When you can stop your eyes from rolling for a minute, you’ll find something valuable here
Right after finishing business school, I took a job in LA as a business assistant for the CEO of a media company. It was a pretty cool job—people like Casey Affleck and Amy Seimetz would pass by to pitch their movies, I’d tangentially be involved in the mounting of reality shows, and I was able to work on a few series and films. At the end of the day, though, I’d always go back to job #1: helping out with finance stuff and profit projections.
One day I was working with a film finance expert and I asked him why he didn’t just do TV instead. “There’s more money in TV,” I told him. His answer: “I know I can do TV. I know I won’t find it difficult. But that’s not in my sleep. Film is what’s in my sleep.”
Mind. Blown. Shortly after that, I quit my job, got ready to fly back home to Manila and went back to doing creative work—because that’s what was in my sleep. That’s the first thing I’d think about when I’d wake up in the morning and the thing that kept me up at night. When I found myself zoning out in conversations, it would probably be to imagine a scene and I’m never more excited than when I talk about stories. It was put so beautifully: do what’s in your sleep.
This piece of advice is one that has been passed on to us incessantly; almost as much as “be kind; everyone is going through a struggle” or some Ghandi shit like that. And it has many forms. Follow your bliss. Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. Listen to your heart. Live your purpose. It’s an idea that’s been hammered into our heads so hard that sharing it with others is such a cliché—and at this point everyone’s heard it so much that it feels almost unnecessary repeating it.
That is, until you hear new variations of the idea. This reminds you of its power. “Do what’s in your sleep” was one of them for me. Another one came from Sunday Beauty Queen director Babyruth Villarama: Ikigai. It’s a Japanese concept that roughly means “reason for being.” You know the Japanese, though—one word has a world of meaning that can’t be conveyed by even a bunch of English sentences (I mean, look at “Bukkake”).
Supposedly, you can find your Ikigai by looking at four things:
- What you love
- What you are good at
- What you can be paid for
- What the world needs
The intersection of these four is your Ikigai. And yes, I know this sounds like HR-fed Seven Habits claptrap and it is. In many Japanese companies they use Ikigai to strengthen and lengthen employee satisfaction. But again, put that aside for once. All these self-help things are here because they mostly work and when you can stop your eyes from rolling for a minute there is something valuable at the bottom of this.
So why those four things? Think about one of the four being absent. If you’re 1,2 and 3 but are not helping the world, then there is a sense of uselessness. If you’re 1,3 and 4 there will always be this sense of uncertainty. If you’re 1,2 and 4 there’s that nagging fear of losing financial stability in the back of your head. If you’re 2,3 and 4, well, what’s the point?
Let’s go through an exercise in finding your Ikigai. Say you’re in a boring accounting job, slaving away from 9 to 6 every day. You feel like you’re going to crumble if you spend another day in this drab, cold office, but you’re trying to figure out the next step. What do you do?
Think about what you love. Ask that famous Marie Kondo question: “does it spark joy?” What topic gets you excited when it’s discussed at the dinner table? What’s the thing people ask you about where you find yourself unable to stop talking? Is it sports? Numbers? Solving problems? Let’s come up with something ridiculous: MY LITTLE PONY. No offense to Bronies intended.
Then figure out what you’re good at. I talked earlier about what’s in your sleep, now let’s talk about what you can do in your sleep. When I was a kid, playing video games was considered the most unproductive, biggest waste of time there is. Now these kids who were being reprimanded for spending all their time playing video games are touring the world and making millions. So there is practically nothing people can be good at that is not useful. For purposes of this exercise, let’s go with graphic design.
How can we monetize this? If you follow steps one and two for the exercise, then the logical next step would be “I should design My Little Pony products and sell them!” But guess what? Now you’ll have to deal with licenses and IP infringement, and all the red tape that comes along with it. You won’t be able to make money making My Little Pony fan art and posting them on Tumblr either. This is usually the choke point: HOW CAN I MAKE MONEY FROM THE THING I LOVE DOING? Be creative, think outside the box. You can be a character designer specializing in cute animals. You can study website design and specialize in children’s websites. YOU CAN APPLY AT HASBRO AND ACTUALLY DRAW “MY LITTLE PONY” CARTOONS. I literally know someone who’s done this.
And that’s it. You’ve found your Ikigai. “What about the fourth thing,” ask the ten people who are still reading this article, “the thing that the world needs?” I’ve come to realize that there will always be a need in this world for things people are passionate about. Most of the time, that “market” just doesn’t realize it. Fifteen years ago, who knew that making dramatic videos for weddings would become a multi-million dollar industry? Or that posting pictures of yourself on social media might make you tons of cash? Or that artisanal coffee could actually be sustainable? It’s that easy, but we also know that it’s not that easy. And I feel that with enough conviction and hard work, you’ll eventually find yourself doing what’s in your sleep every waking moment of your life.
Words Quark Henares
Art Alexandra Lara