach out to her again.

Nevertheless, this constant self-questioning convinced me to finally order a copy of this book regarding Ikigai yesterday. I’ve watched almost all TEDx Talks and read many articles around this topic for quite a while but I’ve never really got a chance to really read the whole book about it. It’s essentially “a term that embodies the idea of happiness in living,” a BBC article said, in which the concept can be laid out nicely in the following diagram:

This post, however, wouldn’t centre on the exploration of ikigai since there’s a whole lot of sources everyone can check out separately if you’re interested. But of all materials on seeking for your ikigai I’ve seen thus far, they mostly start with the question, “Do you spend most of your time doing what you love?” And frankly, I feel quite ashamed when I admit that I can’t say yes to it.

Ashamed indeed, because I’ve hustled so much and sacrificed a lot to even get to where I’m at today, only to later realize that I can’t fool myself to fall in love with this routine.

Have I only considered all these things as nothing more than just a challenge? A curiosity merely to be tasted and not fully indulged in? An ego to win and feel satisfied? A competition to prove my worth? An accomplishment solely to feel great about?

Simultaneously, there’s another feeling that I can’t quite establish the name of yet. As I said earlier, it feels close to guilt, at least. Probably because there were quite a bunch of people who wanted to be in this position, and yet I was the one chosen for it, only to admit later that this might not be the best fit for me and those people would’ve probably enjoyed it more had they become the ones who got the opportunity instead.

(Although, I would argue that regardless of my sentiment towards this situation, I still managed to always deliver the expected outcomes and be an asset for those environments I am in. And after all, isn’t how much you actually brought to the table regardless of how you feel about it worth more than anything in this system we unfortunately live in?)

Yet again, however much of an asset I tried to become, I feel that those did more favours for others rather than my personal reason for being – which is something of almost the opposite of ikigai.

Sure, acing things and performing excellently bring personal satisfaction too from time to time. But when it comes to something you don’t sincerely care about at the core of your heart, sometimes it feels more like draining yourself out without even the ability or resources to recharge appropriately. Meanwhile, there’s a void of a massive black hole you’ve constantly ignored hanging around, just waiting for its moment to suck all those “satisfaction” until there’s nothing else left to be felt.

As I’m searching for purposes and reasons to feel excited about waking up tomorrow, I guess I just have to learn to deal with whatever’s coming my way like a responsible adult. Even though I’ve never been anything but it all the time. In spite of countless, “Why am I even doing this? What’s the point anymore? Why would I choose pride over joy?” I know that at the very least, I never regretted any of these choices. I know that had I not consciously chosen to throw myself into this situation, I would’ve probably clung to the past for the rest of my life, being curious and wondering what could’ve happened instead. And there would probably be a part of my younger self who couldn’t forgive me for not even trying.

After all, when I first started the event that led to all these sequences of contentious occurrences, I had one question, and one question only in my mind: “Can I?”

And now that I have the answer: yes, apparently you can, I’m happy to at least know that I no longer owe my younger, clueless but ambitious self anything anymore. The only person I owe something to is my future self, who deserves to live a life where she doesn’t have to constantly question, “What am I meant to do? What was I built for? Why am I (still) unhappy?”

Even though it’s a long winding road with no ends in sight, I owe her a start. Two roads, will once again, diverge in a yellow wood, and she will no longer be able to travel both. I’ve taken the one having better claim, but she might have to take the one less travelled by. And that’s okay for it would’ve made all the differences.

Here’s to appreciating life for how it’s unfolded, and designing life the way we’d love it to unfold in the time ahead.

16 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Happiness is temporary, and suffering…. how to put it in English, saw this tiktok about penderitaan is actually apa yaah something yg ditakdirkan for human being so that we can feel alive bc it’s a part of our life too whatever maaf nyampah komen lol, keep writing it gets better

    1. Got what you meant, even if someone has found their ikigai it doesn’t mean they’ll be free of suffering for the rest of their lives, it’s just inevitable. Thanks for reading ya!

