Updated: Jun 29
Q: What do Okinawa's long-lived pensioners and successful entrepreneurs both have in common? A: A sense of purpose.
So, why do you get out of bed in the morning? It seems an obvious question. For most of us it's the need to pay the bills - or perhaps for those with young children - it's their noisy demands for breakfast. Either way, for most people it's probably easy to identify the many good and valid reasons we have to get up each day. Let's call these our push factors.
Now examine this question more broadly; and instead of asking why you have to get up, instead try to think about why you want to get up? I mean really want to get up - that feeling on those days when you spring out of bed with a genuine joy for life and an intent to do something great; to actually make yours and other peoples' lives better - to change things.
For the purposes of comparison let's call these reasons your pull factors.
Perhaps identifying your pull factors was a little more challenging than your push factors? Don’t worry you’re not alone, many people struggle with the distinction at first, but I’ll try to convince you that focussing on what pulls you rather than what pushes you is a really worthwhile and valuable thing to do.
Making the time to explore your pull factors is an investment that could pay you back for the rest of your life, because exploring pull factors is a great starting point for an ongoing conversation with yourself about purpose, and finding your purpose is a key ingredient for a life of good mental health, contentedness and success. And finding purpose is also a great thing to do if you are thinking of starting a business because purpose has a fundamental relationship with sustained motivation, good mental & physical health, inner peace and a sense of satisfaction. You'll need all of these to succeed.
Simply put, if you find purpose in your life you are far more likely to live a life that is fulfilling not only for yourself but for those around you. Having an overriding purpose is probably a better reason to get out of bed than the need to pay the gas bill anyway!
Now of course, push and pull factors are both useful as motivational drivers, but generally you'll achieve a much deeper sense of satisfaction, and inner-peace (and the associated good mental and physical health) if you take the time to regularly explore your pull factors - and then critically - align them to a higher purpose for your life (or indeed your business).
This approach may not necessarily take away the stress we all encounter in the modern world, but it may help to contextualise it when it occurs. This makes sense if you think about it; most of the people we see as objectively successful, for example: Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Greta Thunberg tend to be driven by a strong sense of personal purpose, and importantly, they've all encountered difficulties along the way that they have successfully navigated. They are not special, they have simply found their purpose and their sense of purpose provides resilience and nourishes their motivation, and of course resilience is incredibly important if you are thinking of starting a business.
If you’re still finding it a little hard to identify your pull factors as you read this, please don’t worry, most people struggle at first - purpose is a rather intimidating concept; and it’s much easier to identify our push factors - but do stick with it. It’s often difficult in the busyness of our everyday lives to slow down enough to consider how we might want to spend what's left of our 29,200 days on the planet. However, help is at hand in the form of the humble Okinawan pensioner.
In Japan there's traditionally an understanding of one’s purpose hard-baked into the culture. Finding and acknowledging what the Japanese call Ikigai 生き甲斐 is a keystone of society and in many ways contributes to the cohesion demonstrated by many Japanese communities; and none more so than the incredibly long-lived communities in the coastal villages of Okinawa, an island 400 miles south of Japan.
Japan has one of the highest life expectancies on the planet, and Okinawa has the highest life expectancy in Japan. But Okinawans don’t just live for a long time (Okinawa has one on the highest concentrations of centenarians on earth) they are also some of the healthiest and most contented seniors on the planet, and in many ways this is attributed to their sense of Ikigai. They have a clear and strong purpose to their lives.
Okinawan seniors eat small, healthy, home-cooked meals, exercise consistently and moderately and are part of lifelong friendship groups called Moai where they play a meaningful role in jam-packed social calendars that would put many youngsters to shame. As a result, they enjoy healthy, active, happy lives well into their 90’s and in many cases past 100. It is their sense of Ikigai, or purpose, that provides the psychological anchor that keeps them so healthy and motivated.
For the average Okinawan pensioner the western idea of retiring is a complete anathema; why would they need to retire and from what? They cannot comprehend a life without purpose, without Ikigai – without a reason to want to get up the morning. Their purpose is derived from a sense of love and obligation to their communities and their friends, they stay healthy and strong because others rely on them, and they in turn rely on others, and there is a sustainability to this way of living that has elevated Okinawans to mythical status in the global longevity league tables.
Conversely many working westerners yearn for their retirement – to stop work, stop their routine, to be ‘free’ as if their retirement is some long-laboured for reward for a lifetime spent doing something they don’t really enjoy. Yet, ironically once arrived at, this promised land can often lack colour or flavour – dare I say it – purpose.
It doesn’t need to be like this of course. We can all find our own form of Ikigai, and indeed we owe it to ourselves and others to find purpose and meaning to our lives. There's a groundswell movement increasingly challenging the traditional 20th century paradigm of what it means to work, have a job and create wealth in society.
I call these people the ‘new-entrepreneurs’ and they are increasingly challenging the idea of working for forty years in jobs they don’t really like, anchored to a hope that one day they will get to retirement and finally be able to relax and enjoy their lives. These are people who are finding and exploring their own sense of Ikigai, and they are changing the world of work beyond recognition.
These are the people we work with at YourBusinessSchool.org.
So how can you find your own Ikigai? Well the model below may be a good place to start. We use models like this on our 4-week Start-Up Accelerator Programme to help new entrepreneurs and business start-up novices explore their ideas before they make the leap.
Why not give it a try? Run your current situation by the Ikigai test? Do you sit in the middle - have you found your Ikigai?
Starting and building a new business is hard work but it’s one of the most satisfying things you can do. It’s much easier to stay motivated when your business idea aligns with a higher purpose, your Ikigai. YourBusinessSchool.org is a totally new ecosystem of support and education for start-ups and Small to Mid-Sized businesses (SMEs). We help you every step of the way to build the business, and the life you deserve.
Visit www.YourBusinessSchool.org or call us on 0800-688-9224 to find out more.
Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life - Confucius