Ikigai: Your Reason for Being
By: Dr. Allen Vean
Two years ago, I touched on the ancient practice of feng shui, being in balance with the world around you and its relation to our personal and professional lives during an extremely difficult time. Now, I would like to introduce you to ikigai, this beautiful Japanese concept is symbiotic with feng shui. Ikigai translates to “your reason for being” or “finding purpose.”
In a recent article by George Jerjian, a cancer survivor who unretired and started a coaching company, and Dr. Ken Mogi, a Japanese neuroscientist, they discuss ikigai in the western world. Let’s examine some of these concepts and think about how you would respond.
As Mr. Jerjian points out, to achieve ikigai, one must answer in the affirmative to any combination of the following questions:
- Are you doing an activity that you love?
- Are you good at it?
- Does the world need what you offer?
- Can you get paid for doing it?
In my humble opinion, the answer to questions 2, 3 and 4 are a slam dunk for dentistry. We are good at what we do, the world needs our profession and we get paid for it. The response to question 1 is not as simple. I was extremely fortunate and entered dental school not knowing a scaler from a saliva ejector.
However, from that day forward, I could see without a doubt dentistry was the profession for me. Aside from the education, I could be my own boss, own my own business, make my own hours, spend time with my family (#1 priority), make a good living, and most importantly, improve people’s health. However, the last two and a half years have tested our love for dentistry. How difficult it has been to face the day-to-day issues of illness, debt, staffing and supply shortages, ever increasing costs of doing business and managerial responsibilities. This may partly be the reason, as the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI) recently pointed out, private practice ownership is steadily declining and a significant percentage of the profession will be retiring over the next few years. Dental graduates and practicing dentists are exploring different options within the profession that may provide them with their ideal ikigai. Dentistry is slowly changing from a male dominated one to one of inclusion with more than 50% of dental graduates are female (finally!). Additionally as of 2020, almost 30% of dentists were minorities, a number that hopefully will increase.
So how do we keep our love for dentistry and ikigai alive during these difficult times? We all know the satisfaction, sense of fulfillment and accomplishment in treating our patients with a beautiful result. We also know the anxiety and stress our profession puts on us. The long hours some put in can lead to more anxiety and depression. The ikigai comes from work-life balance. As dentists and humans, we must make self-care an important part of our lifestyle. The importance of exercise both physical and mental allows us to stay focused. This translates to taking time away from the office whether it be intermittent or in blocks. There are opportunities in dentistry away from your practice that will bring back your love of our profession. For example, educational institutions are in dire need of instructors. How wonderful it is to mentor young people with your knowledge and experience without the threat of a social media review. In addition, non-profit organizations are always looking for volunteers for their various activities. I have been a state clinical director for Special Olympics of Colorado providing dental screenings for children and adults with intellectual disabilities for the last five years and what I have received back in ikigai is invaluable. You may find your work-life balance comes from an activity separate from your chosen profession but that still brings you joy.
Although our profession has many challenges on the horizon, it has always been about us as individuals and our reactions to those challenges. Work-life balance in whatever form you choose will make you a better professional and person. My hope is you too will find your ikigai.