  2. Dhania, it’s a deep contemplation with great mindfulness, especially for someone at your age. You are doing very well. Please remember to enjoy the journey. Some say our guilts have a lot to do with our wanting, expectation, or like to be somewhere. If someone told us there is no happiness, would we be happy? We might be, as we then do not expect to be happy, accept life as it is, and be content with what we have. Have a good weekend, whatever it is.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Mas Eka! That’s an interesting way to look at happiness and I’ll keep it in mind. It’s a long journey ahead but I hope eventually I’ll be fully content with whatever’s handed down. Salam kenal!

  3. Reading these posts remind me of my own contemplation, where I felt (still do) guilt for enjoying commuteless working-from-home while the healthcare workers out there sacrificing their own health fighting the real war. But these contemplations also lead me to acceptance that it’s okay to feel guilt, it’s okay to do nothing (sometimes), it’s okay to not doing what we love, etc etc because that’s life. The real ‘happiness’ is contentment. Life problems will come however close we are to ikigai.

    Glad that you felt no regret to younger you! As I am also questioning the same questions, hope we all find the answers to those questions and the future us feel grateful. They might not come as fast as we wish, but keep pushing through.

    1. Problems will always come indeed Kak, although I think when you haven’t found your ikigai yet, it’s easy to be tempted to think: “Is it because I don’t even know what my ikigai is and I spend most of my time doing something almost the opposite of it?” But when you’ve found yours and done those things for life, maybe, just maybe, it’ll get a bit easier to accept those hardships as they are, since you’re not at least on the pursuit of something else and just learning to be grateful regardless. Btw, thanks for pouring your thoughts, Kak! 😊

  4. Halo Nabilah. Hidup memang proses ya. Aku ngerti kegelisahan kamu. Aku pun dulu bertanya banyak hal & terus mencari, hingga akhirnya menemukan the source of my being pada tahun 2018 dlm usia menuju 40 tahun. Lama banget emang, but thats okay karena perjalanan tiap orang berbeda. Dan setelah menemukan ikigai tadi, aku emang setiap hari jadi merasa setiap hari layak utk dijalani dgn baik, berusaha terus utk menjadi berguna & bermanfaat.

    Tetap sabar menjalani kehidupan ini ya Bila 😊 teruslah mencari dan bertanya. Aku percaya kamu akan menemukan jawaban utk pencarian kamu. 😊

    Lakukan tanggung jawab kamu setiap harinya dgn baik 😊 salam kenal sekali lg yah 😊

    1. Hi Mba Messa, thank you for pouring your thoughts out! Adem sekali btw rasanya baca reply dari Mba, I believe in the power of constantly asking and seeking too, hence this blog yang isinya mostly curhat ahaha. I can sense that you’re a spiritually conscious person and I strive to be one as well. Part of me feels that (one of my) ikigai will actually be unfolded once I allow myself to be more spiritually awake, tapi di dunia dan hidup yang serba cepat dan sibuk ini memang gak mudah ya sayangnya. Glad to know you albeit virtually!

  5. Hi Bila, this post is so relatable as I often pondering many times to found peace and Ikigai. Earlier this year I joined a course in coursera about the science of well being. It wasn’t my intention to promote this course but I really eager to share it because I found this helped my train of thinking during this pandemic and helped me to contemplate about the term of ‘well being’ and ‘happiness’. This the course I’ve talked about if you like to check it out: https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being.

    I am sorry if it seem I look like ‘too-eager-sales-person-of coursera’. Haha. I hope this comments doesn’t make you uncomfortable😅. All the best for you Bila☺️.

    1. Hi Mba Mela, not at all! I’ve actually heard about this course being mentioned several times from some of the TEDx Talks I watched, so it’s actually very cool to hear a firsthand opinion from someone who’s actually taken the course. Thank you! I’m definitely checking it out. I think it’d be a worthy investment of my time! 😀

  6. Hi!

    This is the topic that I’ve been wanting to write for ages!
    There were some drafts, yet they ended up being draft for good. Especially under this stressful pandemic, I also felt loss every now and then. And this is the biggest reason to not keep looking for my ikigai.

    I’m hoping the for you for whatever you’re trying to pursue in life.

    Nice to know you!

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