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The teacher within

The Japanese believe everyone has an ‘Ikigai’ but finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search within

By Asad Mian |
PUBLISHED July 31, 2022

‘Ikigai’ is defined as ‘something to live for; reason for being; the joy and goal of living.’ Per that definition, Ikigai is highly reminiscent of purposeful and joyful living. I find the concept of Ikigai deeply satisfying because of its similarities to other philosophies such as Stoicism, Taoism, and Sufism. According to the Japanese, everyone has an Ikigai, but finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search within; hence, it is really an inner journey.

As shown here, it is at the interface of life’s passion, profession, vocation and mission, that you tend to realise your Ikigai. Several years of ‘Ikigaing’, i.e. seeking and searching within, all the way to my core or essence, has yielded an answer. My Ikigai indicates to me that I am a teacher. The journey towards my Ikigai has influenced my thinking and practice as an educator, especially in a low to middle income country’s setting like Pakistan’s. Whether my students are healthcare undergraduates, postgraduates, or professionals, or from humanities/social sciences or another discipline, through my teaching my aim is to help people discover their purpose, passion, and value in what they do. As such, hacking through hackathons, human centered design thinking through sprints, re-imagining the world and its future, creativity, and entrepreneurship are all methods for gaining a better understanding of and discovering new meanings in order to create a life worth living, for both the teacher and learner.

I am an ER doctor, academic and researcher. In that capacity I strive to strengthen pedagogy of my primary discipline of emergency medicine. Simulation has become a potent tool for educating healthcare students in the 21st century. By recognizing the value of that, I have pushed for excellent learning experiences for our students and residents (trainees) through simulation-based educational paradigms. With the pandemic I was able to make a compelling case for virtual/online digital learning, which proved to be a challenge, but given the situation on the ground, there was no other way. This too was very much aligned with my deepest core, my Ikigai, in other words.

I consider myself a creativist – someone who champion’s creativity. This is reflected in my articles/essays for a vast readership, that I disseminate through my blog or newspapers. I am also an innovator, intrapreneur, and entrepreneur. The experience and expertise gained through running a co-innovation and incubation hub – and in tandem, being an inter-disciplinary/multi-disciplinary learner and teacher in the 21st century - I have gravitated towards the 21st century tools of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, innovation, entrepreneurship, and change leadership. One essential aspect of teaching/learning in this chaotic pandemic environment has been rethinking education and learning spaces, sustainable education and educating sustainability. And where the latter is concerned, tying back everything in my teaching philosophy to environmental sustainability has become my raison d'etre. Again, this alignment with my Ikigai is remarkable and deeply gratifying.

Most recently, my foray into Zumba and Salsa as a workout, wellness, and fitness routine has enabled me to become an instructor for both. I call it #Zalsa (fusion of Zumba and Salsa). The Zumba is performed to a variety of music, including, Bhangra, Rock, Pop, and Hip Hop. The passion for such a workout routine was felt a few years back (during the peak of the 1st wave of the pandemic) and I used to eagerly get into it solo. Over time, I realised that I was good at it and thus I offered my services to people at my workplace. I received commendable feedback from the students and it inspired me to follow through with a second course (planning for which is underway). Through my Ikigai I realise that no matter what the ‘activity’ is (Zalsa, emergency medicine, innovation, etc.) the teaching/learning aspect of it remains sacrosanct.

Modern theories of adult learning (e.g., experiential learning) have shaped my teaching approaches (i.e., learner-centred, conversational, collaborative, versus didactic/teacher-centered/pedantic). Pursuing innovative and creative teaching practices have been hugely satisfying. Given that the most enthusiastic responses I have received with regards to my teaching are from multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral learners (students and professionals), I envision myself evolving more in that domain. Fortunately, that is exactly what excites me too, and my Ikigai approves.

By keeping Ikigai as a centerpiece for my passion/purpose-driven life, I have been able to sustain my enthusiasm for teaching, and that is just one example. What humbles me is to see that excitement reciprocated by the learner/student. That two-way dynamic between teacher and learner is sacred; it is brilliant and beautiful to observe and cherish ad infinitum. However, where real learning is concerned, it stops mattering who the teacher is versus the learner; both are there to learn. That is another thing my Ikigai has pointed out to me.

And yet another fascinating thing about Ikigai: it need not be rigid with clearcut direction under all circumstances. You get to explore new things and pathways by being directionless. Knowing that you do not know everything keeps you grounded, kind and inclusive. The converse, when people decide very rigidly what they want, closes them to other possibilities, relationships and alternative interpretations. My Ikigai will certainly not align with inflexibility of that kind.

So, do you know your purpose? If you already do, then hats off to you. However, like most humans, if you do not know your life’s purpose but are curious to find out, then Ikigai can be the journey-like destination (or destination-like journey?) for you. I hope that if or when you do delve within, you realise, acknowledge and embrace your wonderful Ikigai, whatever that may be. And do not forget to share the details of your inner journeying with your fellow travelers, so that they also benefit from your Ikigai.

Asad Mian is a freelancer and an ER physician-researcher-innovator at Aga Khan University. He writes on topics ranging from healthcare and education to humor and popular culture. He authored 'An Itinerant Observer' (2014) and ‘MEDJACK: the extraordinary journey of an ordinary hack’ (2021). All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the writer.